People often get the idea of assertiveness wrong. It's not being aggressive, or mean, or pushy. Assertiveness means standing up for what you need while respecting the rights of others. It's riding the balance beam between being confident and direct without being a total jerk. And it's a skill you can learn fairly easily, with three simple tips.
Tip 1: Avoid using "qualifiers" in your speech - words that minimize the strength of your message by apologizing or minimizing what you have to say. Here, for example, is a message full of qualifiers:
"I'm really sorry. I'm not sure I'm totally comfortable with that. But maybe that's just me, or I don't fully understand it."
Here's the more assertive version of the same statement:
"I'm just not comfortable with that."
Which one do you think sounds more assertive? Which version do you feel more comfortable using?
Tip 2: Practice your assertiveness statements. There is actually a formula for constructing an assertiveness statement, and it has three parts:
1. What you want them to change:
When you don't call on me during a meeting
2. How this behavior affects you:
I never get a chance to speak
3. How you feel as a result:
I feel marginalized
So, putting it all together: "When you don't call on me during a meeting, I never get a chance to speak, and I feel marginalized." Or here's another example: "When you arrive late, I have to wait, and I feel frustrated."
Try it out for yourself, ideally looking the person in the eye, and with a firm, but pleasant tone. You'll be surprised at how quickly you can develop your own assertiveness statement.
Finally, Tip 3 is perhaps the most important of all: it's reminding yourself why you're justified in acting assertively in the first place. For those of us who are shy, timid, and indirect with our communication, it can be extremely difficult to be assertive. We might consider doing it, and then back down - or only go half way because of how uncomfortable it feels. But remember that being assertive is fully legitimate. You have needs. Stand up for them.
In the end, it's not easy to act assertively - especially if it's not your "go to" style of behavior, but it's not rocket science either. Follow these three simple tips and you'll be well on your way to getting more of what you deserve.
Andy Molinsky is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at Brandeis University and the author of the new book Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence (Penguin Random House). Follow Andy on Twitter @andymolinsky.