1. Use “I” Statements
After you've set a goal for the conversation, and have in mind exactly what it is that you want, its time to get to business. The way you phrase it is very important. If you would like to express disapproval, it’s better to use “I” statements rather than “You” statements, which may sound accusatory and make the other side guarded and defensive.
For example, instead of saying “You’re always on your phone” you might say “When you keep your phone out during dinner, it makes me feel unappreciated”.
2. Use "Part of Me" Statements
When facing a multitude of choices, or being in a position that you cannot control, “part of me” statements may work well to communicate it. “Part of me wishes I could be more available during the day, but part of me knows that at this certain point it is not possible during work hours”.
In this way, you present a fuller picture of the situation and make it clear that – although having boundaries and restrictions – you are not ambivalent.
3. Mind Your Body Language
This one may sound obvious, but we often don’t pay enough attention to our body language. Asserting your opinions or needs may be a little daunting, but you shouldn’t let your body give you away.
Assertive body language includes sitting straight, without seeming jerky or tense, facing the people who you’re talking to directly, and maintaining appropriate eye contact (no angry glares). Your body should signal openness – that you’re not afraid of a response but actually welcome it. Keep your arms relaxed and not crossed, and your hands unclenched. Make sure your voice is clear and loud enough to be heard.
This way your body will convey the message “I’m OK and you’re OK”.
4. You Have the Right to Say No
Many people struggle with the seemingly simple practice of saying “no”. It is perfectly normal, as sometimes refusing can be really difficult. If a request or an offer clashes with your boundaries or schedule, it’s okay to just say “no”. Don’t try to minimize, justify or provide back-up for your decision.
At the end of the day, some people may be disappointed in you turning them down, but in the long run, you (and your loved ones) will only benefit from you not being overbooked or overworked.
5. Apologize Only When You Feel It's Necessary
Similarly to the need of explaining our “no’s”, sometimes we apologize for things that don’t require an apology. For example, situations we don’t have control over, other people’s behavior, etc. Part of practicing assertiveness is limiting apologies only to situations when they’re actually required – when the other side was hurt, bothered or deceived by your actions.
6. Replace ‘Sorry’ with ‘Thank you’
Courtesy is important and being assertive is not opposed to being well-mannered. Consider saying thank you in situations you would have apologized to keep things positive. For example, you can say ‘Thank you for waiting’ instead of ‘Sorry I’m late’.
7. Be an Active Listener
As mentioned above, an assertive individual is not afraid of the other side’s response. May it be in a work environment, or a personal relationship, healthy communication is key. To be an active listener, you should pay attention to the person you’re speaking to, do not interrupt them, and ask clarifying questions.
It is important to take what the other person is saying seriously and to practice empathy by actually imagining being in their place.
8. Be Aware of the Consequences of Your Assertive Behavior
Assertive behavior can sometimes be met with resistance and even anger. This is okay and does not take away from your right to express your needs and wants. When being assertive, you will have to take responsibility for those consequences and understand that they will pass, and they are preferable to the alternative – bottling up your feelings or opinions and feeling anxious and resentful.
It may feel silly, but there is no shame in rehearsing what you’re going to say! You can do it with a friend or relative you trust, or by yourselves. Being ready will boost your confidence and bring better results. Keep in mind that the old 'practice makes perfect' saying is applicable here.
Becoming assertive will not happen overnight, it takes practice and persistence. Some days will be better than others, but in the end, it's worth it.