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4 Proven Steps to Being More Assertive

4 Proven Steps to Being More Assertive

Being assertive is all about putting your point across in a positive way that is more likely to get you what you want with all parties feeling happy. You generally need to use this skill when you have an opposing point of view or when you need to disagree with others, which can be socially difficult. The UK government has sanctioned numerous intervention programs to teach this skill to the group of people who need it most in society: offenders. I’m one of the people tasked with teaching this skill, as well as many others, to bring about positive changes, but it’s not just for offenders, as other people can benefit from this incredibly useful skill too.

Below I share with you a framework with four steps to being more assertive, both personally and professionally, which are research-based and proven to work. This isn’t to say they will work everytime, but they are much more effective than alternative methods (e.g., being too aggressive or passive).

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1. Describe the situation.

Start by describing the situation and giving an overview of what your understanding of it is. At first, try keep this as factual as possible, as this stops other people from being able to disagree with you. This may involve using sentences such as “the way I understand the situation is this …” You may also add your opinion on the matter afterward by using statements such as “my opinion is this because …” By justifying yourself, people don’t feel you are giving an opposing opinion just to disagree with them for the sake of it. Giving your justification is powerful, as this promotes empathy, which allows them to see things from your point of view and may also be enough to persuade them into your way of thinking

2. Express how you feel.

Once you’ve given an overview and described the situation from your point of view, you want to express how you feel about it. When expressing yourself, it is really important to own the feelings by using “I” language. What is this? This involves statements such as “I feel like this” or “this situation makes me feel like this …”

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When doing this, you want to try to avoid “you” language, where you make statements that will put the other person on the defensive. For example saying “you make me feel …” or “because of you I feel …” Statements like this are unproductive, but also antagonistic toward people on the receiving end of them. Also, they make the claim that the other person is able to control your feelings, which is not true (only you control your feelings), and it’s really important that you do not try to shift this to others.

When you express how you feel about something, this also stops other people from being able to disagree with it. For example stating “I feel upset by this situation” means the other person can’t just say “no you don’t feel upset,” as they are your feelings. If you make the mistake of using “you” language, this makes it easy for the other person to argue the point by saying “I haven’t made you feel anything.” This is a subtle difference, but a key one that can either create a collaborative discussion or turn it into hostile argument.

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3. Say what you want.

Next you want to be specific and say what it is you want to happen from the situation. Say what you would like to do and also what you would like other people to do (or not to do). Be clear and specific and avoid being vague. You can refer back to your justifications or feelings at this point to backup what you’re saying for added extra effect.

4. State how the outcome benefits all parties.

You want to end your point by stating how your chosen solution or point of view is ultimately going to benefit all parties. Too many people fall into the trap of expressing simply how it is going to benefit themselves. This isn’t persuasive nor does it make people inclined to agree with you if they see no benefit for themselves in some way. By describing how the other person can benefit as well as yourself, they now have a reason to come over to your way of thinking.

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In some situations where you have a disagreement with someone, just getting them to consider the long-term consequences can be enough for them to see things from your point of view. Another tactic is to positively reframe the situation, so instead of them seeing the situation as a loss, you can plant the seed for them to see things differently in a more positive way.

An example of this is the glass half-empty or half-full metaphor that is famously used. “Don’t think of the situation as a loss; think of it as a good experience and learning” is another good example of this too. There is always a silver lining, and you need to use this to your advantage by getting people to see it.

Assertiveness is a skill and like any skill, it takes practice to get good at it. You can start using it instantly in conversation to get better at it with close family members and friends before unleashing your new found power on the world!

Featured photo credit: Scott Swigart via flickr.com

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Saj Devshi

Psychology Teacher

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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