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How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way

How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way
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We’ve all experienced those situations where something is said that feels out of turn and borders on being offensive. The derogatory comments, aggressive taunts, hurtful judgments and criticisms can stun us like a deer in the headlights. That split-second we could be assertive and stand up for ourselves passes all too quickly, and we kick ourselves afterward for that witty rebuttal that only comes well after the event has passed. Doh!

Left for too long, those seemingly minor irritations can compound to significantly damage your self-esteem and self-worth. You convince yourself ignoring the taunts or insulting one-liners your boss makes at your expense is being professional and resilient. You might even try to justify the behavior to say “She was only joking and didn’t mean it”, “You say to yourself: “I can handle him” but then you start experiencing and witnessing that behavior in other areas of your life.

That unresolved injustice will continue to fester. The long-term damage can lead to emotional outbursts, rash decisions and even anxiety and depression.

There are right and wrong ways to step up to the plate and bat for yourself. Being assertive boils down to learning to manage your energy, plan your approach and craft your message in a way that maximizes potential for the other person, to be open to receiving and accepting it.

You will not just feel stronger. You’ll become stronger with a new confidence that will flourish throughout all areas of your life. Use these processes and steps and you’ll learn the smart way to assert yourself.

1. Acknowledge the Injustice and Refrain from Reacting

Acknowledge what was said or done. Make it known you noticed that underhanded innuendo by pausing and directing your attention to it.

By pausing and not reacting, you immediately demonstrate you believe what you just witnessed is unjust or underhanded. Your non-verbal body language alone can be highly assertive in itself to convey a message stronger than words can convey.

If you are not fully catatonic in shock disbelief, you might calmly state you will revisit what they said, the action they took or the decision they made at another point. And you don’t ask it as a question; you make a statement.

The offending party will realize they can’t simply have their cake and eat it too. The matter is not closed simply because they feel it is.

If you are being aggressively bullied, it can feel impossible to resist caving in. Having two or three statements you replay to each taunt will quickly send the message their persistent attempts to intimidate you will continually hit a roadblock. Examples might be:

  • I am not going to respond right now
  • That’s interesting you said that/did that/decided that
  • I will be revisiting what you said/did

None of these statements are passive-aggressive. They are emotionally neutral statements. You’ve simply commanded respect and attention.

Any dynamic of a power play that your opponent has over you, will have shifted. You have bought yourself time to consider what you want to do next.

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2. Pause and Reflect to Develop Clarity on What You Want to Be Assertive About and For

When you’re in shock, it’s unlikely your brain will have the capacity to respond with the speedy comeback you swore you would retort with the last time you heard that snide remark.

Dr. Joan Rosenberg describes how we need to give ourselves space to come to terms with what we experienced, and how we experienced it before being able to consider what action to take next:

As the shock intensity subsides after the initial 90 seconds of the emotional gut-punch, it’s time to go inward to ask yourself:

  • What unpleasant feelings have been triggered for me?
  • What injustice do I feel took place here and why does this matter so much to me?
  • What values, ethics and morals do I have that are being violated here?
  • What should/should not have occurred?

Remember that the injustice you observe and experience is coming from your perspective and the framework through which you see the world.

The impact of your assertive action steps from here will need to include being able to express your viewpoint. You’ll need to be able to express why you don’t agree with the apparent nepotistic or sexist methods of recruiting staff for the business.

Get clear on your values. It’s crucial you understand within yourself first, the nature and reason behind the battle you choose to fight.

3. Seek to Understand First Before Being Understood

Asking yourself what drives the other person to behave and communicate in ways you feel create harm can greatly help to reduce your bubbling cauldron of anger, fury and humiliation to a gentler simmer.

Stepping into the other person’s perspective is not about dismissing your feelings or compromising your values and principles. It helps you to communicate in a language the other person will understand.

Your efforts to be assertive will have far greater impact when you actively consider what might be going on for them. The father who wishes to gift the majority of his inheritance to the sons and not the daughters may not necessarily be coming from an attitude of blindly favoring one gender. He may be the product of multiple generations who saw the family business’ continued success is passed through the male bloodline, and so he felt it right to follow suit.

You may not agree with this perspective. However, if that is an explanation, you need to find a way to be open to considering it. Consider also what could be going on for them and invite them to share their position. You’ll quickly diffuse aggressive energy or resistance between you and create the safe space essential for you to assertively exchange your points of view and differences.

Never invalidate the other person’s point of view even if it does not make sense to you. Once you do, you’re on a slippery slope back to the bottom where you started. Climbing back up again will be at least twice as hard.

4. Agree to Disagree as Being Assertive Is About Boundary Setting, Not Winning

Don’t make the error of thinking effective assertiveness means convincing and winning over others to adopt your values and point of view. If you do, expect to be met with resistance. You also risk becoming a bully yourself!

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The smarter approach involves having a genuine willingness to invite and appreciate others’ perspectives. It’s highly likely you may all have clashing values in some way or another, that none of you are willing to concede.

Recognizing and appreciating these differences helps to even the playing ground. It reveals that even though you disagree, you have the wisdom to still show respect.

Part of being assertive is then stating your boundaries and clearly illustrating the line you do not want the other parties to cross. Be prepared that your reveal needs to be free of ambiguity. Clear examples of what is and isn’t permissible for you, need to be stored up your sleeve.

5. Plan Your Response and Construct Your Argument Well

Know that sometimes you don’t need to go to the nth degree to explain and justify your assertions. Doing so can quickly lose you valuable alliances.

The fast-track to becoming the proverbial thorn in everyone’s side is to dampen the air with your tirades of self-righteousness.

Subtlety first

Asserting yourself the smart way involves assessing how subtle or explicit your communication needs to be.

A simple “that comment is not ok with me” or “I don’t appreciate what you said” might be enough to prod and communicate your distaste to the offending party and gain the change in their behavior you desire.

Choose your timing wisely

The timing of your response also needs to be a good fit between what you works for you and also what timing will have the most beneficial impact upon the other party/ies.

We’ve all left it too long afterward to respond when everyone has forgotten what actually happened, yet the scar is burnt in your memory as if it happened earlier that morning. Don’t leave it too long to respond.

Examples and stories give a stronger, clearer message

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Also, be prepared to have examples which support your argument. Simply stating you deserve a pay-rise ‘just because’ is unlikely to be met with an open-mind or willing consideration.

When you demonstrate and show cases of your performing beyond role description, you show clear credibility you deserve to be considered. Where possible, use facts and figures that don’t lie.

Avoid placing blame

As soon as you use the words: “You did this to me”, “It’s your fault” “You made me feel…” you deflate the willingness of your offender to hear your case.

You position the other party to become defensive to attack because that is what you are doing when you use such language; you’re attacking.

Stick with the facts and describe the emotional and impact upon you with diplomacy

Describe factually what you believe happened, how you felt as a result, why you feel what happened was an injustice and then state the change you wish to experience.

If you can find a way to explain, there are also benefits to all parties with these changes; you have a far greater likelihood of your assertions being well-received and adjustments occurring from your action of standing up for yourself.

6. Never Feel Obliged to Heed Attempts at Invalidating Your Experience

Despite being told “you’re taking things out of context” or “you need to lighten up and accept I was just joking”, never forget that your experience is your experience. What you felt and how you were affected, matters. You have every right to dissent to experiencing the same impact again.

For difficult, arrogant and bolder, toxic personalities, beware also the catastrophic dangers of being gaslighted . Trying to assert your views, opinions and boundaries with a narcissistic personality type where gaslighting is a common feature, is virtually pointless.

When standing up for yourself starts being repeatedly met with “you’re the one with the problem. You really are the one who needs help”, get outside support. Talk to friends who can be objective, non-judgmental and supportive and strongly consider consulting a mental health professional. Such narcissistic traits can inflict long-term psychological damage.

Very little part of your assertive communication will be met with empathy. If it is, it’s likely to be calculated and endure for only a short period before the other party returns to considering things only from their own perspective.

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According to clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula, continuing varied efforts to assert your position with such individuals from different angles and perspectives is probably a worthless exercise.[1] Be careful.

7. Manage and Practice the Energy of Your Assertive Exchange

Beware of coming across aggressively and defensively. Unless you’ve got the stamina to battle it out to the death, fighting fire with fire is unlikely to yield a workable resolve.

Whilst all parties are operating in attack and defense mode, the fences are up and the swords are out, no party will be receptive to any suggestions.

Fighting is futile, let alone an exercise wasting energy that could be harnessed, transformed and used more wisely to hold a healthier change.

Before your opportunity presents to make your case, practice being calm. Practice feeling your energy, emotional space and mental space being controlled. Rehearse your words meaningfully conveying your message with poise, clarity and passion.

Imagine and practice the body language and voice tone. Your body and neural pathways will develop a blueprint for your successfully delivering your message when you need to do so for real.

8. Practice Being More Transparent and Authentic

Well-renowned social researcher Brené Brown explains how facing and admitting vulnerabilities and insecurities is actually a demonstration of courage:

As you become more confident, to be honest with yourself, you have a better capacity to transfer that confidence into your normal exchanges with people.

The flow-on effect is you then becoming increasingly confident to stand your ground with issues that rattle your cage.

Final Thoughts

You can be assertive without being rude or hurting your relationships.

Next time when you want to stand up for yourself, take my advice and make use of the above essential ingredients to become an unstoppable force.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Dr. Ramani Durvasula: The 4 Types of Narcissism You Need To Know

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Dr. Malachi Thompson III

High-Performance Consultant

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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