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Published on January 9, 2019

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

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

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

Reference

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

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Malachi Thompson

Executive Leadership and Performance Consultant

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Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

More Resources About Job Interviews

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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