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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

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

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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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