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Published on March 11, 2021

What Is Assertiveness And Why Is It Important?

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What Is Assertiveness And Why Is It Important?

Do you ever find yourself giving in to the wants and needs of others or agreeing to activities that steal your attention from what is most important to you? If you said “yes” to either of these, then maybe you have difficulty being assertive.

Here I will explore what it means to be assertive and discuss the importance of making it a priority in your life. I will highlight a few real-world scenarios that you might encounter and break down possible responses for best results. You will also receive practical tips to incorporate into your daily routine that will improve communication skills and boost self-confidence.

What Is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is the ability to clearly and directly communicate your own wants and needs. It is the capacity to firmly express one’s feelings, views, beliefs, and choices respectfully, even when they differ or are opposed to what someone else wants.

An assertive person is comfortable and confident in their stance, even when it means saying “no” and disappointing a friend or colleague.

Understand the 3 Communication Styles

Think about the way that you communicate. Are you only out for yourself, striving to make sure your own wants and needs are met by any means necessary? Or do you give in to others by putting their desires and priorities above your own?

The first style noted above is an aggressive style. People with an aggressive style focus only on their own needs and will do whatever it takes to get what they want. They can resort to bullying tactics, intimidation, guilting, manipulation, or demanding measures.

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The second style noted above is a passive style. People with a passive style are those who make everyone else a priority. They are unable to refuse a favor and never say no, even if it brings great inconvenience to themself. They put their own desires and interests on pause to answer the call of anyone who seeks their help.

There is a third communication style, which is being assertive (assertiveness). People who are assertive know what they want and stay true to their priorities and self-interests while, at the same time, being mindful and respectful of those around them. They express their desires without imposing on others. they can decline an invitation without feeling guilty and can say “no” without stirring up conflict.

Identifying Your Style

To help you determine your communication style, here are three real-world scenarios dealing with assertiveness. These are examples that you have likely encountered to some degree in the past and will probably face again in the future.

In the event that your communication style changes depending on the social situation, context, or people involved, then simply do your best to give the actual and honest response that you would give in the situation described.

Scenario 1

This weekend is the annual BBQ and you have been looking forward to it for weeks. Friends and family are coming in from out of town and you cannot wait to see everyone. The big celebration is just hours away, and you can hardly contain your excitement. But then, you are hit with an unexpected request. Your colleague messed up on an important project and is asking for your help to resolve the matter. This will not be an easy fix and will likely take up most of the weekend.

How would you respond?

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  • Agree to help your colleague, which means having to notify friends and family that the BBQ has been canceled.
  • Refuse to help your colleague while calling him an incompetent idiot as you slam the door on your way out.
  • Inform your colleague that you have important family plans this weekend and will not be able to assist.

Scenario 2

You are a member of a community group. You want to help make a difference in your neighborhood and local area, so you donate time and resources when available. One of the group’s officers has just asked you to take the role of chairman for a committee. Your time is already limited, and this would mean added responsibility and more time donated to the organization, which leaves less time to spend with your family.

How would you respond?

  • “Okay, I guess I can do it.”
  • “I already do enough for this organization and now you want me to do more for you?”
  • “Thank you. This sounds like a wonderful opportunity and I’m flattered. However, my time is limited so I must decline.”

Scenario 3

A speaker you admire is coming to your area to host a seminar. You have always wanted to see this person speak at a live event. You have seen countless recordings online and finally, you have the chance to sit in the audience and take part in the experience. You tell your spouse the great news, but your partner just doesn’t share your excitement and does not want to go to the seminar.

How would you respond?

  • “You are right. I guess it isn’t that big of a deal. I was foolish for wanting to go to the seminar.”
  • “If you really love me then you will go with me.”
  • “If you aren’t interested in going that’s okay. You don’t have to go. I just thought I would offer. However, I am still going because it is important to me.”

Were you able to identify your communication style? Could you pick out the three distinct styles? In each of the examples, the first choice was the passive style, the second choice was the aggressive style, and the third choice was the assertive style.

Why Is It Important?

Being assertive means valuing your wants, needs, feelings, views, beliefs, and choices. You acknowledge their importance and consciously decide to make these things a priority.

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Assertive people value their time and energy. They also have higher levels of confidence and self-worth. Being assertive can also help alleviate confusion, decrease anxiety, and reduce conflict while interacting with others because your desires and interests will have been expressed clearly and directly.

5 Tips on How to Be More Assertive

We now know how good assertiveness is. If you’re struggling to be assertive, though, here are five tips to help you.

1. Set Clear Boundaries

The first step to being more assertive is learning how to set clear boundaries. This can include setting time limits for meetings and activities, not answering the phone after work hours, powering down your mobile device or setting up away messages to avoid distractions, or saying “no” without feeling obligated to offer a reason or backstory.

2. Script Basic Responses

This can be extremely helpful for individuals who find themselves agreeing to requests before giving careful consideration to what is being asked. If you find yourself saying “yes” just to please others, then having a few go-to responses can be a total game-changer. This can be as simple as saying, “Let me check my schedule first and I’ll get back to you.”

Just remember to follow back around with a definite response. Another example would be to simply state, “I am sorry, but I am unavailable,” and leave it at that. Again, you are not obligated to give an explanation.

3. Know Your Worth

Your time and attention are valuable. Stop giving them away to everyone and anyone who asks. If you won’t value your time, then you can’t expect others to do it. Incorporating positive self-talk and reciting affirmations can also help boost confidence, improve self-esteem, and increase feelings of self-worth.

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4. Keep Your Cool

It is often difficult to think or communicate clearly and effectively during times of high stress or debilitating anxiety. Practicing deep breathing, relaxation techniques, or grounding exercises can help refocus your mind and alleviate unwanted negative feelings. This can help improve cognitive ability and you will be in a much better mental state to respond appropriately.

5. Take Baby Steps

Practice assertiveness every day. Start small if necessary. Look for little opportunities within everyday common exchanges to practice making assertive decisions. This could mean taking the initiative to decide tonight’s dinner, choosing the activity or movie for a family fun night, taking the day off and treating yourself to a spa day, allowing the incoming call to go directly to voicemail, or saying “no” to something that does not interest you.

Final Thoughts

Consider your wants, needs, feelings, views, beliefs, and choices. Determine how important these things are to you. They should be a priority. Make the conscious decision to start putting them first.

Determine the value of your time, energy, and attention. This exercise will force you to look deep within to measure your self-worth. Be honest with this introspection. If your findings are unsatisfactory, then take a proactive approach by making necessary adjustments. Use the tips described above to make your best interests a priority in your life.

More Communication Tips

Featured photo credit: Smartworks Coworking via unsplash.com

More by this author

Rich Perry

Rich is a Communication Strategist who helps entrepreneurs craft their message and empower them to deliver it.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

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

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

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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