How to Be Assertive When You Really Don’t Want To

Avoiding conflict sounds like a good idea to many people. Yes, some of us would like to hide under a rock in the face of difficult situations. Although not being assertive has some short-term benefits, like avoiding immediate confrontations, significant long-term drawbacks of not being assertive are living inauthentically, allowing yourself to take on tasks or commitments you don’t want to complete, being treated like a doormat, or just finding yourself going along with situations that leave you feeling frustrated, depressed, resentful, and/or hopeless. One day you may even wake up and think, how did I get here?

Being assertive is standing up for your rights in a clear way without being aggressive or passive. It’s expressing your feelings and thoughts respectfully and honestly. Being assertive provides you with an insight into your own feelings and needs. Success requires assertiveness because it allows you to advocate for and achieve your personal and professional goals instead of putting everyone else first or getting distracted by other priorities and agendas.

While being assertive is second nature to some people, others find it frightening. Some people are assertive in some situations, but not others. Very few people are assertive all of the time. The following suggestions will help you be assertive to increase the likelihood of getting your needs met. Following these suggestions won’t produce miracles, but it will certainly maximize your chances of getting what you want while respecting the rights of others.

Giving Your Opinion

Take ownership of your opinion! Use ‘I’ statements to express your own views and feelings, such as:

  • “I would like it if…”
  • “I prefer…”
  • “I think…”
  • “I feel…”
  • “My own view is…”
  • “My personal view is that…”

If someone disagrees with you, be willing to discuss the issue, but don’t feel it’s your duty to change that person’s mind. Likewise, you can change your mind if presented with new information you hadn’t considered, but don’t change your mind just because someone thinks differently than you.

Saying No

Saying ‘No’ is so important. “If you cannot say no, you are not in charge of your own life” (Paterson). The following are key points to (and examples of) refusing a request or resisting pressure to do something:

  • Be clear and explicit. “No.”
  • Be polite but firm. “No, I’m not willing to do that.”
  • If the person asks for reasons or explanations, keep them to a minimum or just repeat your refusal. It’s O.K. to be a broken record and there’s no need to defend yourself or make excuses when it isn’t necessary. “No, as I’ve said before, I’m not willing to do that.”
  • If you encounter resistance from the other person after repeating your refusal, stay calm and indicate that you are going to end the conversation or switch topics. “I can see that you don’t agree, but that’s my decision. Let’s agree to disagree and end this conversation for now.”

Making Requests

Making requests can be difficult because sometimes it feels like we are trying to control other people. In reality, making a request is informing others what we would like to happen; we are stating our desires. How can you become more comfortable making requests? Consider these tips:

  • Have a clear idea about what you would like to happen in the situation.
  • Before making the request decide what you think is actually reasonable, but don’t underestimate your rights.
  • Don’t apologize for asking, and don’t put yourself down as part of the request. “I’m sorry, but can you…?”
  • State the request positively, don’t demand. Be specific about what you want. “I’d like the report ready by 2pm.”
  • If appropriate, express your emotions clearly or provide a positive outcome. “It upsets me when we don’t meet deadlines, so I’d like the report by 2pm today.”
  • Use those ‘I’ statements and stay calm.

There are countless other situations and ways in which you can be assertive, like receiving or giving positive/negative feedback, negotiating, telling someone you like them, etc. There are also other techniques for being assertive, such as offering compromise, fogging, negative assertion, etc. Also, remember to accept the consequences of being assertive. You have the right to have your needs met and request what you want, but others have the right not to agree with you or accept your requests. Recognize and accept this. It’s O.K. for others not to agree with you. Lean in to that discomfort.

O.K., so getting to the point, how can you be assertive when you really don’t want to? Just do it! Fear can sometimes paralyze us and prevent us from taking steps to get our needs met. Remember that your ultimate goal is to be assertive, so act accordingly. I know, it can feel dreadful, so start small. Practice being assertive in less fearful situations, like negotiating the price of strawberries at the farmer’s market. You can even practice in front of a mirror.

What will happen when I start being assertive? You’ll feel discomfort and anxiety at first – it may feel silly and scary, and you may even blush and stutter, but you’ll eventually become an assertiveness expert. Keep in mind that the people in your life are accustomed to seeing you behave in a certain way, so they will be a little taken aback when you begin standing your ground and asserting your needs and wants. They may not even take you seriously at first, but keep at it. They will soon come to realize that you mean business.

References and Recommended Readings:
– Bonham-Carter, D., 2013. Introducing Assertiveness: A Practical Guide. Icon Books Ltd.
– Paterson, R.J., 2000. The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships, 1 edition ed. New Harbinger Publications.


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