Are you the type of person that has a hard time speaking up in loud, busy meetings? Are you lost when it comes to being assertive at work? Do you pull your sleeves over your hands and bite your tongue when your idea gets scrapped or you get steamrolled during a project you're supposed to be heading? Do you look up at girl bosses with admiration and frustration in your eyes, wondering just how does a person gather up enough confidence to be so assertive and strong willed? Well, my friend, the good news is you're not without hope.
Everyone has their fair share of insecurities and anxieties when it comes to speaking up and standing up for themselves, and the great news is that being confident isn't something that only a handful are blessed with. It's a skill that can be learned and sharpened with practice. But how do you go about and doing that? It's not as hard as you might think! There are baby steps you can take if it's really hard for you to find your voice, and then a few more intermediate stages that you can practice with once you begin to get your groove. By just keeping an eye on a few tweaks, you'll notice that you'll be able to communicate easier, approach conflict with less anxiety, and begin to grow and expand in your position. Here are seven ways to become more assertive at work — square your shoulders and get ready to clear your throat. You can do this!
1. Step One: Realize Why It Makes Sense To Stop Being Timid
Being timid at work has a lot to do with confidence — most of the time you stay in your wallflower position because you believe you don't have the skills or experience backing you up to voice your opinion or stand up for yourself. This definitely isn't true (or else you wouldn't have that job to begin with) According to Michael Hedrick at PsychCentral, "Being assertive is simply trusting in your own judgment enough to know when you can or can’t do something and staying firm with that judgment. If you have the experience and you have the skills, what’s stopping you?"
Look at it this way: You got hired for your position because you were the best candidate to fill that roll. Your company trusts that you know what you're about. You're the expert in your field, now go and act like it.
2. Train Yourself To Be Present
If you're not quite ready to take on your boss with a counter-idea or to defend a strategy of yours that was vetoed in a meeting, that's totally OK. Start with something smaller until you've worked your way up the assertive ladder. Instead, take a baby step in your plan for more confidence and wet your toe by training yourself to be more present.
According to Ravelle Worthington at SELF, "Being there doesn’t always mean you’re present and in the moment. Demonstrate that you’re completely in the moment by fearlessly listening, acknowledging cues in a conversation, and asking for clarification when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It shows you’re unafraid to both acknowledge you didn’t understand something and get the insight you need." So bring attention to yourself during meetings. Respond to questions and bring your own up. Pitch ideas, ask for deeper explanations. The more you quip in, the more comfortable you'll become bringing the spotlight on yourself and voicing your opinion. That'll be your foundation, and from there you can begin to build your assertive skills.
3. Speak In Headlines
When you feel nervous or uncomfortable, it's instinct to begin rambling and burying your idea with filler words and justifications that derail your request. If you have a tendency to muddle up your sentences when you're forced to be forward, try talking in short and clear headlines.
According to Worthington, "When sharing an idea or expressing your thoughts, try to think of the headline you want to communicate in advance and stick to that when relaying your message. This little trick will help you to share your thoughts concisely and clearly, without rambling. It also helps you to make your point with more assertion. Another important point to remember is to be careful not to end a statement with a questioning tone, as that comes across as you having doubt in what you’re communicating."
Keep it short and brief and you'll come off looking confident and firm. No one needs to know that your palms are sweating but you.
4. Don't Apologize For Doing Your Job
You should never feel the need to apologize for is doing your job. Say you have to go up to your boss for a third time that day to remind her to edit language on a document that you need to move forward on your project — uncomfortable, right? Wrong.
She hired you just for that reason; you're supposed to be doing it! Don't feel bad about following up with her.
According to Kelsey Miller at Refinery29, "Are you asking for something or pressing an issue that falls within your purview? Then you have nothing to be sorry for. It would be a misstep not to ask for that draft or follow up on that request. Apologizing in these scenarios is not only needless; it fosters an unhealthy dynamic between you and your coworkers." If she seems annoyed by the interruption take it in stride; she has her own reasons for being miffed about being disturbed. You've got a job to do, and you're merely trying to do it.
5. Watch Your Language
When feeling nervous or hesitant, we have a tendency to devalue our language — meaning, we add filler words that take down the importance of what we're saying to make ourselves more comfortable saying it. If you want to become more assertive at work, keeping an eye on your language and taking out those filler words is one of the fastest ways to appear more confident.
According to Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com, "For example, the word 'just' implies that something is insignificant: 'I just thought…' or 'This is just an idea…' Don't these statements sound like the person saying them isn't even interested? It's like they're giving the listener a warning that what's to come is trivial and irrelevant. Another way people do this is by prefacing their words with phrases like: 'I could be wrong but…'...Why give people a reason to think your contribution is wrong?" Nix the words that take away your credibility or serve no purpose but to cushion your requests or ideas. They serve no purpose, and you'll come off looking much more assertive with little effort on your end.
6. Watch Your Body Language
Watching you language crosses over to body language, too. If you're training yourself to be more forward and vocal at work, watch how you position your body while you speak. It makes a huge difference. According to Vanessa Van Edwards, author and behavioral investigator, "Women who are timid tend to keep their arms close by their side and tuck their feet under their chair, taking up as little space as possible. If you want to show confidence, you have to claim space by firmly planting your feet shoulder width apart, or if you are sitting, leaning back in your chair and using the armrests during meetings." Open your body up, create a strong silhouette, and you'll feel and look more confident and less reserved.
7. Fake It Until You Make It
Your brain is going to want to do the opposite of what's uncomfortable, and so the knee-jerk reaction of coming toe to toe with an opportunity to be assertive is to become passive. Being assertive usually means confronting a conflict or doing something that not everyone in the office will like, but the important thing here is to push through the situation anyway. Pretend you're not freaking out on the inside, and plow through the job with what needs to be done.
According to Kelsey Miller at Refinery29, "When you step outside your comfort zone and realize it's not so scary after all — that, in fact, it's pretty great — you're actually rewiring your brain. Your response patterns will begin to change and these new behaviors will become habits." So keep at it — confront the situation head on, even though you're cringing on the inside and sweating underneath your blazer. Keep faking that you're totally comfortable until one day you realize: You completely are. It takes practice, you've got this!
And that's the main thing to remember at work, at home, in relationships — you've got this. Own it and be confident in your abilities.