Salespeople tend to intimidate me. “This necklace will look so good with that top you’re buying.” When I hear something of that variation I’ll suddenly feel a tightness in my chest, because I know I don’t want that necklace, but I don’t want to seem mean. At best, I’ll muster a “I’ll come back for it in a bit. I just want to check out some, uh, shoes at that store over there. I’ll be back.” While most people can probably assert themselves fairly well with salespeople, there’s a good chance that a lot of you have trouble saying no to family members or friends when they ask for help, for example, or when your boss asks if you can work some overtime. Or:
- Your meal at a restaurant is undercooked or not to your liking.
- Your partying neighbors don’t understand the meaning of common courtesy at 1AM.
- You’ve worked your butt off the last two years and feel you deserve a raise.
Ideally, what you want to do in situations like these is to lift your head high, march straight to whoever’s in charge, and firmly state your desire in a polite but straightforward, “won’t-take-no-for-an-answer” manner. The problem is, a lot of people won’t take these assertive steps and instead come up with a myriad of excuses. “If they wanted to give me a raise, they would have by now.” “The neighbors are having fun and I don’t want to cause friction by complaining about the noise.” “If I return my food they’ll do something to it.” So rather than stand up for ourselves, we sit and fume over an unjust world where we never seem to get what we want. If this is you, you’re not alone. Queendom analyzed data from nearly 7,000 people, and discovered that while the majority of people are moderately assertive, many avoid speaking up for themselves, preferring to hold their tongue.
Assertiveness has a lot to do with confidence, as well as the desire to avoid hurting other people’s feelings, to not “rock the boat,” and simply avoid unnecessary conflict. The problem is, when you don’t voice what you want, you’re the ones who ends up resentful, angry, hurt, or unfulfilled. Not only is that unfair, but it also leaves the issue unresolved. Research has show that there are many benefits to being assertive, which I will highlight below, but there’s one caveat to keep in mind here: There’s a major difference between being “assertive” and being “aggressive”.
- Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings, opinions and needs. This is done directly, openly and honestly, while not violating the personal rights of others.
- Aggressive behavior is self-enhancing at the expense of others. It does not take other individuals’ rights into consideration. Assertiveness is an active rather than passive approach to a situation.
Basically, if you’re yelling, threatening, intimidating or being totally inflexible, that’s aggression. If you’re firm but polite, and flexible without being a pushover, you’re being assertive.
So why’s being assertive so important? Research has shown that assertiveness training builds self-esteem and a sense of empowerment (Sazant, 2010), and even reduces anxiety (Wehr & Kaufman, 1987) and self-harming behavior in individuals with personality disorders (Hayakawa 2009). In addition, Queendom’s study shows that more assertive people tend to have better grades in school, better performance ratings at work, and are much more satisfied with their job than their less assertive counterparts. Here’s what else Queendom uncovered about assertiveness through their online Assertiveness Test:
- 20% of people who took the test have been told that they should be more assertive; 29% were told this by their manager.
- 20% feel intimidated by authority figures.
- 29% feel that others take advantage of them.
- 31% will speak up to a waiter if they are not satisfied with the service.
- 34% would tell their neighbors to quiet down if they were making too much noise.
- 42% feel comfortable saying “no” to people.
- 49% don’t feel comfortable asking for a raise, even if they feel they deserve it.
- 52% admit that they put others’ needs ahead of their own.
- 56% admit that they replay arguments in their head, wishing they had the guts to say what they really wanted to.
Here are some guidelines for being assertive and saying “no”:
- Remember, you don’t have to justify why you are saying “no”, but if you feel compelled to do so, explain your reason for declining a request in simple terms.
- Suggest an alternative solution that suits your needs and the person you are saying “no” to.
- Don’t feel like you should apologize. Remind yourself that the decision is entirely up to you.
- Use nonverbal assertiveness to underline the “no”. Make sure that your voice is firm and direct. Look into the person’s eyes as you refuse. Shake your head “no” as you say it.
- If you are saying “no” to someone whom you would help under different circumstances, use an empathic response to ease the rejection. “I understand your predicament, but at the moment I don’t have the resources/time to effectively deal with your request, and that wouldn’t be fair to you or me.”