Feel like speaking up but you can’t seem to muster courage? All you need is a little training in being outspoken. “Being assertive is important today because the more global we are, the more voices there are that want to be heard,” says Dianna Booher, executive communication coach and author of Communicate with Confidence: How to Say it Right the First Time and Every Time. “If you have two people in a household, it’s likely that both people will get heard to some extent—no matter how shy or assertive. But put 10 kids in that household and the shyest of the group will likely get far less attention from the parents. After all, there are only so many hours in the day.”
Having a hard time speaking up? Here are five tips to help get your voice heard:
1. Choose your battles: There are too many things competing for our attention. Did someone make a snide remark about your increased weight? Did a coworker send a homophobic email to you? You can’t take on every fight, so choose your battles. “The key is in deciding when and where to be assertive,” says Liz Bywater, psychologist and leadership coach. “What’s most important to you? Where must you absolutely draw a line? And where can you flex to let others take the lead?”
2. Be polite: If you are going to be assertive, you will definitely step on some toes. But there’s a way to do it politely. “Being assertive always carries the risk of offending someone who disagrees with your position, but there are ways to mitigate the risk,” says Steve Siebold, business coach and author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class. Soften your language while having tough conversations. Siebold recommends sentence starters such as, “The way I see it..,“This is just an opinion, but…, or “I may be wrong, but the way I see it…”
3. Use the power of silence: Certain situations require communication, but you don’t always have to answer people if you feel it’s not worth your time. “Silence is assertive,” says Booher. “For example, if someone asks you to provide information that you don’t want to share, simply smile and go about your business.” The same rule applies for pesky emails from colleagues and friends. Just ignore them and move on.
4. Make it quick: If you know that your answer to someone is no, then don’t put off conveying it. “Don’t wait and think about your answer—your guilt trip may take over,” says behavioral theorist and business coach Linda Talley. She also recommends saying no with a “charge neutral voice.” Don’t want to hang out with your friend tonight because you have work? Call him up and say no quickly: “Hey Adam, I’ve got to file this memo tomorrow morning. I don’t think I can do drinks tonight, sorry!” It’s as simple as that.
5. Draw the line: In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to cross the line and be too harsh. But you’ve got to remember assertion and aggression are two different things. “Aggression intimidates, bullies, and threatens, whereas assertiveness invites and compromises without sacrificing,” says licensed counselor Serena Wadhwa. “Sometimes when people don’t get their way, frustration builds, and manifests into aggressive behavior.” Next time you feel like screaming at the waitress for serving you stale bread, try and make your point without throwing any tantrums.
Don’t like the guy who proposed to buy a drink for you at the bar? Just say no. Being assertive is simple, and gets you out of trouble quickly.