There is only a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. Stay on the right side of that line, and you will be known as a determined person who knows what they want. Stray too far over to the other side of the line, and you will gain a reputation for being awkward and rude. On the other hand, you could stay well clear of the line altogether, and be a person who always says yes and who never gets what they want. Here, Russell Jack, Southland-based yoga and mindfulness teacher, shares eight tips to help you get what you want without resorting to rudeness or aggression.
1. Stay Calm
Number one in the rule book of assertiveness is not to lose your cool. If you lose your temper, you lose control. When you lose control, you lose the high ground, and you could lose the argument too. You do not need to shout and scream to get your way. If you argue your case calmly and logically, you will be able to get your point across far more effectively and without confrontation.
2. Use Positive Body Language
You say more through your body language and the tone of your voice than you do with the words that you use. So, your facial expression, your hand gestures, and how you talk, are all crucial elements of being assertive. If you want to be assertive without being aggressive, adopt a positive posture, and a firm tone of voice. However, keep your expression neutral and avoid making too many hand gestures.
3. Maintain Eye Contact
Maintaining eye contact shows your sincerity and determination, and people react more positively to someone who looks them in the eye. Be sure, though, not to let your eye contact become a stare, or it will be read as a sign of aggression. If you keep eye contact for around 70% of the time, it will demonstrate that you are taking the conversation seriously but not make you appear confrontational.
4. Do Not Leave Any Room for Doubt
If you want to be assertive, you must be clear about the outcome that you want. You should not try to soften the blow using phrases like “It would be nice if” or “Would it be possible to”. Instead, you should use simple, direct phrases like “I want,” “I believe,” and “I need”. Using phrases with “I” in them makes it clear what the outcome is that you desire, and it demonstrates that the result is important to you personally.
5. Demonstrate Empathy
Demonstrating that you understand another person’s point of view can help you be assertive while at the same time diffusing a situation. You might say to a disgruntled customer, for example, that you understand their frustration; however, the warranty has expired, so you cannot authorize a refund. Adding that empathy at the beginning of the statement takes the sting out of the firm assertion that a refund is not available.
6. Avoid the Blame Game
When you want to be assertive, it is best if you do not bring things down to a personal level. So, do not attack the person that you are talking to, and do not accuse them of anything. There is a vast difference between “You are wrong,” and “I disagree,” for example. “You are wrong,” blames the other person, and it is a statement that could be argued. “I disagree” is less confrontational, and the other person cannot dispute that you disagree with their opinion.
7. Get Your Facts Right
If you are going to fight your corner effectively, you must be sure that you have the facts to back up your case. If you want to reprimand a worker for poor timekeeping, for example, you will need to have examples of that employee’s late arrival at work. Having your facts straight before you begin a conversation will help avoid arguments, and it will give you the confidence to be more assertive.
8. Use the Positive No
A Positive No is a concept discussed by Harvard Professor William Ur in his book, The Power of the Positive No. The idea is to put a positive spin on a negative statement by sandwiching the no between two positive comments. If you needed to tell a client that you cannot provide a service on the date that they want it, for example, you could use the following type of phrase. “Yes, I understand how important that date is for you. However, I am fully booked for that day. I can, though, do the job for you the following day.” In that statement, you have shown empathy, you have been assertive, and you have provided your customer with an alternative. You have not been aggressive, and there is nothing more left to be discussed.
As you can see from the above tips, you do not have to shout at somebody to get your way. If you project the right body language, get your facts right, and keep your cool, you can be assertive without needing to be aggressive. And, if you use a bit of empathy and show the other person respect, you can be firm and prevent the conversation from turning into an argument.
About Russell Jack
Russell Herbert Jack is a yoga and mindfulness teacher from Southland, New Zealand. He specializes in Vinyasa Yoga, Qigong, and guided meditations, helping clients achieve harmony of body, mind, and soul. Russell is passionate about animal rights protection, regularly volunteering with the World Animal Protection Organization and donating to protect endangered species in New Zealand.