Men are generally far more assertive than women. Because boys grow up learning to be pushy. While girls are socialised to value warmth, intimacy and consensus, boys learn to boast. For them, being the winner is everything. While girls discover that their friends like them more when they don’t put themselves forward.
But being assertive is a hugely successful strategy in today’s world. Whether your goal is becoming CEO, or improving your love life.
And that works for women just as well as for men.
Being assertive means expressing your feelings directly and honestly, while at the same time valuing other people’s opinions. It means knowing your rights, and standing up for them. It means learning to control your emotions and being willing to work through conflict.
Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive. Assertiveness is based on balance. Being forthright about your needs while still considering other’s feelings.
Being aggressive is purely about winning. Pursuing your interests without regard for others. That might get you what you want. Once. But it also creates enemies and stores up problems for the future. So avoid staring people down, being sarcastic, condescending, or making threats ‘...if you don’t...’ or put downs ‘...don’t be so stupid!’
Being passive is even worse. Not expressing your feelings, or expressing them so mildly they’re ignored. That might avoid conflict in the short term, but it encourages people to demand too much of you. So avoid forever apologising, letting things slide, not saying what you mean, or using phrases like, ‘If it’s not too much trouble...’ or ‘Do whatever you want...’
Start becoming more assertive by knowing what you want. Doing research, getting the facts right and asking for opinions. This way, you’re able to prepare a good case ahead of time, and appear organised and firm.
Everyone will take you more seriously if you look interested, and speak firmly and slowly. Use direct eye contact and open, alert body language. Use relaxed gestures, a factual approach, and sound determined.
Say ‘I’ a lot: ‘I want...’ or ‘I don’t agree...’ And co-operative phrases like ‘What are your thoughts?’ and clear expressions of interest such as ‘I’d like us to...’ Learn to say no when you need to. And to accept compliments or criticism graciously.
Listen well and recognise the other person’s point of view so that you reach agreements that stick. Ask open questions, like ‘Are there any other options?’ to make sure everyone feels they’ve been heard. And to expose the weaknesses in other people’s arguments: ‘What’s the evidence?’ ‘Who have you asked about this?’ If your question is avoided, re-phrase it. And practise holding your ground: ‘Hang on, I need to think about this.’
Modern organisations and lovers value assertiveness enormously. So being more assertive makes all the difference at work and in relationships. When dealing with conflict for example, bringing up your children, and improving your sex life. So practice! And both your career and your family life will improve.