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Imagine this situation. Your colleague asks you to help with a piece of work which is really
her responsibility to do. She uses various manipulative techniques to get you to agree. She
might tell you how brilliant you are at this kind of thing (flattery). She might play the ‘I’ve
got SO much work on!” card, or “I’m SO stressed” card (guilt), or make empty promises
about ‘owing you’. Even though you have more than enough to do, you agree because it’s
the easy option in that moment.

Do you often find yourself agreeing to something you hadn’t meant to, or realize you didn’t
say what you wanted to say? We shy away from saying what we really think or feel and end
up being railroaded or taken advantage of.

One of the most negative consequences of anxiety is that you find it difficult to speak up
and end up feeling resentful, angry or overwhelmed as a result. And it’s all about fear. Very
often it’s because we fear conflict. Many of us are brought up to be so afraid of confrontation
that we’ll do almost anything to avoid it!

Perhaps it’s fear of embarrassment – appearing incompetent or inadequate in some way. Or

maybe we want so much to be liked, that we forget we have a responsibility to ourselves.
Low self-worth leads to wanting to be liked, or putting others’ needs first. Better to go for

The good news is you can learn to face that fear, to speak up and get what you want more
often! You just have to start doing things a little differently.

It was in the mid-1900s that assertiveness was recognised by personal development experts
and therapists as an important skill for a life. Without it we can’t be true to ourselves and
this can lead to depression, anxiety, feelings of resentment, anger and guilt. To really blossom
as yourself, to have healthy, honest relationships and make the most of your unique talents,
it’s important to become comfortable with being assertive. Remember small steps can lead
to big change.
So what is assertiveness? It’s not about being over-bearing, aggressive or dominating – or
getting your own way no matter what. And it’s not being passive – which is putting up
with all sorts of situations and behaviours that we’d prefer not to. It’s about standing up
for your own rights, but also respecting the rights of others. We tend to use one style of
behaviour more than the others, and it can vary depending on the particular situation or
relationship. Take a look at these 4 communication styles and think about which you tend
to use the most, particularly at work.

AGGRESSIVE: dominating, loud, impatient, angry, rigid, intolerant, intimidating.

“I win”.

PASSIVE: you feel intimidated, can’t say no, don’t speak up, avoid eye contact, use
defensive body language, put up with things. “You win”.

PASSIVE/AGGRESSIVE: (or indirectly aggressive): sulking, manipulating, withdrawn,

blaming, goading, sabotaging, withholding information, gossiping, using emotional
blackmail. “I win”

ASSERTIVE: confident, open, honest, tolerant, take more risks, objective, fair, respect
others, responsible, co-operative, grounded. “Win/Win”

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Being assertive is about direct communication – confident, open and honest. Keeping
your emotions out of the way allows you to stay in your adult mode. You look for ways
of co-operating, but are prepared to stand your ground if necessary. You take your time to
respond rather than feeling pressured into a knee-jerk reaction.

3 Steps to Assertiveness

1. Prepare. Get into a confident frame of mind. At the root of the problem is fear and
feeling somehow not good enough, particularly highlighted when you’re dealing
with people in authority. So get yourself into a positive, focussed frame of mind.
Use positive self-talk (“I can do this”) and recall a time when you felt really good
about yourself, full of confidence and on top of your game. Or perhaps you can
think of a good role model and imagine stepping into their shoes. Fake it until you
feel it, and it will get easier! Plan what you will say, and rehearse various scenarios.
2. Say what you think and feel, and above all say what you want!
Be clear and concise. Prepare what you want to say and repeat yourself if necessary. Be
prepared to listen. Remember your body language: posture, voice, eye contact, facial
expression. It’s important not to take things personally, particularly at work, so if you begin
to feel anxious or defensive, relax, breathe, and take your time. Be ready to ask for time
to think things over. That’s grown up.
3. Sell the benefits. If you can, why not suggest an incentive that will encourage
cooperation? For example, “If I’m given overall responsibility for the project it’s
going to be much easier to make decisions on the ground, rather than bothering
you with every detail”. Or “If you help me now we can get out sooner!”

You owe it to yourself to speak up, and amazingly enough nothing dreadful happens when
you do! Instead you will earn respect and even a degree of admiration!