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Why Being Assertive Is Challenging and What to Do About It

Being assertive—standing up for yourself and your needs while respectfully considering the needs of others—isn't always easy. It can be downright difficult at times. Why is that?

One of the biggest challenges you might face when trying to be assertive is the fear of conflict. You might worry that speaking up will lead to an argument or that you'll hurt someone's feelings. However, it's important to remember that conflict is not necessarily unhealthy or “bad” for relationships. Healthy conflict can lead to greater understanding and closer relationships.

If you're afraid of conflict, try reframing your thinking and seeing it as an opportunity for growth in your relationships, like muscles getting stronger after the microtears from a workout.

Another challenge you might face when asserting yourself is the fear of rejection. You might worry that if you speak up, others will reject you or won't want to listen to what you have to say. However, it's important to remember that everyone has a right to an opinion and you cannot control how others will react. If you're worried about rejection, try focusing on your needs and wants and expressing yourself clearly and respectfully.

What's the best way to become more assertive?

Practice. You can look for opportunities in your day-to-day life to be more assertive and pick the ones you want to start with. You can also set yourself up to practice small steps, which might be going to a restaurant and making an off-the-menu request or asking for more hot sauce.

A few studies suggest that role-playing can help develop social skills. One study found that children who roleplayed being better behaved got better grades in school (Froschauer et al., 1990). Another study showed that roleplaying could help people feel more confident (Powell & Fassinger, 2000).

Role-playing can be a great way to improve your assertiveness skills. Practicing being assertive in a safe and controlled environment can help reduce your fear of conflict and rejection and increase your confidence in speaking up for yourself.

If role-play interests you, keep a few things in mind.

  1. Make sure you're practicing with someone who will be supportive and understanding.

  2. Choose scenarios that are realistic and relevant to your life.

  3. Be patient – it may take time and practice before you feel comfortable being assertive in all situations.

One of the role-playing exercises that the adult social skills school Jaunty has found helpful for its social skills training is:

Making Requests vs. Saying No

Partner 1: Makes a strong request, "Hey Dave, you've been doing such a great job lately. Would you be able to give us a few hours on Wednesdays to help with our project because we have been falling behind a bit?

Partner 2: Declines the offer, "Thanks for thinking of me, Sarah; however, I have so much on my plate that if I add more, it will take away from my ability to focus on those, so I can't."

Request tips: Starting with a positive, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that people are more likely to be accommodating if you request politely and respectfully. Many people will be happy to help if they can. So, before you speak up, take a deep breath, and try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Consider what might be motivating them and how you might be able to phrase your request in a way that is most likely to elicit a positive response.

When you use the word "because" in your request, studies show that you are more likely to get a positive response because people like to know why they are being asked to do something. Using the word "because" can help them understand your reasoning. You may find that they are more likely to say "yes" when they understand the reasons behind your request.

Saying "No" tips: When you're unable to help, it's important to say no respectfully and considerately. There are a few things you can do to make sure your “no” is heard and respected. Again, start with a positive and thank them for thinking of you. Also, avoid a long-winded excuse. You can simply say you are busy. Lastly, make sure to use firm eye contact and open body language.

Other role-play situations that Jaunty offers are Giving an opinion vs. Disagreeing, Setting boundaries, and Interrupting vs. Counter-interrupting.

While being assertive isn't always easy, it's worth the effort. When you're assertive, you're more likely to get your needs met while also respecting the needs of others. If you struggle with assertiveness, try reframing your thoughts about conflict and rejection. Remember that conflict is not necessarily unhealthy, and everyone has a right to an opinion. With these things in mind, you'll be well on your way to being more assertive in no time!


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