Following up to last week’s post I figured it would only be fair to give some practical steps we can incorporate into our daily lives that can help us stand up for ourselves more effectively so without further ado here are 8 steps I’ve been taking to build up confidence and be more assertive.
1. Stop Saying “Sorry”
This might sound like a very silly thing to do until you take the expression out of your vocabulary. Once I stopped saying “sorry” in place of “excuse me” or other sentence starters like for example: “sorry, I hope I’m not bothering you”, I realized just how much I apologized for things that didn’t need apologizing for. Using the word “sorry” triggers a feeling of guilt, of “I’m not supposed to be doing this” or “it’s my fault” etc., when you’re not doing anything that requires an apology and the expression can easily be substituted with many others like “excuse me”, “may I talk to you?”, or just a simple “Hello” followed by the topic you want to address. Stop apologizing in situations that don’t require apologies.
2. Stop Saying “It’s OK”
That seems to be the default response when someone is late to a meeting with you or does something that made you uncomfortable or made you feel like your time wasn’t valued or just plain does something that might not seem like a big deal but that was definitely not “OK” with you. Using those words reads to other people as: “it’s OK for me to treat you like this” and it imprints on you a certain tolerance for the same type of treatment because you’re not only telling them that it’s OK, you’re telling yourself that too. When someone’s late to a meeting with you and they say “sorry I’m late”, you can easily change the “it’s OK” response to “glad you made it”. When someone apologizes for something like taking something that’s yours without your permission first, instead of “it’s OK” you can say “just don’t let it happen again” or, if that sounds too mean, say “thank you” or “apology accepted” and end it there. Thank them for apologizing (as they should) and move on.
3. If You Have A Question, Ask!
Sometimes we feel as though our questions might be dumb or meaningless or that it’s just a matter of YOU taking it into your own hands and researching whatever it is your question was after the moment the issue was being discussed. There is an argument for tact and knowing when the right time to speak is but I’m going to set that aside for today. It’s important to voice your opinions and that includes questions as well. Instead of thinking of a question as a lack of understanding on your part, think of them as being proof that you’re actually listening and making an effort to understand. Questions, voiced questions, also show that you are actively thinking about the issue and might be an indicator that there is an alternative way to resolve it. Voicing your questions is also necessary because you might be on a more advanced stage of this journey to being more assertive and other people with the same question as you might be just starting out or not even have started the journey yet and you’ll serve as an example to them.
4. Stop Letting People Interrupt You
How many times have people cut you off in the middle of your sentence? Some people do it out of habit, that’s just how they are, they interrupt everybody. Some do it because the argument or conversation is getting “heated” and they don’t care so much about “hearing” what you’re saying as much as they care about “responding” as fast as they can because responding fast supposedly means you’re witty and being witty means you’re right in their twisted world. No matter what their reason for interrupting you was, it’s never polite and it’s never OK and you should let them know then and there that you weren’t done speaking.
Tell them “I wasn’t done speaking” or “I wasn’t finished making my point”. Most of the time, people are so unexpecting of this that they’ll genuinely be surprised when you tell them you weren’t finished. I know this happens a lot in the corporate world when a female employee is cut off by a male employee. Allowing people to interrupt you sends a message that it’s OK to interrupt your ideas because they don’t matter and that’s exactly what we’re trying to change. It doesn’t only do that for the person who cut you off but it also contributes to you internalizing that idea as well. Remind people that you weren’t finished making your point and continue with it right after that.
5. Stop Justifying Your Feelings
When you feel a way about something and you express that to people, explaining what they did and letting them know you felt uncomfortable you don’t have to further justify how you feel to anyone else. We as people need to learn how to respect each other’s feelings without feeling entitled to overt explanations. If someone else feels uncomfortable with something that we did, we have the right to ask why they felt offended for the mere purpose of better understanding how our words or actions affect other people BUT whether WE personally feel like whatever the reason they gave was good enough or not is completely irrelevant.
If something we do hurts someone else, we should have the decency to respect them and not repeat it and vice versa. Assuming whatever action made you feel uncomfortable had happened in previous circumstances and the other person says “but it was OK last time, what’s the issue now?” all you have to do is reaffirm that it makes you feel uncomfortable and that you’d appreciate it if they didn’t do it again. You are under no obligation to justify your feelings to anyone. You can (and should in my opinion) point out to them what they did that made you feel uncomfortable but there’s absolutely no need to go beyond that.
6. Adjust Your Posture
There are many studies on this but I can only speak from personal experience. Adjusting my posture, standing up straight, siting up straight, keeping my shoulders down and not tensed up, raising my chin a teeny bit, keeping my eyes straight ahead and not looking down so much were things that greatly helped my self confidence and I wasn’t aware these things were having an effect on me until other people started noticing. I would get compliments on my posture, then came the questions on how I got to be so confident and the only thing I was doing differently at that time was correcting my posture (for health reasons, not at all trying to be more confident) so these are a few adjustments you can try and if they don’t increase your confidence at the very least your spine will be aligned!
7. Take Control Of The On/Off Button
And here, I literally mean On/Off button: on your computer, on your cell phone, on all the ways people have to reach you. It’s important that you know when to tell people you’re not available for them any longer and notice I’m not saying “taking time for yourself” because I’m not trying to focus on time spent with yourself, my main focus is you being in control of your time and setting a cut off time for dealing with other people. Being able to reclaim that control will definitely ruffle some feathers in the beginning, specially if you’re used to being a person who’s constantly available but teaching people to respect the time that belongs to you will help remind you that you are in control of your time and how people interact with you and how long those interactions last. Sometimes dealing with people can take a serious toll on you and the act of setting a cut off time or just being able to log off of your emails or switch off your phone sends a message to your brain that “I am important, I control how much I want to deal with/tolerate, I respect my time”.
8. Learn To Say NO
And this is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning), I even wrote about it here. Today’s society with it’s “seize the moment” mentality sometimes makes us feel like everything is important, everything is urgent, everything is an opportunity that MUST be acted upon and that kind of thinking leaves little space for us to assess what we truly want to do, what we truly care about and what opportunities really mean something to us and are worth our time and effort. Not everything needs to be accepted or acted on and that’s OK.
There’s no reason to feel guilty about saying no when people ask you for things that you might not be comfortable with or willing to help them with and if saying no is hard (which it still is sometimes, even for me) a good trick to use is to say “I’ll think about it”. I learned this from a person I’ve mentioned multiple times before here on the blog (leave their name in the comments if you know who that is). It’s a softer way to reject an offer and it’s also a great way to train yourself to take time to think about things before you commit to them out of a feeling of obligation. Say “I’ll think about it” and then go home and actually think about it. Decide if it’s something you want to do, if it’s something you love, if it’s something that’s meaningful to you and if you’re willing to spend your time on it. The power is in your hands and sometimes you just have to say NO.
And those are my 8 tips that’ll hopefully help you stand up for yourself more in your day to day life. You don’t have to use them all at once. Start with the ones that resonate the most with you and once you see improvements in your life you might want to consider adding in a couple more. If you haven’t seen it yet, please read last weeks post where I go into a few more strategies, things to consider and a bit of the psychology behind standing up for yourself.
What are some of your tips and tricks that have helped you become a more confident person? What do you struggle with the most when it comes to standing up for yourself? Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Leave them all in the comments below!