It has been said that it’s in every man’s blood and bones the need to assert ourselves and our path forward. So what does it mean to be assertive?
The assertive interaction style comes in a variety of flavors, sometimes through charm, flamboyance, and talkativeness, and other times in a low-profile, self-contained quiet style of confidence.
The deepest essence of masculinity is that we are all subconsciously wired to be bold.
Throughout history, males have had the biological role of being guardians of their territory, protecting the tribe, and responding to danger. To accomplish that, and to gain higher status and conquer women, functions like competitiveness and aggressiveness are also increased. [Buss, Duntley, 2006; Gat, 2010].
What are some characteristics of bold people?
- We are confident.
- We take risks.
- We protect our loved ones
- We procreate with beautiful ladies.
- And so on, and so forth.
How are we supposed to know this? In our modern-day age, this is not taught as often as in previous generations. Not in school, not by our parents. But seriously, if you had an honest, masculine father, you are very lucky, and I really hope he taught you well. You must be grateful for it.
After all, most of us didn’t have that privilege. However, we have the choice to become better men and better fathers for our future children.
“I was given such a great gift. It’s a miracle that never stops amazing me and reminding me to give thanks, every day. Having a wife and daughter gives me a lot more purpose. I was much more selfish before, but now I think about what kind of role model I’ll be. I just want to be a better man.”
The Way to Be More Assertive
The main idea behind being assertive is to be a nonconformist, ambitious, forceful, and confident in behavior. While yes, these aspects grasp on the “superficial” view of assertiveness, this is just scraping the surface.
Assertiveness is much deeper than that.
To understand this, we must distinguish the differences between two very similar concepts: assertiveness and confidence.
Confidence can be loud or quiet. There’s the flamboyant, showy version of confidence that we often attribute to celebrities (think of Conor McGregor or Muhammad Ali) or the behind-the-scenes type of confidence that is more low-key (for example, Keanu Reeves is a quiet individual, yet his confidence still radiates)
Real confidence comes from within: self-confidence is a belief in oneself, one’s abilities, or one’s judgment. It is freedom from doubt. When you believe you can change things — or make a difference in a situation, you are much more likely to succeed.
On the other hand, Wikipedia defines assertiveness as an adequate direct communication of your wants, needs, and opinions when dealing with others. It involves clear communication and setting boundaries in your relationships.
At its core, assertiveness is honesty. To be respectful with yourself and with others, to state your needs and wants, and to demand fairness in human interactions.
Most skilled communicators recommend people to be assertive. Depending on your situation, it’s best to have an assertive style of communication for 80%-90% of your social interactions.
In other words, to be assertive is to find the right balance between being dominant and submissive. Overly submissive men will let others have power over them (I lose, you win). On the other hand, excessively dominant men will boldly push their way forward without much consideration for other people (I win, you lose).
Being assertive is the sweet spot. It’s not the same as being aggressive, however, you will need to develop the capacity for aggression in order to be assertive. Assertiveness also doesn’t mean being passive, but you need to have the capacity to be passive to become assertive.
So let’s address the main issue here: How do you be MORE assertive?
I’m here to help you with a guide on how you can be more assertive in your day-to-day life.
1. Think/Listen before Talking
It’s been said the reason we have one mouth and two ears is that listening is more difficult than talking.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Stephen R. Covey
Again, if you have to share your opinion with someone, you must be willing to LISTEN first. There are variables to this because you will sometimes have to be more soft-spoken when dealing with one person, and pushier when interacting with a temperamental, impulsive person.
The first step toward becoming a more assertive person is to listen.
Take in what they say, whether it’s good feedback or bad feedback because you can always learn more. Have an open mind and really try to understand their perspective. The keyword here is to have intention — engage the conversation by actively listening.
As I said, you must know how to be passive in order to be truly assertive. And the good news is that you can do this right now. You can find a friend or a family member and engage in a conversation. I challenge you to do this: listen to the person and repeat what you’ve heard them say. You don’t have to repeat it exactly but respond to what you understood from their opinion.
After you listen, you AGREE with them. Because when you agree with them, they trust you more. You don’t have to agree 100% on everything they say, but on certain things that you might relate to. After you listen and then agree on some of their points, THEN you can share your point of view.
This is one of the most important rules on effective assertiveness and communication skills. The Listening/Agreeing rule will depend on the circumstance and will vary from person to person. However, for the sake of beginners, the first tip is to close your mouth and open your ears.
2. Conceal Carry — Only Use When it’s Necessary
“It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”
Wikipedia defines Concealed carry as the practice of carrying a weapon (usually a sidearm such as a handgun), either in proximity to or on one’s person or in public places in a manner that hides or conceals the weapon’s presence from the surrounding observers.
In the context of assertive behavior, you are holding a great weapon inside you. Despite probably never encountering a boundary-crossing situation in the day, you can take comfort in the fact that you can stand up for yourself. If you don’t develop the capacity to establish strong boundaries, then the people who have no trouble crossing them will have power over you.
On the other side of the coin, being able to stand up for yourself can be dangerous; if you make decisions based on too much power, things can take a bad turn real quick.
Like Spider-Man said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” — Actually, it was Peter’s uncle who said it to him. Anyway back to the point, with practice, you might develop a fiery tongue and keep it under control — to tell people what you feel about a situation is an act of courage and an act of inner strength.
You must be assertive most times, but also know how to switch to a more dominant/submissive tone. For example:
- When dealing with an authority figure, you can switch to a more submissive style of communication to show respect.
- When you are teaching your children to be more disciplined, you can be warmly assertive to tell them what you want them to hear.
- When your friend asks you for money, but he’s still in debt with you, you can switch to an assertive tone of voice.
- When someone disrespects you, you can talk back in an assertive/aggressive manner.
Let’s say that you’re dealing with an overly aggressive person, in that case, you’ll probably have to switch strategies because so far you’ve learned that it pays to listen before speaking. However, if you’re dealing with a dominant individual, and your response is to agree, then you will look like you’re losing.
Picture this: Person A and Person B are having an argument.
Person A is being outwardly aggressive– i.e. he’s yelling, cursing, physically dominant, etc. His voice is loud and impossible to ignore. He interrupts and has no problems belittling his opponent and being insensitive.
Person B is being Assertive– i.e. he’s trying to understand Person A’s point of view, and setting his boundaries simultaneously. He’s clear about what he wants yet Person A’s outward dominance dampens Person B’s assertive standpoint.
Person A wins over Person B even if the latter was being more reasonable.
It doesn’t matter who was right or wrong in the argument. Person B’s assertive method was outshined by Person A’s aggressive method. And even if Person B was right the whole time, he did not use the correct strategy when dealing with such a person.
The solution to this: if the other person is firing at you, you must match their level of energy.
3. Practice Setting and Maintaining Strong Boundaries — In the Mirror
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Stand in the mirror and look at yourself. Think about the principles you value, your beliefs, your dreams, your aspirations. Ask yourself, what is important?
After this, the next step is to find out what you dislike. What do you tolerate and not tolerate?
Imagine a scenario you don’t like happening, like confronting your alcoholic father, that toxic ex-girlfriend, or your narcissistic boss. Say what you have to say in the mirror and picture a time when someone crossed your boundaries.
While looking into the mirror, practice voicing your opinion. Do so in any way you want, be it forceful, respectful, and so on. Stand up straight, head high. Make a frustrated expression with your eyebrows. Look at yourself straight in the eyes. Practice dominant body language. Look straight at danger in the face.
Your objective in this exercise is to command respect.
For example, you remember a time where someone laughed at something you said, even if it wasn’t funny. You can practice the following statement in the mirror:
“Did I say something funny? (pause) Help me understand, you’re laughing at something I said, but I didn’t say anything funny. So, what’s so funny?”
This first example is more inclined toward aggressive behavior, but it is assertive nonetheless. This style of communication works if you intend to intimidate. In spite of this, assertiveness is about setting things straight, while being fair with your needs and the other person’s needs.
The previous example isn’t assertiveness at its core. Instead, read this. When someone crosses X boundary, practice setting things right. Do so respectfully, clearly, and directly.
“Look, I respect you, but I don’t like it when you do/say _____. When I say that I don’t like it, I mean that I don’t feel good when you do/say ____. I’m asking you to stop doing/saying that. Is that OK with you?”
Now that you’ve done your practice, ask yourself: How do I come off? Good? Bad? Fair enough? Like a complete idiot? Repeat in the mirror until you feel confident about it and look assertive.
Remember, the goal is to make your own decisions, and set strong, healthy boundaries with people in your life. Before that, you must practice in the mirror until you look like you can command respect. The keyword here is practice, practice, practice.
4. You’ll be Taking Risks — Be Truthful to Who You Are
“You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take. That’s it.”
Jordan B. Peterson
The truth of the matter is that you will need to be more assertive in order to go through life. If you want to build the life of your dreams for your family and kids, clear old traumatic patterns of behavior, and take complete ownership of your life, you will need the balls to go after what you want.
If you don’t sacrifice for your dreams, your dreams inevitably become sacrifices.
Read that again.
“But it’s too hard! I don’t want to assert myself. I just want to get along with people!”
Sorry, mister. I’m not discouraging you to get along with people, however, it is very, very common nowadays to do that. Fear of disharmony is more counterproductive than you might think. Do you know what is difficult? Assertive communication. To be appropriately direct when the situation requires it.
Think of all the people that have tried to assert their power over you. All the people that, inevitably, at one point in your life, have tried to control you. When you were a child, your parents did not allow you to purchase that toy, or to hang out with your buddies. When you were given extra activities at work by your egocentric manager, without extra pay. When your partner, sibling, or friend did not like your business idea, and you trusted them to share it in the first place.
We’ve all encountered disagreements and power struggles in our lives. This question goes for you and everybody reading this: how do you feel about being treated poorly? Just think about it for a second.
You don’t like it, do you?
You would like to stand up for yourself, yes or no?
You’d want to let them know that you don’t like to be treated poorly, yes or no?
It’s the basic right of any decent human being to demand dignity and give respect — that is unless you have Stockholm Syndrome. In that case, if you responded no, or can’t follow this rule because standing up for yourself seems hard, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you are not ready to be more assertive.
There’s a lot of men out there who have the intention to change but don’t put in the effort. It’s all talk, but no action. Do you want me to tell you the truth?
I’m not the one who will save you from your insecurities. You won’t be more assertive just by reading this article.
But do you know who can make you more assertive? You.
Everything depends on you, brother. What are you going to do now?
Do you want to survive or thrive?