Assert Yourself (No, You’re Not Bitchy)
Posted by Bridget Fox on March 26, 2012 at 5:59 PM
Standing up for yourself can be pretty difficult — even if you're smart, together, and tough. And it’s even more difficult when you’re a young woman. Women are “supposed to” accommodate and smooth things over, be nice to everybody, and get rid of conflict rather than cause it — so asking for anything at all controversial can seem well…bitchy. Here's how to get over your fears, and start getting what you want. It’s easier than you think.
Challenge your thinking about what's "nice"
People aren't going to like it when you start saying no if you have always been a doormat. But constantly trying to please other people is way worse. In the end, all you’re left with is stress and sometimes depression. And that’s just no fun at all.
You may think you're just being nice by keeping your emotions to yourself, but you're depriving the people around you of the opportunity to know how you're feeling. Not to mention depriving yourself of what you want, even if it’s just saying, “I don’t care,” when asked about what to eat dinner! People who care about you — your boyfriend, friends, family, etc. — don't want to unintentionally bug you or make you feel bad. They also don’t deserve the simmering resentment you may start to feel if you never speak up (or the lashing they’ll get when it boils over). So while being assertive about your own needs may seem like a more confrontational choice in the short term, it’s better for everyone in the long term.
A lot of our feelings about women's assertiveness are rooted in sexism. What women need to understand is that the fear of being seen as "not nice" or bitchy comes from social messages about how they should behave. Just the thought of being considered less than nice makes a woman feel less than feminine. The reality is the vast majority of women could be more assertive and still be far from bitchy. And really, when you're called a bitch, it's usually because you didn't do what someone else wants –- in which case, kudos to you!
Do your homework
Oh, this tip again. But seriously, preparing beforehand can make you more confident about standing up for yourself — and make other people more likely to give you what you want.
“Prior proper planning” is the key. If you want to ask for a raise, you don't just go up to your boss and ask for it. No, you prepare your case in advance and practice delivering it to a friend before you speak with the boss. Or if you want to have a difficult conversation with your guy, you write down in advance what you want to talk about, why it's important to you and what you'd like to see happen in the future. Then stick to the script. The more you do this, the easier it becomes.
Getting plenty of information will help you feel secure about whatever you're asking for, and practicing will help you actually ask for it — especially if you're not in the habit of doing that thing. Learn the words you are going to use and practice your body language and tone of voice to make sure that you don't appear aggressive or nervous.
Don't be afraid to ask for more time
If you are asked to do something that you are not sure about, try saying, "I'll think about it and get back to you."
This is a great technique for a lot of reasons. First off, it's so much easier to say no if you haven't already said yes. And if you’re put on the spot, you're more likely to say yes. In the short term, this is the easy, "nice" response. But if you take time to think about it, you might realize that you'd really rather say no. And then you can do your homework (see above) and get back to the requester prepared to be assertive.
Show that you appreciate the other person
Standing up for yourself doesn't have to mean being a total dick. You're not responsible for keeping everybody else happy all the time, but you can also maximize your chances of getting what you want by showing your appreciation and being a little bit pacifying.
One great way is to practice the technique of "contrasting" when delivering difficult messages. It enables you to say what you want and don’t want without being too aggressive or demanding. It sounds like this: "I don't want you to think I'm not grateful for all that you've done for me because I am. At the same time, we agreed that you would provide additional services for that price and I didn't receive them. I'd like to discuss when you will be delivering those."
Another is to use "inclusive" taglines after you give a strong opinion. For example, "You can hear I feel strongly about this but I'd also like to hear what you think so that we can get all of the best ideas on the table and move forward." Assertiveness is about expressing yourself clearly while showing concern for others. Do that and you won't wander into aggressive territory.
Don't confuse being appreciative with beating around the bush. It's tempting to lead up to your request or complaint with a bunch of words, but that can just confuse listeners and prevent you from getting your point across. Channel Nike and just do it.
If the idea of standing up for yourself freaks you out a little, start by taking small steps in low-risk situations. A good starting place is asking for explanation rather than pretending you understand. "I'm not sure what you mean," can be a very assertive statement, because assertive people aren't afraid to say when they don't understand something.
It's easy just to let somebody continue talking, and harder to interrupt and admit you don't get what they're saying. But once you get in the habit of saying "I don't know what that word means" or "tell me who that is," you see that admitting you don't know something actually shows you're confident. You know you're smart, and you're not worried that the other person is going to doubt your intelligence.
And asking questions when you need to can build confidence too — you'll have the information you need, and people will often take you more seriously when you make the effort to seek it.
This small act of assertiveness can pave the way for bigger ones. Taking small steps — no matter what they are — can help you get closer to being the kind of person who stands up for what she wants even when what she wants is something big. And if that kind of person is a bitch, so be it.