9 Tips for Being Assertive in Intimidating Situations


If you tend to be a shy or socially anxious person, you might just think that it’s just inevitable that you’re going to miss out on certain opportunities or underperform when things get stressful. However, the truth is that you can cultivate a certain degree of assertiveness that may dramatically enhance your ability to do well in intimidating situations.

Here are nine tips to get you started.

1. Know the difference between being assertive and aggressive

In your enthusiasm to become a more direct communicator, you might be tempted to overstep the mark and develop habits that are more aggressive than assertive. For example, being aggressive involves using harsh language, imposing your views on others, disregarding the needs of others, failing to listen and losing your temper. Meanwhile, being assertive is more about being true to yourself, respectfully standing up for your rights, and having the courage to ask to be heard.

2. Use confident body language

Studies show that acting confidence will eventually make you start to feel genuinely confident. So, start using assertive body language instead of hanging your head, avoiding people’s eyes or hanging back in a crowd. Try to maintain commanding posture, with your chin up and your back straight. In addition, resist the urge to fiddle with your jeweler, touch your hair or engage in any other nervous, fidgeting behaviors. Not only will other people view you as more assertive, but in time you will begin to see yourself that way too.

3. Force yourself to make faster decisions

The next time you’re asked to make a choice, try firing out an answer right away. Practicing this approach gets you into the habit of avoiding self-undermining over-analysis, and challenges you to go with your intuition. If you do this often enough, you’ll be able to behave more confidently and authentically when you’re in front of a larger audience or feeling under pressure.

4. Understand the roots of your problems with assertiveness

Your quiet demeanor didn’t develop in a vacuum. It’s highly likely that you were socialized to be a shy, retiring individual, or that early experiences gave you the impression that speaking up could have unpleasant consequences. Think back to your childhood and adolescence, and develop a clear narrative that explains why you have trouble asserting yourself in adulthood.

Next, examine the messages and assumptions underlying your refusal to assert yourself and challenge them. If you can reject these background beliefs, you can start to move past the influence they have on your self-expression. Those who have a lot of difficulty doing so may benefit from the help of a therapist, especially if assertiveness issues are rooted in childhood trauma.

5. Practice speaking clearly

If you’re like many shy people, you worry about stammering, forgetting words or speaking incoherently. You may also have the tendency to race through your sentences at 100 miles per hour, trying to get everything out so you can fade into the background again. Practice speaking confidently into a mirror, speaking at a steady pace and clearly annunciating. If you do this on a daily basis, your confidence in your own self-expression will rise, and you’ll find yourself more able to be assertive.

6. Break out of your comfort zone

In many cases, your fantasy about a frightening situation will be so much worse than the reality. That’s why you’ll benefit from facing those demons and doing the assertive thing that scares you—whether it’s giving a presentation, volunteering an idea at a meeting, or asking someone out on a first date. Once you’ve done this type of assertive act once, you’ll find it much easier to repeat in the future.

7. Learn that it’s okay to say no

Sometimes, the most important way to assert yourself is to become less involved in something, rather than more. As such, part of your journey towards assertiveness will require you to think about times when you place too much of an emphasis on other people’s needs, losing yours in the process. Practice saying “no” to commitments you can’t take on, events you wouldn’t enjoy, and extra responsibilities that are unfair. Do so politely, and feel your confidence rise as you maintain boundaries that emphasizes self-respect.

8. Dress in a confident way

Don’t hide in baggy clothes or purchase a wardrobe full of grey outfits that are designed to ensure that people ignore you. Instead, dress to make yourself feel good, increasing the chances that you’ll be courageous enough to speak up when intimidated. Buy clothes that fit you properly, keep everything clean and neat, and add splashes of bold color (like a red tie or a red necklace). All of these aesthetic adjustments influence self-perception and the judgments of others.

9. Be patient with yourself

Finally, don’t be too disappointed if the above tips don’t immediately transform you into the life of the party or the person everyone turns to in the boardroom. As with any change in behavior, it takes time to become assertive—especially if you’ve spent decades as a wallflower. Be patient, and gradually work up to the more daunting aspects of assertiveness. Notice small improvements, reward yourself for them, and believe you’re on the road to more effective communication.

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