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A Google search of ‘How to be more assertive’ returns more than 22 million results. Women have more trouble with assertiveness than men do.
A study by the Gender Action Portal at Harvard University found that, in salary negotiations, women concede earlier than men, anticipate greater backlash, and are discouraged by others’ perceptions of assertiveness as a non-feminine trait.
Anxiety leads to all-or-nothing thinking about assertiveness: we wish we could stand up for ourselves, but we’re afraid that we’ll be arrogant if we do, so our options shrink to a binary choice between ‘walkover’ and ‘arrogant’, and we continue to be too accommodating.
Moving in the direction of assertiveness is uncomfortable for people who aren’t used to it. We need to develop the right habits, and that comes through practice.
Community, education, and role models are important in this process. By surrounding ourselves with assertive people, following their example, and drawing on their advice and mentorship, we learn to be assertive.
Practice makes assertiveness easier, just as it improves language fluency.
You can’t stop people making demands on your time and energy, but you can develop the skills to protect yourself – and doing so isn’t arrogant, selfish, uncooperative or any of the other things you’re worried about.
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