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Assertiveness for women


Learning to be more assertive was, for me, an eye-opening experience. I suddenly found some of my power, learnt to be clear and sound confident, and stopped undermining myself with the way I presented things.


It is absolutely NOT about becoming aggressive, demanding, a bully, getting what you want at any cost. The definition I use is that of ‘respecting your own rights without trampling on those of others’.


The women I, and I suspect most of us, respect, and would like to emulate sound confident, present themselves well and clearly, don’t beat about the bush. They also almost always hold themselves really well - have a straight back either sitting or standing. I can still hear my mother saying to me ‘Sit up straight, stop slouching’ and she was right. Presenting yourself as confident, ’straight up’ gives just as powerful a message as the words you speak.


The most important aspects of being assertive are those of thinking about what it is you want out of a situation, identifying a clear description or request, and then practicing making those clear concise statements. We often undermine ourselves with all sorts of waffle and elaboration, which means that people listening to us may not actually know what we want and can easily ignore our requests. A common example is that of saying ‘I don’t understand, could you explain that or give me some more information?’.  Many of us have learnt to say things like, ‘I may be being stupid but… ’ , or ‘I know I am muddle headed but….’ , or’ ‘I am feeling a bit cotton woolly today…”. All of these statements serve to undermine us and to give other people permission to be patronising or dismissive of us; ‘Well if she is telling me she is muddle headed then I don’t need to bother‘ could be one response. 


This practice is backed up by what I call the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, looking at what can we reasonably expect, what have we a right to expect in social or work situations. This is nothing revolutionary but includes things like; having the right to state our own needs irrespective of our role in life; the right to be treated with respect, and to ask for what I want. This doesn’t mean we always get it but if we know we have clearly asked, and people have heard and responded this is likely to leave us feeling much more satisfied.


Another key aspect is to hear ourselves be assertive and see and feel what impact that has both on us and the people we are speaking to. Paying attention to this gives us the confidence to then go on being more assertive.


A lot of women are caught up in a belief that they have to be nice to everyone and please everyone and that somehow being assertive undermines that. In my own experience people find me easier to respond to when I am being clear and it is much easier to make and keep relationships as we both know where we stand. It can also free us from the somewhat paralysing belief that we always have to be nice and that asking for what we want, ensuring that our needs are part of any discussion will end up either with us being seen as demanding or plain needy.  This is so often not the case.  If we are able to say what it is we want then the people we are relating to know and can respond- they are not left wondering or having to guess.  This uncertainly can make other people very uneasy. Another outcome of this can be that we no longer feel responsible for other people’s problems.  It can be such a relief to realise that while it is important to do something if there is something we can do, it is often not in our gift to make things better for others.  We need to take responsibility for what we can do, and be proud of that, without worrying about the things we can’t do.


Anne Dickson. A woman in your own right. Quartet Books 2012.