How to Be More Assertive (Even When You Don’t Feel Confident)

Being Assertive: How to Express Your Assertiveness

Assertive people get ahead.

Being assertive makes you better at dealing with setbacks. Assertive people have an easier time standing up to bad bosses. And when you envision the best version of you possible, you probably picture a bold, assertive, take charge kind of person.

So most of us are looking to be more assertive in life, especially if, like me, you are more on the introverted end of the spectrum by nature.

  • How can you be more assertive, even when you aren’t brimming with confidence?
  • What’s it mean to be more assertive this day and age, when changing corporate culture dictates more cooperation in the workplace?
  • And at what point does assertiveness go too far?

First, how to be assertive.

Being Assertive Means Channeling Your Inner Badass

Pam Slim, author of Escape from Cubicle Nation, shares some great advice that she gave to her son, who was being picked on at school at the time. She calls it tapping into your inner badass:

Sometimes, you face real, intense, hostile energy.

When you get older, you realize that this actually has nothing to do with you, it is just the other person projecting their own stuff on you.

When you feel yourself shrinking, call up a person or phrase to help shift the energy and claim your authority.

She suggests summoning noted badasses Samuel L. Jackson or Mae West for your inspiration.

Pam Slim’s advice is great because oftentimes being assertive requires stepping outside of yourself. If you lack confidence, channeling a person or character who is supremely confident can help you to be more assertive.

How to Be More Assertive in 3 Steps

Step 1: Break the passivity habit

Shyness is a habit, not a hard-wired personality trait.

A 99U op-ed makes the argument that being passive instead of assertive is a choice that becomes ingrained by practice.

Whenever you defer instead of step up, whenever you succumb to analysis paralysis instead of taking action, you reinforce the habit of passivity.

The easiest way to break this habit is to assert yourself more often.

You can start by taking charge when the stakes are low, like deciding which movie to watch when your friends can’t decide.

Assertiveness is a muscle you can train. Once you’ve built up the assertiveness muscle on lower resistances, you can make it work for you on larger weights: asking for a pay raise, talking to that attractive person at the gym, etc.

Step 2: Control your table image

Pam Slim’s advice is to channel your inner badass in situations that require you to be assertive.

My buddies who play professional poker would call this controlling your table image or how other people perceive you.

If your table image is tight and controlled, it pays to summon your inner badass every once and awhile to play more loose and aggressive.

Switching table images keeps you from becoming predictable and beatable.

Being selectively assertive can pay dividends down the road, because people will respect your backbone without your having to enforce it constantly.

Step 3: Don’t overplay your hand

Columbia Business School professor Daniel Ames argues there’s a critical sweet spot for assertiveness.

Fall below that range and you won’t move forward in life.

Push it too far and you tread into aggressive, arrogant territory.

Ames and his fellow researchers found that moderately assertive bosses were the most likely to succeed and commanded the most admiration and loyalty from their teams.

Getting the balance right of just enough assertiveness requires training your sensitivity to each situation. We’ve seen again and again that responsiveness to change, or agility, is the defining personality trait of today.

Finding the right level of assertiveness in the face of new contexts and new realities is a central challenge of living agile.

Final Thoughts

If you aren’t a naturally assertive person, don’t lose hope.

Assertiveness is a personality trait you can develop. Being passive for your entire life isn’t inevitable.

And on the flip-side, thinkers like Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic at Harvard Business Review argue that being less confident can make you more successful, if you are more in tune with your feedback loops, work harder, and approach new ideas with humility.

Many personality types can find success, especially in the brave new world of digital natives. But there will always be a place for people who can take action in the face of uncertainty.

Image by LGEPR.

Opt In Image
How Much Time Would You Save With the Right Tools?
Get the 'App Guide' for Download NOW

In this free guide, I reveal the top 7 apps that make my career and personal life run smoothly. Hint: 5 of the apps I use every day are totally free! Sign up to receive blog updates, exclusive content, and the resource guide FREE!