Assertiveness plays a huge role in better mental health because it’s about ensuring that your needs are met in a kind and respectful way, and in this post I’m going to share six ways to be more assertive. So… get comfortable and let’s talk about better mental health!
Want to watch the video version of this post instead? Here it is:
Assertiveness is about being confident and ensuring that your needs are met in a kind and thoughtful way. And let me say very clearly that anybody who claims they’re being assertive when they’re being rude or unkind to other people are actually being aggressive; you can be assertive without doing harm and while still being kind, and in a moment I’ll give you a few ways to do that.
Before we jump to that, let’s take a moment to discuss why assertiveness matters for your mental health… and it matters because a lot of our challenges have to do with whether or not our needs are being met. I talk a lot in my videos and in my weekly podcast about doing no harm, being kind and giving more than you take, and those three things apply to how you treat others as well as how you treat yourself. Why? Because life is all about balance, and if your needs aren’t being met then you’re out of balance. That doesn’t mean that your needs are more important than other people’s needs, but it also doesn’t mean that their needs are more important than yours. Assertiveness enables you to state what you need in a firm-but-fair way.
So how do you do that? Great question! Here are six tips to help you be more assertive:
- Start from a place of fairness and respect — because healthy relationships are about being respectful; even if that energy isn’t coming back to you, that doesn’t mean that you try to fight fire with fire (because then all you get is a bigger fire!). The point of any conversation is not to ‘win’ but to find the best solution for everyone involved; sometimes, that means needing to find a compromise because we cannot always get everything we want. When you go into any discussion with a goal of finding a mutually-agreeable solution, instead of trying to win, that means you’re more likely to actually find a solution because you’ll be willing to negotiate. And by the way, you cannot control what other people do or say so don’t even try! Instead, focus on your own wants and needs in a fair and respectful way (again, this isn’t about winning!).
- Focus on balance — because good mental health is all about finding and maintaining balance. Assertiveness is about having a healthy balance between what you want and need and what the other person wants and needs. And hopefully I shouldn’t have to say this but please bear in mind here as well that ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ do not override basic human rights: the right to be treated with dignity, respect and common courtesy. For example, I’ve seen far too many people in restaurants behaving as though the person waiting on them should bend over backwards to their every whim and desire, and that is not assertiveness… that’s entitlement, and it’s disrespectful! Using that example, you can ask for what you want or need in a kind and respectful way that is also assertive (such as simply saying “I ordered fries however I received a baked potato”, without turning it into a personal attack on you). When you take that approach, you’re more likely to resolve the matter with a minimum amount of fuss… because, honestly, who has time for unnecessary drama in life? Not me! Balance and common courtesy in all things!
- Manage your emotions — I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the majority of conflicts stem from strong emotions turning issues into mega-issues (and I talked about dealing with conflict in Episode 88 of the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast, which is available here). Being assertive means asking for what you need or want in a calm manner; of course you’re going to have feelings (I mean, you’re human!) but emotions are not facts; actually, I’m going to say that one more time for the people in the back: EMOTIONS ARE NOT FACTS! When you act on pure emotion you tend to make decisions that are less rational and considered, which in turn tends to lead to issues becoming bigger than they probably need to be. Again, it’s all about balance; this time in terms of maintaining a balance between your emotions and your rational, logical mind. Let your emotions guide you (because they help you to identify how you feel about things) but don’t act on them; instead, take time to understand what you really want or need and why, and consider your words and actions before you proceed. A little mental preparation can go a long way!
- Communicate, communicate, communicate… (and then communicate some more!) — speaking of emotions, if we bottle up our feelings without dealing with them, they have a habit of becoming much bigger over time… so communicate early and often to avoid getting to a place of conflict. Other people cannot read your mind and instead of getting upset because they don’t instinctively know what you want or need, tell them! And while you’re at it, ask what they need often. By doing both of these things — telling and asking — on a regular basis, you’re creating a healthier line of communication… and so if and when issues arise, you’re able to deal with them quickly because you’re not letting problems fester. The only place I want to hear the word ‘fester’ is in reference to the Addams Family, thank you very much!
- It’s OK to say no — if you say yes to everything that is asked of you, often you’ll find yourself overwhelmed or you may wind up doing things that you don’t feel comfortable with. It’s OK to say no — just do so with kindness! You don’t need to justify yourself, either… I think it’s helpful to explain why you’re saying no if you feel comfortable to do so (because it helps to soften the blow and provides an understanding of where you’re coming from to avoid any miscommunication), but you don’t owe anyone an explanation for the choices you make; remember what I said before: do no harm, be kind and give more than you take, and those things tend to sort any issues out fairly quickly. If you’d like more advice on how to say no, I posted a YouTube video about that topic a little while ago on my channel Better Mental Health and you can watch it here.
- Set and maintain healthy boundaries — and no big surprise here because I talk about the idea of boundaries A LOT in my videos as well as in my podcast (in fact I did a whole podcast episode on the topic, Episode 53, which you can find here). Boundaries simply mean being clear on what you need and setting limits on what you will and won’t accept in your life. The ‘healthy boundaries’ part come in when you stick to your boundaries; because unless you enforce it, a boundary is just an imaginary line! I usually work on a three-strikes-and-you’re-out approach and I’m fairly assertive about letting people know if and when they’ve crossed a line with me.
Being more assertive comes with time and practice, and if you’re looking for more on the subject then check out Episode 45 of the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast — it’s linked here or you can find it on your favourite podcast service.
Whatever you decide to do, the choice is yours — as it is with all things related to your mental health and wellbeing… so, what choice will you make today?
Want more? Listen to the weekly Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast on your favourite podcast service (click here for links to different services via Podfollow) and subscribe to my YouTube channel, Better Mental Health, for weekly how-to videos.
Thanks so much for joining me today, take care and talk to you next time!
Jeremy Godwin (@jeremygodwinofficial on Instagram) is an Australian writer, content creator and coach who focuses on better mental health. His weekly podcast Let’s Talk About Mental Health has more than 580,000 downloads and listeners in over 150 countries, and in it Jeremy shares practical advice for improving and maintaining mental health that is grounded in quality research and personal experience. He also hosts a weekly show on YouTube, Better Mental Health, which focuses on simple advice for how to manage different aspects of mental health. Jeremy’s style is direct-yet-supportive, and his own experiences with depression and anxiety (along with his formal qualifications in psychology and sociology) allow him to provide advice that is both impactful and sensitive.
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