As a freelancer you are your own boss. You may have chosen this path specifically because you want to be able to control your work, your time and your decisions. However, when interactions with customers, suppliers, technical contacts, and colleagues begin to infringe on your ability to manage your work the way you want to, you’re right back in the undesirable situation of being controlled by others.
You will be happier at work when you demonstrate assertiveness and stand up for your rights and needs.
What is assertiveness?
Merriam Webster defines assertiveness as being “characterized by bold or confident statements and behavior.” Note that this definition does NOT mention aggression. Assertiveness is not aggressive, bullying behavior.
Assertiveness involves knowing what you want and going after it. Studies have shown correlations between assertiveness and happiness. This makes sense, both for the process of being assertive and the results achieved.
You’re more fulfilled and happier as you take control of your situation.
Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As you are empowered to go after your needs, you approach fulfillment of the self-esteem and self-actualization levels at the top of the pyramid. This improvement process is motivational and rewarding, providing an element of happiness.
In addition, as you achieve your goals, you are likely to be happier. Achieving goals may have the intrinsic value of providing a sense of accomplishment or helping others. The achievement may also have extrinsic value tied to monetary compensation. Both of these can deliver a boost in happiness.
Confidence and assertiveness go hand in hand
Most people find it hard to be assertive if they aren’t confident in what they think, know, or do. If you doubt your abilities or knowledge, you may be reluctant to assert your opinion. This situation is quite appropriate. After all, people shouldn’t follow a leader who is plagued with self-doubt and is likely to falter when challenged.
Ways to be more confident
So how do you develop confidence? While it may seem that some individuals are born with confidence, anyone can make conscious efforts to increase personal confidence levels. Follow a combination of these tactics:
- Know your stuff. The best way to feel confident is to be Do the research, build the experience, and walk the path toward being “the smartest person in the room” when it comes to the subject at hand. This is not saying that you know everything and will not value the input of others, but your opinions will matter because you won’t be seen as a lightweight.
- Complement your skills and knowledge with that of others. It’s impossible for one person to know everything, but working or networking with a multi-talented team can give you a much broader and deeper grasp of needed subject areas.
- Develop decision-making skills. If you can’t make a decision, it’s very difficult to be assertive in pursuing a specific path when obstacles arise.
- Look and act the part. Sometimes simple body language, tone of voice, dress and mannerisms can demonstrate to yourself and others that you are someone to be listened to and respected.
- Know where to get what you need…fast. If you have good background skills in research, resourcing, and networking, you may not have an answer to all issues at your fingertips, but you will know that you can use available resources to get the answer.
- Fake it. While this option isn’t recommended for frequent use, it can be a viable short-term choice. Think of James Bond. He may be shaking on the inside, but his steely gaze on the outside exudes confidence.
Special assertiveness issues for women and minorities
While an assertive man may be described as a strong leader or an alpha dog—which is a good thing—an assertive woman may be seen as a pushy broad. Simply look at the recent political scene when Senator Kamala Harris was described as hysterical as she demonstrated assertive behaviors similar to her male counterparts.
One antonym of assertive is submissive, a term ascribed to women much more frequently than to men. When women step out of the submissive role and act assertively, they may be described as harsh, bossy, feisty, ambitious, and many other adjectives with negative connotations.
Also read: Why Aren’t More Women in Cybersecurity?
This applies to other minorities as well. Its easier for white males to be assertive that it is for women or minorities. This obviously isn’t right but unfortunately it is also the world that we live in. So if you fall into one of these categories you’ll need to work harder at this unfortunately it’ll be more of a struggle.
Building assertiveness skills
While you can’t change who or what you are physically—and shouldn’t want to—you can change and enhance your personal characteristics in the direction of being more assertive and being perceived more favorably. Take small steps on a daily basis.
- Speak with confidence, avoiding apologies, ineffective words (such as maybe or I think) and rising inflections at the ends of sentences.
- Face conflict directly using good problem-solving and communication skills rather than shying away from challenges.
- Be proud of your skills and accomplishments rather than belittling yourself. Accept a compliment with “thank you” rather than “it was nothing.”
- Be prepared to take risks and make decisions. Hesitance in a leadership role is often seen as weakness.
- Assert for your ideas rather than your needs. When you focus on the process, you can help those who have gender or other bias to have a more open-minded perspective.
At the end of the day, when you have demonstrated confidence and asserted for your needs, you will feel more positive for standing up for yourself and not letting others push you around.
For step-by-step guidance on how to demonstrate confidence and assertiveness at work, view this helpful guide.
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