How to get what you want, even if it’s not in your nature
As a card-carrying (I wish there was a card. Then I wouldn’t have to talk so much) introvert I feel qualified to give some guidance on assertiveness. I’m not an assertive person by nature, but despite this, I’ve developed some techniques to command instant attention when necessary.
If you keep reading I’ll give you a few tools you can keep in your pocket to pull out when you need assertion. Whether you need a boost at work, with friends, or at home, these few tips may help give you that confidence needed to self-advocate.
As an introvert, attention-getting doesn’t feel natural.
Extrovert seek this outside connection, while we prefer to live on the inside. Some introverts are shy others are not. There’s a scale — same as all other humans. Although I may paint this story with broad strokes, I’m doing so from my perspective. Your introverted perspective will be different.
No matter your personality type you must be a self-advocate.
As 50% of the population, us introverts tend to let others do the leading, while we stay to the side and do the heavy pondering. This works well in most situations, as we need both types of people to keep the earth spinning, but there are moments when introverts get squashed.
No matter how we feel on the inside, we cannot allow another person to walk all over us. The pursuit of liberty — at least in the United States — is something we’re all entitled to. But we must defend ourselves or the liberty will be taken.
I’m not talking about violent defense.
This is a story about the small moments — during the day while you’re working. Where you’re qualified, but aren’t chosen to head the committee, only because Ralph is the most-obnoxious and the aftermath of him not being chosen is worse than choosing the right person (you).
As introverts we’re aware when this happens. Sometimes we feel paralyzed and allow others to push us down. Sometimes we turn a blind eye. But this affects us deeply when we get home. Sometimes we replay the situation in our minds for weeks after. We develop hostile feelings for our supervisors and for Ralph (who happened to be very good at self-advocating). We punish ourselves and those around us when the feelings get bad enough.
How do we introverts become more assertive when necessary?
Assertiveness is an unnatural process for most introverts, so it becomes an exercise to practice. Assertiveness is a muscle. The more we exercise it the more we can wield it as needed.
Assertiveness may never feel natural to us, but we can use it as a tool to get what we need when we need it. We won’t win all the battles (no one does), but we’ll win our self-worth and our liberty. When we display our assertiveness, although we may not get picked, at least we went down fighting. No more self-flagellation later.
First, we need baby steps
If you’re a heavy introvert as I am, you may hate speaking on the phone or ordering a pizza. Standing up for yourself in a crowd may feel worse than cancer.
We need to start small before we work up to getting you that promotion at work.
The grocery store technique:
You’re going to practice engaging with total strangers. The first couple times take guts. After ten times it becomes a fun game. I’ve done this for years and it’s helped me come out of my shell a lot.
Next time you’re in line at the grocery store, before the cashier has a chance to address you, I need you to be first to address him. Say these EXACT words: “Hi. How are ‘ya?”
- Don’t just say “hi”
- Don’t say “how are you today?”
- Don’t say “how’s it going?”
- Don’t say “how are you?”
Hi. How are ‘ya is the magic phrase. For some reason it’s informal enough, and uncommon enough to get people to engage with you openly. They’ll light up. They’ll look at you. And they’ll answer you honestly, versus replying with the standard “how are you?” and not answering the rhetorical question.
My wife is an extrovert. I stole this phrase from her. After watching her address hundred of people with this exact phrase, I knew she was onto something. She does this naturally. We are introverts. We have to practice.
Not everyone will reply. It doesn’t matter how they reply. The purpose is to make the first move with a total stranger and force them to give you a response.
You did something assertive — whether you like it or not.
I use this method a lot. As an introvert, I like to plan what I’m going to say before I say it. I have a hard time with conflict, because spontaneous conflicts don’t give me time to gather my thoughts and I freeze.
To avoid this freezing when I need to be assertive, I pre-plan what I’m going to say. I do this with three bullet points.
Whether I’m looking for a raise at work, or I want to make sure to get my point across in a meeting — I make a notecard with three bulleted talking points to help jog my memory when it’s time to shine.
We can prepare for many assertive situations in advance. Drive around in your car and speak both sides of the conversation aloud. Address the negatives that may come up. You can’t prepare for every situation, but it will keep you from freezing completely.
Be specific with what you want and give yourself 3–5 trigger bullets that will help queue you to say what you need.
Become very aware of your body language
Introverts are notorious for ignoring their body language. We often hear “what’s wrong?” from people around us, because our faces have completely disconnected from what’s inside our heads. Many times our faces look angry or upset, when in our minds we’re just deep in thought over something and we feel totally fine.
Poor body language is terrible when you’re trying to be assertive. I’m still working on this all the time, but these are some techniques that have helped me.
Helpful assertive body language:
- One thing you can do instantly is stand up straight with your shoulders back.
- You can also take the power pose, with your hands on your hips.
- Put both hands on the table and lean-in
- Make eye-contact (if you hate eye contact, look at the person’s upper lip. They won’t know the difference)
- Don’t slouch and make yourself small
- Square your body with the other person, don’t stand sideways
Don’t go overboard
Although assertiveness may not be natural to us, we shouldn’t pretend to be overly aggressive or angry when we practice assertiveness. We’re not trying to scare the other party.
We want to be heard. We want our voice to count. This isn’t bullying or threatening. Although we may not be assertive by nature, we should try to maintain our personality.
You can’t come across like John Wayne and invent some assertive persona. Be yourself. Stand up for what you want. Deliver the message and wait for the response.
- Don’t whine
- Don’t yell
- Don’t threaten
- Don’t change your personality
When you speak up for yourself do not apologize to the other person. You’re not a burden. You’re not in the way. You deserve to be heard, just like the other person.
When we apologize for being a self-advocate, we take the weaker position. We immediately position our idea as a mistake — something we must apologize for. How seriously do you think the other person will take you if you apologize before giving your opinion.
Introverts apologize a lot.
You didn’t make a mistake. You have a position. You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re self-advocating. You aren’t a problem. Don’t apologize for existing.
The walk-away technique
In sales, the person who is willing to walk away from the deal, without closing it, holds the most power. The same is true when you’re negotiating. Before you go into an assertive situation, be willing to walk away.
- Maybe you deserve a raise so badly, you’re willing to quit your job if your boss doesn’t pay you more.
- Maybe you don’t like how a coworker treats you and you confront her, asking her to change. She gives you a hard time, pushing your buttons and threatening you. You don’t respond to her jabs for attention. Just raise a hand and walk away.
- Maybe you want your point heard during a meeting. Threaten to leave the group, or stop doing your part if someone on the team doesn’t allow you to be heard.
Make a game of it
Just like the grocery store exercise, you can make a game of self-advocacy. Make sure you take at least one assertive move per day or per week and track it.
Keep a journal of your assertive journey. Note what worked and tweak what didn’t. Every time your assertive, make a check-mark. Make sure you hit your daily or weekly assertiveness goal before you go to sleep.
If you really have a hard time with conflict you can send an assertive email or text. This method will give you the valuable introverted time to think about what you want to say.
This method is your last resort and a weaker position than meeting in person. But it’s much better than doing nothing. Try a physical meeting first, but if you can’t force yourself to do that, send an email.
I know you can do this. You’ve got it inside you. Assertiveness does not come natural for us introverts, but we do have the power of though on our side. Use your natural traits to your advantage. Prepare in advance and go get what you want.
It’s time to step-up.