Being Positively Assertive: Advocating for Yourself Doesn't Make You Difficult

Dan Cadmus

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How many times have you agreed to do something that wasn’t in your best interest? Favors for friends/family or work obligations? Maybe you resist standing up for yourself to avoid conflict or have friends tell you you’re “too nice”?

No matter the situation, there’s nothing quite like the sting of getting taken advantage of.

It’s a feeling I know well. I used to have a tough time simply telling people no. I put the best interest of others ahead of my own, and at times, allowed myself to become a doormat.

Letting people walk all over you can lead to a list of issues. For me, it was a lack of self-worth and a bunch of resentment. I resented the ones putting me in those situations; in reality, the real problem was with me.

It’s human nature to want to be liked and accepted, but trying to please everyone leads to pleasing no one.

We should all aspire to be kind. My grandmother used to say you get more bees with honey. That kindness does not have to equal weakness.

You do get more bees with honey, but you may need to change your approach if you find yourself repeatedly getting stung.

Positively Assertive: A Way of Life

I used to associate assertiveness with being rude and demanding, which just isn’t the case. Being an assertive person involves advocating for yourself, keeping your best interest at heart, and letting your voice be heard when it needs to be.

It’s entirely possible to have the best of both worlds, looking out for yourself while remaining a pleasant and positive person. Getting what you desire out of life doesn’t have to mean being a jerk.

Once this finally clicked for me, life became more enjoyable. I commanded more respect at work and developed a newfound respect for myself.

Now when I agree to things, I genuinely mean it. When my intuition tells me to say no, I listen to it guilt-free. The result is a much healthier existence, both in your head and with others.

Think about it, if you don’t look out for yourself, who will?

Complete Honesty Is the Way

The most effective way to be positively assertive is complete and utter honesty. No excuses.

No matter how small the lie or excuse, the result is always negative. You essentially have two options.

  1. You get found out. Your lie gets exposed, leading to a worse outcome than what you initially tried to avoid. Plus a loss of respect and credibility.
  2. Carrying the anxiety of that lie. Watching your steps, calculating and planning, preserving that lie can feel like a job.

When you’re open and honest, you leave little for others to criticize or object to. People are usually way more understanding than we think.

A little honesty can go a long way, but it has to start with you. Our minds tend to play these mental gymnastics, always justifying and rationalizing. You end up convincing yourself you’re making the right call.

We rationalize to avoid awkward conversations, afraid to hurt someone’s feelings, or “saving yourself” the headache of possible confrontation. We justify getting taken advantage of. Convincing yourself someone else’s problems outweigh your own. We tell ourselves, “next time.” Next time I’ll speak up. Next time I’ll put my foot down. Next time I’ll finally tell the truth.

That next time rarely ever comes.

When you become honest with yourself, you don’t feel the need to make up all the little lies and excuses.

Say It With a Confident Smile

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The second piece to the puzzle is how you carry yourself. The way you say something is often more important than what you actually say.

Advocating for yourself can be nerve-wracking early on, especially after years of going with the flow.

I found this to be the case when dealing with superiors at work. In the past, when I would object to something, I would do it sheepishly — no eye contact, head down, poor posture, with a wavering and timid voice. By the end of the conversation, I would find myself profusely apologizing — the exact blueprint of what not to do.

I let my need to people-please and fear of being difficult override my best interest.

When you engage in difficult conversations without confidence, it completely undermines your point. More times than not, the conversation has little to no effect. The good news is, the more experience you get, the more confident you will become.

With that confidence comes an improvement in things like posture and eye contact. I try to maintain a positive disposition, listening to counter-arguments with empathy instead of resistance. There’s a ton of value in understanding the other side just as well as your own.

Like being honest, approaching situations this way leaves little to be critiqued. It adds significance to your words and conveys that you mean exactly what you say.

The Yin and Yang of Life

Being positively assertive is a lifestyle.

It means always taking the high road, not wasting your time on petty conflicts or negativity. You have a finite amount of mental real estate. That space should be occupied solely by things that benefit you.

It means being the person others can count on while clearly defining your boundaries. There’s nothing wrong with your caring and compassionate tendencies. I encourage you to lean into them. There’s also nothing wrong with putting yourself first when you need to.

Life is a delicate balance of give and take.

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When you carry yourself differently, you’d be surprised how fast your self-image improves. Once that happens, those around you will quickly follow suit. It’s always possible to change the way others view you, but it all starts within.

Start with small things like posture and eye contact. Try to resist the urge to involve yourself in petty gossip or arguments. When problematic situations arise, make that “next time” conversation right now. Approach it with honesty, positivity, and confidence, and know you are making the right call.

Once that first situation is under your belt, you build the momentum to handle the next one. Before you know it, you feel like a completely different person.

Be exactly who you want to be. Be positively assertive.

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Health Coach. Nutrition, mental health, and self-improvement. Dropped 180lbs and changed my life for the better. Inspired to help others do the same.

East Meadow, NY
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