Some people assume that all introverts are pushovers, who have no backbone or self-esteem. The belief that introverts can’t be assertive is tied to the myth that introversion is the same as shyness. It’s not.
There are shy introverts and there are shy extroverts. There are people pleasers at every point in the personality spectrum. Likewise, there are plenty of assertive people on both ends of the spectrum.
So, why is it that I get so many messages from introverts who want to know how to be more assertive at work? How come so many of my past students and clients describe themselves as people pleasers?
I believe there are two primary reasons:
1. The belief that you are not enough.
Introverted behaviour is not the norm in our society. Someone who is quiet and needs lots of alone time is labelled as strange or anti-social. This leads to feelings of unworthiness and shame. Believing that who they truly are is not enough, many introverts become people pleasers in the hopes that they can earn approval in this way.
2. Not wanting to be aggressive.
Many introverts come up against extrovert bullying. From a young age they are told that they are too quiet, they need to “loosen up”, “stop being so boring”, “say something dammit!”
Because of our quiet nature, people assume that we don’t mind being talked over, interrupted and otherwise disrespected in conversation. This doesn’t feel good. Naturally, we don’t want to make anyone else feel like a pile of steaming doo doo when we talk to them.
In her new book,Quiet Strength: Embracing, Empowering and Honoring Yourself as an Introvert, my innie friend Alethulia Luna of Lonerwolf explains:
“In a world full of outgoing self-promoters, it can feel as though we are constantly competing to be heard, understood and respected for who we are and what we need.
Being underestimated, ignored, pushed to the background and undervalued can be really hard to deal with … and really frustrating when we know we have so much to offer, and yet we struggle so hard to express this effectively!”
In an effort to avoid aggressive communication, we swing the complete opposite way. We skip over assertiveness and settle on a squishier approach. We’d rather be a soft and spineless jelly fish than a sting ray. No one told us that we could be a water unicorn (a.k.a a dolphin) and be both respected and admired.
How to be assertive
The ultimate definition of assertiveness is being able to express your thoughts and feelings clearly, while being considerate of the other person’s needs. When you aren’t mindful of the feelings of others you will come off as aggressive rather than assertive. Here are three steps to be more assertive as an introvert without seeming rude or aggressive.
1. Get clear on what you need and why.
Many introverts have great difficulty articulating their needs and desires because they aren’t clear on what they are. They’ve never stopped to ask themselves what they want and why. They’re also unclear on how they feel. In a society that only labels a few emotions as acceptable, many sensitive introverts resort to numbing their feelings.
It’s impossible to tell others how you feel when you are completely disconnected from your own emotions.
2. Give yourself permission.
Often, introverts feel guilty asking for what they need. They’ve been told in the past that it’s rude or weird to want to be alone. They worry that setting boundaries will hurt other people’s feelings. And it certainly can. But when done early on, setting boundaries prevents future conflict.
Give yourself permission to say what you want and need. It is a sign of self-respect. It also shows respect for the other person because you are communicating your needs clearly in order to prevent future conflict and hurt feelings.
3. Make the other person feel understood.
Deep down all of us just want to feel heard and understood. People are much more receptive to listening to your thoughts when they feel like you get where they’re coming from.
When you go into a conversation without any empathy for the other person, you risk putting them on the defensive. When people are in defensive mode, they shut down. They stop listening. They focus only on protecting themselves. It becomes a battle of wills rather than a constructive conversation.
Even if you don’t agree with someone, you can make them feel heard by repeating back what they’ve said in your own words.
“It sounds like you feel rejected when I ask for space. I can understand how you would feel that way.”
Now that they feel understood, you can go on to express your needs in a clear, but considerate way.
“Because I’m an introvert, I find a lot of socializing draining. So, even though I really enjoy being with you, I need time alone to recharge.”
Being assertive takes practice. It will probably feel awkward at first. You might be tempted to go back to your jelly fish ways. But cultivating the quality of assertiveness is well worth the effort. Aletheia Luna explains:
“[Y]ou don’t need to feel belittled and underrated every day. The truth is that when you learn to be quietly assertive, you can and will drastically change the story of your everyday life.”
Don’t fight it. Be the assertive water unicorn you were born to be. 😉