A Practical Guide To Having Assertive Conversations

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As women, we’re so capable of having tough conversations and being assertive. But if you’re worried about being labelled “bossy” or “aggressive”, you’re not alone.

In work and life, gendered perceptions can mean women are taken less seriously than men. Journalist and author Mary Ann Sieghart has even coined a term for it: “The Authority Gap”

In her book of the same name, Mary explains that women tend to be underestimated, interrupted and talked over more frequently. Interestingly, women who act in masculine ways at work (such as being confident, assertive or taking charge) are often labelled as abrasive, aggressive or overbearing. 

But we want to help you shatter these gendered stereotypes, step into your power and have confident conversations.

Whether you’re asking for a pay rise from your boss, trying to talk to your family about a sensitive topic or approaching a conversation with a friend, we’ve got some tips, tricks and thought starters to help. 

How to have assertive conversations at work

Are you trying to negotiate a pay rise with your boss? Maybe you’ve got an upcoming performance review with your employee and you’re stuck on how to handle the conversation. 

These are all tough conversations that can happen in the workplace and being assertive can feel uncomfortable. So, here are three steps you can take. 

Arm yourself with information

If you’re negotiating a pay rise, come prepared with information about your industry, what others are getting paid, your qualifications and your workload.

Speak about your value 

When you’re negotiating a pay rise, think about what you’ve accomplished already, a list of projects you’ve worked on and bring it to the table. Talk about the feedback you’ve gotten from other colleagues or managers to show you’re a valuable asset. 

Give constructive feedback

If you’re having a conversation with an employee about their performance make sure you’re giving them constructive feedback and you are solutions focused. Be empathetic, listen, and give people a chance to explain themselves. This shows you’re curious about what went wrong and how you can help them. 

Ask them what support they need from you if there’s a knowledge gap you can help them with. Plus, setting up a private meeting rather than shooting over an email explaining what they’ve done wrong ensures nothing gets lost in translation. 

How to have assertive conversations with friends

Let’s say your 2023 new years resolution was to ditch the booze or at least cut back on your drinking. But, when you’re out with your friends they keep pushing you to order one more round.

Maybe you’re trying to save more money this year but every time you’re planning a girl’s night with your friends they keep suggesting expensive dinners. So, you want to resolve the issues because you feel like no one’s listening to your needs. 

Here are some tips and thought starters to help you out. 

Be clear about your intentions 

Set time aside before you head to the conversation to figure out what points you want to get across and why they matter to you. Ask yourself why you want to have this conversation and what you want to get out of it. This can help you think clearer in the actual conversation. 

Talk about your feelings 

There’s nothing worse than a conversation of finger-pointing – it doesn’t make either party feel good. Instead, approach the conversation with how things made you feel and use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘You’ statements. 

For example, “I feel bad about myself when I’m pushed to drink more than I want” instead of “you always make me feel bad when you push me to drink more.” 

Be curious and collaborative 

Conversations are a two-way street and just as you want to feel understood, your friends also want to communicate their perspectives.  Ask questions like “what I hear you’re saying is… is that correct?” 

Be open to coming up with solutions that take into account both perspectives. You could ask questions like, “how can we move forward and come up with a solution that works for both of us?” 

How to have assertive conversations with your family or partner

Are you excited about starting a new position at work but your family isn’t supportive of your chosen career path? Maybe you finally introduced your new partner to your family at Christmas and they aren’t too keen on them. 

Or your partner is pressuring you to have kids soon and you’re just not at the point in life where you feel like you’re ready yet. 

Conversations with your family or partner can be really scary because you’ve got such close proximity to them and family dynamics can be hard to navigate. Here are some ways you can navigate tricky conversations with your partner or your family. 

Focus on the problem at hand

When having conversations with your partner or your family it’s easy to get caught up in issues from the past or other issues you may have. If the conversation starts to go off track try saying “can we talk about one thing at a time” or “I’d be happy to talk about that another time but let’s talk about this issue for now.” 

Validate others’ perspectives

Sometimes, people just want to be heard and acknowledged and if you’re validating other people’s perspectives, there’s a greater chance that they will validate yours too. Validation can be as simple as “I hear you” and “I get where you’re coming from.” 

Find things you agree on

Even if you’re at a crossroads and have differing opinions on things like when is the right to have kids, there can be some common ground. This requires a lot of reflective listening to come up with some things you both agree on and find solutions to move forward. Try saying, “I agree with you on… but from my perspective…”. 

Ultimately, navigating tricky conversations can be really difficult whether you’re talking to yourself, a friend or a partner. But, tough conversations are the best way to work through issues, and challenges and you might actually learn something about yourself along the way. 

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