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The importance of assertiveness in work-life balance

Striving for a healthy balance between the demands on youin and out of the officemeans setting clear boundaries, and that usually requires assertive behavior. Assertiveness is a skill that you can practice and master, just like any skill. It includes:

  • expressing your feelings
  • communicating effectively
  • establishing your limits and boundaries

Assertiveness, not to be confused with aggressiveness

When setting boundaries, it is often necessary to say, “no” to some tasks and people. Saying “no” can feel uncomfortable, rude, and even aggressive or hostile, and you might find it difficult to stand up for yourself. You may find it hard to ask for what you want, or you may never have learned how to express your preferences, needs, opinions, and feelings tactfully or effectively. However, learning how to be assertive and establish boundaries in all areas of your life is key to creating a healthy balance.

Use the tips below to practice assertive communication skills for lots of different situations. Soon, you will be able to call upon these skills automatically, and it will become easier and more comfortable to set boundaries and achieve balance.

  1. Learn to identify and voice your worries and concerns. It is the first step to acknowledging and expressing your feelings and preferences in a positive way.
  2. Boost your self-esteem. Do things and be with people that make you feel good about yourself.
  3. Learn to use "I" statements to express your thoughts and feelings, especially in situations of conflict. "I" statements sound like this: "I feel… (state feelings) when you/or a certain situation… (state facts).” Or "I would like…. (state your requirements, needs, preferences).”
  4. Acknowledge your worth. Accept compliments graciously by saying, “thank you” rather than making excuses or downplaying your own success.
  5. Ask, “why?” as often as needed. Questioning is not meant to be difficult or challenging, but instead to establish your own thoughtful response to the accepted norm. Try not to feel obligated to accept rules, policies, or practices unquestioningly, without determining if they make sense to you or are in line with your own values.
  6. Learn what your triggers are. We all have them: certain behaviors, situations, or things that 'set us off' and prevent us from behaving with composure. Once you identify these people, places, and things, you can find ways to deal with them.
  7. Find healthy ways to express your negative emotions, such as requesting better service in a restaurant, letting people know when they've hurt your feelings, discussing your differing views on a book or a movie, or asking to have some time for yourself or privacy when you need it.
  8. Deal with minor irritations before your anger builds.
  9. Learn to begin, engage in, and end conversations comfortably. If you are unsure of yourself in social situations, look up books and online resources on etiquette and personal development; or join a club or group like Toastmasters International where you can interact with others and practice social skills among people who share common interests. If you are extremely shy or anxious in social situations, consider contacting your organization’s assistance program for some professional guidance on overcoming this common concern.
  10. Learn and apply active listening skills. Focus on what others are saying; repeat what they say in your own words and ask questions to make sure you understand. Wait until the other person has finished speaking before speaking yourself.
  11. When you do have something to say, speak up clearly and state your case with confidence. Learn to use your voice and be aware of your body language so that you appear calm and in control, but not threatening or aggressive.
  12. Let go of perfectionism. No one is always right. If at times you think you don't measure up, be gentle with yourself (and others). You are doing the best you can.

For more help with learning the skill of assertiveness and creating healthy balance, contact your organization’s assistance program for support and resources.