The idea of an assertive woman conjures up mages of a dragon in a dress. Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, that's what I'm thinking. I'm much more "shut up and put up" school of thinking, and tend to keep quiet for fear of causing conflict or upsetting people.
But do you know what? That doesn't help anybody. In the past year or so I've found myself worn out and feeling ground down by the constant people pleasing. Being assertive doesn't have to mean being a bitch, but it does mean being a bit more selfish. I've done a fair bit of reading on the topic, so if like me you want to be able to get your point across more and do things for you, you may find this helpful.
Don't let yourself get guilt-tripped
I live in a perpetual state of guilt, and it's not. necessary. Guilt should be saved for serious crimes, not something as small as cancelling on a friend. My aim is to remember that 'letting someone down' isn't a personal thing, it's just circumstance. Maybe I can't afford it, or don't want to go somewhere. There's no need for guilt because it doesn't diminish the friendship in any way, sometimes these things just happen.
Honesty is the best policy
Following on from that first point...I'm not a liar by any means, and can't understand how some people can tell whoppers on a daily basis. At the most, I'll find myself telling white lies to let people down gently when I don't want to say no, and acually this is a little self-centred and insulting to that person. They most likely can handle the facts without you sugar-coating things. And let's not mention the guilt brought on by being untruthful! Be upfront and you'll breed a much healthier relationship.
Take responsibility for how you feel
It's so easy to say that so-and-so's made you feel a certain way. Angry, sad, put upon, frustrated....whatever. Start taking responsibility and owning how you feel. Don't give that power away. Man up and be aware that you allow yourself to feel a certain way. There may be extraneous influences, but ultimately any feeling is a state of mind that you are capable of creating.
Utilise body language
Now it's time for some practical skills. We all know that folded arms present a person as guarded and closed off, so try having open palms facing upwards as a gesture of sincerity, or facing down for authority. Bringing one hand down in a chopping motion really helps to hammer home your point. And don't forget your tone of voice. Going up at the end of every sentence will make you sound unsure and as if you're seeking approval. If you want to appear neutral, use a level tone of voice or try a downwards inflection to speak with authority and put a close to any tricky discussions.
Take your time
I'm a person who likes to fill silences and often rushes into things. Following a request with a pause gives you time to think. Ask for further details before making a decision, and don't be scared to say that you need time to mull it over.
Just say no
Inevitably, there are situations where the answer has to be no. It doesn't have to be rude or thoughtless though; there are lots of ways to let people down gently. "I'll have to pass...", "Not this time..." or "I can see that _______, but ______" are all ways that you can decline politely.
I think assertiveness is a really under-mentioned skill that some people naturally have whilst others may need to work on. Practice makes perfect though, and I'm hoping that I can apply these skills to become a happier, sassier me!