Your Body Communicates As Clearly As Your Words
Check yourself from head to toe, as you probably do frequently during the day, but this time measure yourself on a scale of assertiveness.
For example, women often have a problem making eye contact because many of us have been taught that it is more feminine to look away or look down. In our society, direct eye contact and holding your head erect is essential when you want to appear assertive and interested. This is not the same as staring at someone; look into the eyes, then perhaps look away for a few seconds or drop your gaze slightly so that you focus on the mouth of the person speaking to you.
Practice making good eye contact with someone as you are talking and be aware of any differences in the quality of your communication. Are you listening better? Are you conveying more interest and receiving more attention to what you are saying?
What do your facial expressions say about you? Many women find it easy to smile and to demonstrate warmth, but when it comes to expressing anger or disapproval, they may do it with a smile. Use a mirror to see how you look when you are expressing anger, joy, sadness, fear, and other emotions. Get feedback from your friends, too. Practice making your face and head look assertive: make direct eye contact, feel the control over your facial muscles, and hold your head high.
While looking in the mirror, check out your posture. Changing your posture can change the way you feel about yourself. Try assuming a passive stance. Then change to an assertive stance -- lean slightly forward with feet solidly grounded. Enjoy feeling centered with your body. Learn how close to stand or sit next to another person. This is your optimal distance.
To find your optimal distance, stand across the room from a friend, face each other, and walk slowly toward your friend as she remains stationary. Make eye contact with her the whole way and then stop as soon as you feel that you have reached a comfortable distance from her.
Notice your gestures. Can you still talk if someone ties your hands behind your back? Are your gestures so distracting that they prevent you from delivering an assertive message? Or do you create a passive or indirectly aggressive image by holding your arms rigidly against your body, or folding them across your chest? Being able to move your hands and arms expansively demonstrates confidence and freedom.
What sort of image do you convey by your style of dress? Dressing appropriately for a job interview increases your chances of getting the job. But do you realize that you can dress assertively too? Dressing in a favorite outfit can give you that extra touch of confidence to help you be assertive. Whenever you are feeling down, you can be assertive with yourself by wearing an outfit that doesn't let you fade into the woodwork but attracts attention and helps you to project an outgoing appearance without being loud or coarse.
One of the most vital tools you can develop in becoming assertive is your voice. If you have a tape recorder or a friend to listen and give feedback, evaluate your voice. A lower-pitched voice is more often associated with assertion. When analyzing your voice, gauge its volume. Are you afraid to speak up for fear you will sound masculine? A woman can be loud and clear and still sound like a woman.
Women often give away the fact that they are nervous or anxious by speaking too rapidly. Your rate of speech needs to be evenly paced, not too fast or slow. Sometimes a slower rate is good in order to emphasize an important idea.
Finally, be aware of the quality of your voice. Do you tend to whine when feeling helpless, powerless, or manipulative? Or, when nervous, does your voice become raspy and harsh? Practice asking for favors without whining. Try saying things that you are normally uncomfortable in saying, without a harsh, rasping tone. People will listen to and respect a full-bodied voice and tune out a squeaky, strident one.
You do not need a college education or a big vocabulary to be assertive and make yourself heard. If you practice the behaviors suggested here and keep your messages simple, direct, and spontaneous, you will be on the way to becoming an assertive woman.