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Behaving assertively and confidently

Dr. Simon Moss


Sometimes, individuals would like to experience a sense of power and control as well as behave more assertively and firmly. They might, for example, be assigned a role that involves supervising other individuals or providing leadership. To become more assertive, a series of exercises and activities can be considered.

Mental preparation

Step 1. Before individuals need to act assertively--for instance, before they need to present negative feedback--they should first reflect upon some value or aspiration they would like to achieve in the next couple of years. . Perhaps they would like to improve elderly care, as an example. Next they should consider the people with whom they would like to work, especially colleagues they respect and trust. Finally, they should consider how they would justify the importance of this value or aspiration to these people.

After individuals consider their future aspirations (Lee, Keller, & Sternthal, 2010), deliberate over the reasons these aspirations are important (e.g., Watkins, Moberly, & Moulds, 2008), and identify the people who could support this endeavor (Beukeboom, 2009), they become more likely to focus their attention on broad concepts rather than tangible details (see Construal level theory). That is, they direct their attention to the overall pattern instead of the specific features of some event. Because their attention is diverted from specific features, they are not as sensitive to immediate complications. They thus feel more secure& they experience a sense of power (Smith, Wigboldus, & Dijksterhuis, 2008).

When individuals experience this sense of power, they become more assertive. To demonstrate, after individuals are assigned power or authority, they become more likely to express their genuine attitudes towards some issue (Anderson && Berdahl, 2002).

In contrast, if individuals do not feel a sense of power or authority, they are more inclined to feel vulnerable to threats or other problems (Anderson && Berdahl, 2002). They will, therefore, become more likely to notice anger or contempt from other individuals, and their confidence and pride thus declines.

Diminishing doubts about rejection

Step 2.Individuals often feel uneasy when they request help from someone else. To overcome this unease, as well as to reduce the likelihood of rejections, individuals should first imagine they were approached with the same request. That is, they should imagine themselves from the perspective of someone whose assistance is sought.

Second, they should recognize the shame or embarrassment they would feel if they refused to help. Next, they should acknowledge to themselves the other person is likely to experience the same shame or embarrassment--and, consequently, will often feel obliged to help.

Finally, they should directly highlight their need to seek help, with explicit statements such as "I need some help...". These questions merely exacerbate the shame that individuals experience when they refuse to help.

When individuals are asked to offer assistance, they feel the obligation to comply--anticipating a sense of shame or embarrassment otherwise. They are especially likely to feel shame if the request articulated explicitly the need for help, such as "I need your help".

In contrast, when individuals seek help from someone else, they do not consider the perspective of this person. They do not consider the potential shame or embarrassment this person would feel upon refusing the request. As a consequence, they overestimate the likelihood of rejections (Flynn & Lake, 2008).

Reflect upon their unique qualities

Step 3. Individuals should consider some of their unique strengths, qualities, or values--characteristics they do not share with colleagues or competitors. Alternatively, they could reflect upon their personal interests or hobbies.

When individuals reflect upon their unique qualities, they perceive themselves as independent, rather than connected to a broader collective. When individuals feel independent, their need to maintain cohesion dissipates (Zhang, Feick, & Price, 2006). That is, they are more willing to act assertively, rather than obligingly, because their primary motive is to advance themselves rather than to maintain harmony (see also Stapel & Van der Zee, 2006).

Mental exercises during social interactions

Step 1. To promote confidence, individuals should engage in behaviours they feel are prevalent in confident managers or leaders. These individuals should speak loudly and exhibit an upright posture when they walk--behaviours that epitomize confidence.

As Mussweiler (2006) showed in a fascinating study, if individuals walk slowly, they are more likely to perceive another person as forgetful and conservative. That is, slow walking evokes mental images or memories of the elderly, which shifts the attention to features that characterize this social group. Accordingly, if individual act like a confident leader, their attention should shift to features that characterize this group as well& they perceive themselves as a typical leader.

Related objectives

See also articles on:


Anderson, C., &, Berdahl, J. L. (2002). The experience of power: Examining the effects of power on approach and inhibition tendencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1362-1377.

Beukeboom, C. J. (2009). When words feel right: How affective expressions of listeners change a speaker's language use. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 747-756.

Flynn, F. J., &, Lake, V. K. B. (2008). If you need help, just ask: Underestimating compliance with direct requests for help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 128-143.

Hannover, B., Birkner, N., &, Pohlmann, C. (2006). Ideal selves and self-esteem in people with independent and interdependent self-construal. European Journal of Social Psychology, 36, 119-133.

Lee, A. Y., Keller, P. A., & Sternthal, B. (2010). Value from regulatory construal fit: The persuasive impact of fit between consumer goals and message concreteness. Journal of Consumer Research, 36, 735-747.

Mussweiler, T. (2006). Doing is for thinking: Stereotype activation by stereotypic movements. Psychological Science, 17, 17-21.

Smith, P. K., Wigboldus, D. H. J., &, Dijksterhuis, A. (2008). Abstract thinking increases one's sense of power. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 378-385.

Stapel, D. A. &, Van der Zee, K. I. (2006). The self salience model of other-to-self effects: Integrating principles of self-enhancement, complementarity, and imitation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 258-271.

Watkins, E., Moberly, N. J., & Moulds, M. L. (2008). Processing mode causally influences emotional reactivity: Distinct effects of abstract versus concrete construal on emotional response. Emotion, 8, 364-378.

Zhang, Y., Feick, L., &, Price, L. J. (2006). The impact of self construal on aesthetic preference for angular versus rounded shapes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 794-805.

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Last Update: 5/11/2016