How to Be More Assertive and Get More Support

Whether it’s at work, in the classroom, or in our personal lives, women have an assertiveness problem – not surprising when you acknowledge that most of us have been raised to be considerate of others ahead of ourselves. But did you know that you can actually learn how to be more assertive? It just takes some practice, and it’s worth the effort.

Why assertiveness matters

We all know that being assertive is important in the workplace – there are plenty of think pieces out there about how women are missing out on promotions and losing money to our male counterparts because we’re either not confident enough or are punished for being assertive in the “wrong way.”

But even if you’re a stay-at-home parent or are retired or otherwise outside the workforce, being assertive is still important. Clear, confident communication is the basis of a respectful relationship, and can increase self-esteem and decrease stress.

This is especially crucial for moms. Motherhood is hard – we can all agree on that. But we make it even harder on ourselves when we don’t ask for help or express our feelings. This job is isolating enough without closing ourselves off from the people who might be able to support us.

Why it’s so hard

Confrontation is uncomfortable for most people – it’s awkward telling someone you’re unhappy with the way they behave, and asking for help is vulnerable and scary. We feel like we should have a handle on our lives, and if we’re not happy or we need something we’re failing to control our own circumstances.

And for women who’ve been raised to be nice rather than clear (that’s most of us) the difficulty with being direct goes beyond discomfort. It can feel physically painful to say what we mean. Add to that the fear of rejection if we ask for what we need, and it’s understandable that so many of us resort to stuffing down our emotions and letting them simmer into a constant resentment.

But putting everyone else before yourself and harboring secret grudges rarely ends well. It’s a recipe for a much worse, and less constructive, confrontation down the line when our anger boils over. 

We’re not doomed, though. You’re not stuck with the behavior you were encouraged to embrace as a child, when boys were admired for being leaders and girls were admonished for being bossy. Changing something so ingrained can be difficult, but it is possible, especially if you have a framework you can follow to make it easier.

Enter: the DEAR method.

What is DEAR?

DEAR is an acronym for a behavioral strategy that improves communication to make it more assertive and effective: Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce. It’s a technique used in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which is similar to and falls under the same behavioral therapy umbrella as CBT.

The DEAR strategy breaks down constructive communication into a series of steps, to help you keep your focus and confidence during difficult conversations. This makes it easier to share your feelings, ask for help, and avoid resentment – and hopefully you’ll get the support you need, too!

How to be more assertive using the DEAR method

Let’s go through an example scenario using the DEAR steps. Imagine your partner has come home late from work without checking in with you, and you discover that he’s actually been having coffee with a colleague, networking instead of coming straight home. Here’s how you can assert your needs using DEAR:

  1. Describe the facts of the situation you’re reacting to: “You’re usually back from work by 5pm, but today you didn’t get home until 6:30. I thought you were working late, but you were having coffee with Todd.”
  2. Express your feelings about the situation using “I” statements, even if you think they should be obvious: “I was waiting for you to get home so I could have a break from the kids, and I’m disappointed that you stayed out later than usual without checking with me and frustrated that you just assumed I’d handle the childcare for longer on my own.”
  3. Assert yourself – clearly ask for what you need or say “no” to something you don’t want: “I need you to come home right after work and take over childcare for at least an hour so I can have some ‘me’ time. If you need to stay late, please check in with me so I’m not waiting around.”
  4. Reinforce your assertion by describing the positive results you expect from getting your needs met: “If you can give me a bit of time to myself after work, I’ll feel like we’re more of a team, and you’ll get some solo time with the kids, which they’ll love. And if I know you’re going to be late, I can ask you to pick up dinner or help ease the childcare burden in another way, so we’re still working together.”

Keep in mind that you don’t have to do all of this in the heat of the moment. If you’re having trouble implementing the DEAR skills or the person you’re engaging with isn’t listening or is responding poorly, consider stopping the conversation altogether. You can return to it later – make sure you communicate that to the other person, and suggest a specific time to revisit the issue.

If you could use some support in improving your assertiveness skills (and honestly, what woman couldn’t?), we recommend working with a mental health professional who practices behavioral therapy, which is the foundation of DEAR skills. That’s why all Prospera coaches are trained in behavioral therapy techniques.

Ready to give mental health coaching a try? Book your free consultation today.

Content reviewed by Dr. Sarah Stanger, Clinical Psychologist

Anne Godenham is a writer and editor with a passion for mental health awareness and accessibility