Assertiveness is a very necessary quality in today's world. It's not aggressiveness - we have enough of that already! It's more like a process of knowing you have a right to be in your place in the world, a right to occupy the space you are in, and a right to get what you want, or at least to negotiate it strongly, in the face of others' demands and expectations that you accommodate their wishes and desires.
If that sounds a lot like a definition of self-confidence, then you're right - it is. Assertiveness and self-confidence are inextricably linked together.
There's another important aspect to assertiveness, too, and that's about control. Confidence allows you to exert control over a situation - or at least to exert more control over it. Assertiveness does the same. All in all, therefore, confidence and assertiveness are different sides of the same coin.
Assertiveness does not come easily to most of us. That's because we are trained as children to be compliant and socially acceptable. Assertiveness puts a child in direct conflict with its parents: and, because the parents tend to be more powerful, the child usually loses that struggle. Fortunately, it is easy to train yourself to regain the assertive traits that you lost as a child.
You might at this stage be wondering if there's a difference between dominance and assertiveness. Very confident people are often seen as having the ability to dominate the room with their confidence, and dominance implies the ability to control people. But dominance is more about power, and it's a very different thing to assertiveness.
Leadership may require confidence and assertiveness, but it does not necessarily require dominance. Indeed, the best leaders are those who include people in their decisions and processes, seeking consensus, but being able to assert their authority through the quality of assertiveness.
It's also true that people who show too much dominance are essentially bullies. They may require that they get their own way, they may override the views and opinions of others, and they may be driven by a need for power and a sense of inferiority rather than a well-balanced sense of self-confidence.
Bullies are a classic example of a dominant personality that seeks to assert itself through force rather than confidence or assertive consensus. Their victims are people who obviously have less power than they do; their methods centre on aggression and fear. The desire for power, accumulation of wealth, and to see the fear they inspire in others is what motivates such people to seek to exert their power - yet, at its very root, the bully psychology is one of inadequacy and trying to overcome a victim mentality though dominance and power.
Assertiveness is a quality best used to develop your own confidence in your abilities to control your own life and destiny, rather than the lives and destinies of others. Used in this way it is a true adjunct to self-confidence. Assuming that you want to be sufficiently assertive to do this, rather than to be assertive enough to control others, the techniques you can use to become more assertive are actually rather easy.
How to develop greater assertiveness and self-confidence
Have a code of values that you believe in and live by
Know your facts before you enter into any new venture and use them effectively
Anticipate other people's objections and behavior and prepare suitable responses
Defend yourself with open questions that allow you to retake the initiative
Practice responding to aggression so you are ready for it when it comes your way
Use positive affirmations about your own strength
Surround yourself with inspirational people and materials
Have faith in yourself and the fact that you will ultimately triumph
More on some of the above suggestions for developing greater assertiveness
To be prepared is the best defense against those who would undermine you. And no matter what the situation you are entering, you can always do some preparation which will allow you to have the edge in the situation - that might be mental rehearsal, learning new strategies and tactics to deal with difficult people, going on a public speaking course, and so on.
Anticipate what others will do and say, and have a response prepared
You can always ask others to support you; you can prepare in your imagination for all the eventualities that may arise; you can learn to be assertive. Being prepared in this way will allow you to have full control and complete self-confidence.
Assertiveness requires that you know what to say
And of course this again means being prepared, both physically and mentally. So, for example, if you are presenting information to a group who may be unwilling to accept what you say, having a list of thorough, probing, constructive and incisive things to ask will help you to feel confident. Indeed, it's the key to feeling confident.
Do you have any evidence for that assertion?
Who have you asked about this?
Have you measured that quality?
How did you look for alterative solutions?
How does this compare to other specific solutions implemented by (name someone)?
It's important not to be distracted, but to stick to what you're saying and what you believe to be true. You can say: "We are not discussing that now, We are discussing this." Keep your point in mind until it is accepted or you have been assertive enough to silence the ill-informed.
Reprogram your own reaction to aggression
There are many strategies for controlling the dominant and aggressive. First among these is delaying tactics which you can use to gain more time to think about something: "Wait. You have not explained that properly." "Wait, I need more time to think about that." In the end, this is all about being firm and decisive, and not allowing yourself to be distracted or deflated by the verbal or psychological strikes that the bully may make against you.
Have faith in yourself and your own confidence
The strengths of a non-assertive person usually centre on attention to detail, completion, thoroughness, research, co-operation and commitment. By developing a more assertive personality, these fundamental strengths combine with a level of self-confidence which can achieve great things.