ASSERTIVENESS, as we established yesterday, means standing up for yourself, without stepping on anyone else's toes.Three ways to become more assertive are to:

Eliminate unassertive behaviours

The first step in becoming more assertive is to eliminate unassertive (both passive and aggressive) behaviours, gestures and speech patterns.

Passive behaviours such as avoiding eye contact, slouching, speaking too softly, being indecisive, or minimising the importance of your own needs and wants should be thrown out the window.

Weak gestures suggest a passive personality. Avoid fawning, scratching, fidgeting, preening and putting your hands in your pockets.

Finally, avoid passive speech patterns such as rambling or uncertain statements, frequent justifications or apologies, and putting yourself down.

Act as if you were assertive

The best way to act assertively is to think of someone you know who is assertive, and do what he or she does.

Or you can imagine you already are assertive and act suitably. How would you stand? How would you move? How would you speak? What gestures would you use?

Adopt assertive behaviours such as maintaining good posture, looking people in the eye, moving with confidence and purpose, and being decisive.

Speak with confidence and at a relaxed pace, express your needs clearly and directly and be considerate of others.

Craft assertive statements

When someone says or does something that offends you, you can respond in any of three ways. You can choose to be passive about it, allowing the situation to continue because you are not comfortable confronting the other person, while building up resentment.

Or you can respond aggressively, by lashing out verbally or physically at the other person. This will cause the conflict to escalate and greatly reduce the chance of resolving it amicably.

Neither of these options is good for the relationship. You can also choose a third option: assertion. The assertive option allows for communication to solve the problem while maintaining the relationship.

A simple and effective way to assert yourself is by using this three-step formula:

* Offer a non-judgmental description of the offending behaviour,

* State your feelings,

* Describe the consequences of the behaviour,

Following this three-step formula is the easiest way to craft an assertive statement. With practice, you will be able to modify it so you sound more natural. After all, not everyone speaks the same way. The important thing is to cover all three steps.

Avoid describing behaviours and feelings in value-laden terms. Certain descriptions are more emotionally charged than others, and make logical discussion less likely.

For example: "When you smoke, I feel victimised because it impairs my breathing."

This makes the smoker sound like a villain, when he may have intended no malice.

Compare this with: "When you smoke, it is annoying and inconsiderate because it impairs my breathing."

Here, the speaker is not stating his feelings, but accusing the smoker of being annoying and inconsiderate.

This may be construed as a personal attack by the speaker. It would be quite natural for the smoker to get defensive, deny the speaker's characterisation of him and respond with an attack of his own.

On the other hand, consider this example: "When you smoke, I feel upset because it impairs my breathing."

The smoker is doing something objectionable, but he is not made to seem like a bad guy, and is less likely to be offended. You are simply stating your true feelings, without judging the smoker's motives or values. No one can deny your feelings.

This gives the offending party a reason to change his behaviour. Most people are reasonable and will accommodate you once they are aware of the effect their behaviour is having on you.

Once you learn to craft assertive statements, you will be able to confidently handle situations you used to shrink from. People will respond to you favourably. You will be able to ask for what you want, and say no when you want to.

Best of all, you will get what you want out of life.