Practicing assertive communication (or expressing needs, wants, and feelings in a way that is respectful, honest, and forthright) is not always easy. It takes courage to speak up and be heard, especially because doing so could potentially threaten a relationship. This can become even more difficult when the person with whom you’re interacting intimidates you. Perhaps this person seems emotionally unapproachable, is in a position of power and authority, or otherwise makes you feel uncomfortable.
Here are some ways to be assertive with an intimidating person:
It’s crucial to first be in the mindset that you matter. You are important. What you have to share is meaningful.
One of my friends has a great saying: “everyone counts as one point.” I love this idea, and remembering it helps me be assertive with difficult people when there’s a need. By first valuing and respecting yourself, you’ll be more successful in sharing your feelings and needs with others, and you can also increase the likelihood that what you say will be received well. Remind yourself that you are not “less than” anyone else.
The next step is to clarify your values and determine exactly what it is that you want or need. Maybe your relationship with this person leaves you feeling neglected, resentful, or in pain. What signals is your body giving you about something that bothers you or needs to change?
Tune in to what you’re feeling, then use these emotional cues to guide you in being assertive.
When approaching an intimidating person in an assertive way, it’s often good to start small. Bring up one or two issues that need to be addressed to begin. This doesn’t mean you’re being weak or kowtowing; it instead means you’re being smart by “testing the waters” and having realistic expectations. Starting small can help you gain confidence and practice in speaking up when there are concerns.
It’s important to understand that expressing your feelings to someone may force you to leave your comfort zone, and the truth is that the other person may not respond as you would wish. Still, part of self-respect is to communicate your inner experience, so try not to let the risk of not being heard or being misinterpreted to deter you.
If someone is particularly off-putting to the point where you find yourself avoiding him/ her, it might help to reframe the situation and consider where he/ she is coming from.
For example, when I’m dealing with a person who is negative, rude, or unkind, I often imagine a story in my head that would give context to the behavior. Maybe he is stressed out from having a sick child at home, or maybe she had a really rough week. After twenty years of work as a therapist I have learned that people make sense once you know their story, and what’s really going on in their life. Of course I’ll never know if I’m right or not in creating these stories, but it really is true that we’re all carrying our own unique burdens and fighting our battles.
Viewing intimidating people this way can make interacting with them less daunting.
Assertive communication is a skill that takes practice and experience. I invite you to consider situations and relationships in your life where you’d do well to take a stand and let yourself be heard. If you’re feeling nervous about approaching difficult conversations, know that you’ll get better at it with time. I promise you that assertiveness really can change your life and improve your relationships.