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Be your own superhero! Here’s how to stand up for yourself and speak your mind

Put your hands on your hips and speak like you really know your stuff. Then, talk to someone else you know and look down, fold your arms and speak in your softest voice. (If you feel silly doing this, practice it with your little sister or BFF!)

Do you notice the difference? You probably don’t have to do this experiment to know there’s a huge difference. And it’s all to do with the way you speak and how you hold your body.

Experts say that the way we talk, the way we move and the way we make eye contact is really important. Using all of these things to stand up for ourselves is called being assertive and can help when we’re talking to a friend, family member, teacher or even a bully.

What does ‘being assertive’ mean?

Being assertive is a communication skill. It means expressing yourself, like what you’re thinking, feeling and what you want to do, in a way that respects everyone you’re talking to – as well as yourself.

This is really different to being aggressive, which means expressing yourself in a way that’s mean and sometimes hurts others. And that’s really different to being passive, which is a word to describe your actions when you don’t express yourself because you’re too worried about what others think.

Basically, assertiveness is where it’s at!

We know what you’re thinking. That all sounds really good. But how can you tell the difference throughout the day? Well, let’s look at some examples:

Let’s imagine your family is visiting. They want to go to an art gallery, but you have a big piece of revision to finish. You need to revise, but you want to join them.

Someone being assertive in this situation would speak clearly and calmly and make eye contact. They’d say something like: “I’d love to go to the art gallery. I’m going to finish my work first. I’ll meet you there.”

Someone being aggressive would shout and sometimes even threaten people. They’d say something like: “Why would I want to go to the art gallery? That’s a stupid idea! My work is more important.”

Whereas someone being passive would likely speak quietly and maybe even cry sometimes. They’d say something like: “We can do whatever you want to do. I don’t have anything to do today.”

Can you spot the difference and see how being assertive is much more true to you and other people around you?

Why does it matter?

You might think that the examples above aren’t that different. Or that they don’t make that much difference in the long run.

But experts believe that being assertive can help us to do the things we want to do and make better friends and connections with the people around us. It also shows we have respect for ourselves and we have respect for other people and sends a really strong message that we believe in ourselves and can stand up for ourselves and other people too.

The problem is, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It definitely doesn’t come naturally to me! In some situations I am passive. I want everyone to be happy and won’t speak up for myself. But that just makes me more and more unhappy over time.

Here’s why standing like Wonder Woman is good for you

So what’s the answer? Well, there are lots and lots of ways you can learn to be more assertive.

Step one: Notice. The first thing to do is to notice how you talk to people. Look at the examples above again and figure out whether you sometimes talk in a passive way, an aggressive way or whether you’re already really assertive.

Step two: Find good role models. The next thing you can try is look at how other people talk to each other. Finding a role model is really good. Someone who talks in a way you’d like to talk, speaks up for themselves and gets things done – but is nice to other people along the way.

Step three: Stand strong. Many experts believe the next step is in your body language. Amy Cuddy is a psychologist who has made loads of great videos about the way we use our bodies and how that makes us more assertive. She believes doing the Wonder Woman pose (standing with your feet shoulder width apart with your hands on your hips) can make us feel instantly more confident and capable – she even suggests doing it before exams or important meetings when no one is looking!

Step four: Say what you mean. Being assertive is also about the words you use. Experts say that saying “I” a lot, talking about how you feel in a confident way and not saying words like “maybe” really helps. So for example, you could say “maybe we should go to the park?” or “I’d like to go to the park”. See the difference? If you want to go to the park, say it!

Step five: Make eye contact. Sometimes it’s difficult to make eye contact with people. Especially if you’re talking to a teacher or giving a talk at school in front of your class. But making eye contact is a big part of being assertive. So try and do it a little more and see how it feels.

Let your personality shine through

But most importantly – be yourself. It’s really good to find out more about how to communicate. And to understand the differences between what’s assertive, what’s passive and what’s aggressive, which we looked at above. The key to speaking to people better is in learning about some of these things and then trying your best to apply them to your life.

Maybe next time you talk about what you want to do this weekend with your friends you’ll voice your opinion rather than go with the flow. Maybe next time you have a talk to give at school, you’ll put your hands on your hips and feel a bit calmer. These are all little things you can try. Little things you can add to your already amazing personality.

Remember: You don’t need to be perfect right away, or even change lots, this is about adding healthy bits of advices to the awesome person you already are. Like putting a cherry on top of your cupcake!

Image: Katie Edmunds

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