How to be more self-confident and assertive

One of the most dependable ways to develop a successful business is to have a firm belief in who you are, what you are doing and in the services or products that you offer.

Self-confidence is something that you can work on and improve. There are many simple steps you can take to develop your skills, gaining a better understanding of your thoughts and become more positive.

Assess your abilities

Write down how you view yourself

  • To ease yourself into the process, write down ten life achievements of which you are proud. These could be anything – from passing exams at school to having children.
  • Then move to the present. Consider your skills, experience and the way in which you work.
  • Make a list of the things you’re good at.
  • Make a list of the things you’re not good at – or things you would like to improve.
  • Be fair in your assessment. Acknowledge your weak points, but avoid being overly critical.
  • Try asking the opinions of people you respect and trust. Do their views about you match yours?

List your professional achievements to date

  • Your achievements are important, so include them all – no matter how small or personal to you.
  • What things are you really proud of?
  • What things made you step out of your comfort zone?
  • Ask the opinions of people you respect and trust to see whether their views about your achievements match yours.
  • Recognise what each of your achievements has given you.
  • If you have accomplished something special in your personal life, could this be seen as a valuable experience for your professional life?
  • Taking pride in your achievements will fuel your self-confidence. You’ll be able to tell yourself that if you rose to the challenge once – you can do it again.
  • Update your list regularly. This way, you can refer to it should you need a lift.

Identify your strengths and areas for development. Identify your strengths from your initial list of things you are good at. Give yourself credit for these and realise their value. Remain strong in these areas and remind yourself of them – especially in moments of self-doubt. Your areas to develop are the things from your initial list you don’t think you are good at, or that you would like to improve.

Think about the future

Set business goals and personal skills objectives. Think about what you want your business to achieve over the next couple of years. Be realistic – but that does not mean you should lack ambition. Identify all additional personal skills you will need if your business is to meet the objectives you have set. Make a list of these personal skills objectives.

Start building a support network. Make sure your family and friends understand and support what you are trying to do. Join local community groups and other networks where you can share problems, learn from others’ experience and build your confidence. Find out what support is available from local business support organisations. Consider finding a mentor who can provide ongoing support and advice.

Develop your skills

Create a ‘personal learning and development agenda

  • Write out a new list that combines your weaknesses and the skills you need to develop to meet your business goals.
  • Prioritise this list in terms of importance and urgency.
  • This should be your area of focus for developing your personal skills, experience and attributes.
  • Set yourself realistic learning and development goals. Don’t take on too much too soon.

Decide the most suitable source of learning for your needs. Think about how much time and money you can afford to commit, but remember it is important to develop your skills as a way to boost your self-confidence. A wealth of learning and training options is available, so research the market well. Choose a provider and course that will give you the skills you need. Advisers will be able to tell you whether there are any learning or skills development grants available to you.

Improve your outlook

Develop your thought awareness. This is the process by which you consider your thoughts and become aware of why you think the way you do. You need to identify occasions when you might be creating unnecessary mental barriers by thinking negatively. Recognise that some negative thoughts are without basis or fact. Try to be accurate in your assessment of situations and consider whether your negative thoughts stand up to closer scrutiny. When your negative thoughts are justified, take appropriate remedial action. Sometimes negative thoughts can help you to develop.

Use affirmations to neutralise negative thoughts. Affirmations are positive statements. For example, “I have the skills, experience, resources and time I need to get this task done successfully” or “I am a well-qualified and talented professional”. Turn negative statements and questions into positive statements and questions. For example, “How could I have failed to meet that deadline?” should be “How can I make sure I meet the deadline next time?”

Don’t fear failure – learn from it. Accept the fact that you can’t get it right each and every time. Even when you fail, at least you have tried. Sometimes you can learn useful lessons for the future. Don’t dwell on previous mistakes. Be forward-looking in your approach.

Create a better work environment

Get rid of clutter. Untidy surroundings can be stressful. To declutter, spend ten minutes a day clearing one small area at a time, and reward yourself regularly.

Make your place of work as comfortable as possible. If possible, apply this to furniture, lighting, heating, ventilation, decor and space.

Tidy your work area at the end of every day. This can reduce stress and inspire you when you begin work the next morning.

Improve the way you feel

Find ways to boost your energy levels. A lack of energy can lead to low spirits and a slump in confidence. Preventative and remedial measures include:

  • breathing deeply – taking in more oxygen can perk you up instantly;
  • having a cup of tea or a piece of fruit – sometimes you need to make time for a ten-minute break;
  • putting an inspiring image on your wall, such as a holiday snap or family photograph;
  • taking a 15-minute walk in the fresh air at lunchtime;
  • taking time to speak to a colleague – it doesn’t have to be about a work-related issue;
  • phoning or emailing a friend or family member.

Make your lifestyle as healthy as possible

  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Avoid comfort eating or junk foods however tempting or convenient these might seem when you’re under pressure. Opt for healthy, energy-boosting meals and snacks, and don’t skip meals or rush them.
  • Try to find time for regular physical exercise. A visit to the gym, a bicycle ride or long walk in the open air is proven to help beat stress.
  • Playing team sports is particularly good for increasing self-confidence.
  • Make sure you are getting sufficient sleep at night. At least eight hours is advisable.

Learn to relax properly

  • Take 15 minutes out of each working day to do something that relaxes you. This could be sitting in a quiet place with a cup of tea, listening to music, reading a magazine or going for a short walk.
  • If you have to travel to and from your place of work make the journey as relaxing as possible, perhaps by listening to music. Use your commuting time as ‘me-time’. Leave domestic issues at home and work-related concerns in the workplace.
  • Massage is proven to help reduce stress. Self-massage techniques for the head and neck are quick and easy to learn.
  • Make working long hours or at weekends the exception rather than the rule.
  • Plan a long weekend away once in a while.
  • Make sure you have at least two major breaks per year. A change of scenery is best because you tend to relax more.
  • Try to meet up regularly with friends and family members you do not live with.

Appear more confident

Get your body language right. Research has found that 70 per cent of our decisions about others are based on non-verbal communication factors. When communicating with others, always maintain good eye contact, try to remain composed and remember to smile. Nervous people tend to keep their eyes lowered, sit in a hunched position and fidget. When meeting a business contact, be friendly and greet them with a firm handshake.

Dress to impress. The better you feel about the way you look, the more confident you are likely to act, so always try to look the very best you can.

Improve your communication skills

Speak clearly, concisely and with conviction. Nervous people tend to mumble, speak too quietly or lack conviction. Remember, nervousness is far more common than a lot of people would like to admit. Even the most confident people feel nervous sometimes.

Shyness can be overcome. The more you practice, the better you will get. Don’t hide from the problem by avoiding meetings or by saying as little as you can get away with. Your views are valid and others will expect to hear them. Having notes prepared in advance will help you to remember important things to say in meetings. Always prepare well, be punctual and remain organised. This will make you feel more confident about the things you say.

Know when to listen. Don’t interrupt people – this can be a sign of nervousness. Give others space to talk and listen to what they are saying. Use nods, facial expressions and comments to show that you follow their reasoning. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Be more assertive

Assertiveness isn’t about being pushy. It means behaving in a way that expresses your confidence and earns you respect from others. It means standing up for your right to be treated fairly while expressing your opinions, needs and feelings – without ignoring those of others. Assertiveness can be easily learned and put into practice quickly.

Improve your assertiveness skills

  • Model your behaviour on someone you admire and ask yourself how they would handle the situation.
  • When dealing with others, state specifically and clearly what outcome you want. Begin your sentences in the first person (“I…”) and make concise, well-focused statements.
  • Remain calm. Don’t speak apologetically or aggressively.
  • Stand your ground when you believe in the validity of what you are saying or doing.
  • Be prepared to say no or to agree to disagree. If you want to say no, make it the first word you say. Hesitation will make you seem weak and others may not believe you really mean what you say.
  • If necessary, use the ‘broken record’ technique to get your point of view across. This involves saying exactly the same thing until the person you are speaking to acknowledges your point of view.

Be assertive when giving feedback

  • Discuss another person’s poor performance in a constructive spirit. Always do this away from others.
  • Criticise performance, not the person.
  • Stick to the facts, not opinions.
  • Listen calmly to the other person and show them that you understand what they are saying.
  • Offer and accept apologies ungrudgingly.
  • Summarise what has been said and agreed.
  • Establish a clear way forward.

Be assertive when receiving feedback

  • When you are receiving feedback on your own performance separate any dislike of being criticised you might have from the valid points being made to you.
  • Never make excuses that will not stand up.
  • If unfair criticism is being levelled at you ask for specific examples, do not hold back from giving your side of the story.

Deal with customer complaints assertively

  • Listen closely to the other person’s point of view. Do not be afraid to request clarification.
  • Let them know you are taking the matter seriously and intend to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
  • Never blame your colleagues, the customer or your suppliers.
  • Reconstruct the steps that led to the complaint to see why the problem occurred. This might help to stop it happening again.
  • If someone makes an unreasonable request, explain why you can’t comply.

Actively manage angry people. Identify the cause of their anger and take steps to deal with it in a calm and controlled manner. If someone is out of control, let them know that communication must wait until they have calmed down. If they are being offensive, end the conversation quickly and firmly.

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