How Introverts Can Be More Assertive

An introvert talks to a friend

Speaking up for yourself can be intimidating. However, choosing to tolerate an unwanted situation is often worse.

My local coffee shop was busy, probably due to its town center location and many people wanting to take advantage of its patio seating on the warm, sunny day. As the barista handed my drink to me, I could see she hadn’t heard my drink order correctly or forgotten it. I’d ordered an iced hazelnut latte, but noticed the steam coming off the drink. Oh, well, that’s okay, I thought. After all, depending on the season or my mood, I order the hot version of the beverage, too. 

As an introvert, the prospect of confronting a stranger usually makes me cringe. So, when dealing with a relatively minor issue like that one, I’ll let it go. The fact that I hate making things more difficult for people has also contributed to me not speaking up when, perhaps, I should have. But, over the years, I’ve learned that not asserting what I need or want is a recipe for dealing with situations I shouldn’t have put myself through. 

Trust me, it has taken me a long time to become more assertive. And I’m the first to admit this goal will be a lifelong work-in-progress. However, I hope that by sharing what’s worked for me, I can help others feel better about speaking up (when necessary), too.

5 Ways to Be More Assertive as an Introvert 

1. Practice what you’ll say in advance; the more prepared you are, the easier it’ll be.

When starting to worry about an upcoming conversation that requires me to specify what I need or want, I spend a lot of time lost in thought. We introverts tend to overthink anyway, and I’ll think about how the exchange might go and how the other person will feel about what I have to say. 

However, it’s at those times that I remind myself I can’t control how others respond; I can only prepare myself as best as possible. That usually means choosing my words with care. I must be sufficiently firm without causing the other person to misunderstand me or get overly upset. 

I’ve often read or heard advice about practicing what to say in a mirror. But that has never worked for me. I think it’s because I focus too much on my reflection (rather than my words) and end up getting nervous. But, as someone who developed a love of writing as a child and now writes professionally, I practice what to say by putting pen to paper. 

The act of writing seems to clear my head, and seeing the words on the page allows me to reflect on whether I could — or should — say something differently. Whether you use writing, a mirror, or some other technique, practicing your part of the conversation can increase your confidence. I know you may not be able to do this for every interaction you have with someone, but this tip is worth trying when you can. 

2. Focus on using “I” statements and how you feel.

If given the choice, I’d rather not talk about myself. So, once I learned about “I” statements, it took some time to feel comfortable using them. Using an “I” statement means framing the circumstances, and your feelings about them, in a personal way. The alternative is focusing on the other person, which can make them become defensive. 

Recently, a friend asked me for a loan to get him through a hard time. He said he didn’t have anyone else to ask. However, this request came after I had already helped him out and had said I could not give any more. 

My response to him started as “I feel immensely used and manipulated…” and I continued by saying I felt he was taking advantage of how I’d previously been willing to help him. I also pointed out that it seemed like he was trying to guilt-trip me into giving more by saying he had no one else to ask. I’m familiar enough with this person’s circumstances to know that what he said was true. But adding that didn’t bring anything to the conversation — except a surge in my anxiety. 

So, using “I” statements, paired with my feelings about his approach, centered the conversation on the negative effects on me. Doing that illustrated why he needed to stop asking and just accept my answer.

When difficult conversations happen, I sometimes challenge myself to see how many sentences I can say without using the word “you.” That almost always requires some careful thought and rephrasing. However, it usually pays off because the conversation is less likely to make the person get upset by what I’m saying. 

One of the main benefits is that it encourages the other person to see the situation differently. I’m certain that the friend who asked me for the loan did not want me to feel bad. But that doesn’t change the reality. He probably didn’t realize the impact it had on me, but he does now since I voiced it. 

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

3. Be blunt when necessary. 

Last year, I befriended a couple in my neighborhood. We discovered a shared love of traveling and took numerous trips together. However, it wasn’t long before it became clear they’d accept little or no trip-planning input from me. If I didn’t happily go along with something, they’d start pushing me to agree. I had thought we were traveling as a trio, but I don’t think the two of them perceived it that way. 

It became challenging, because one of them would repeatedly and abruptly alter plans in ways that significantly affected me. He’d say something like, “We have changed the timing of when we are leaving, and you need to be ready to go in 90 minutes instead of in five hours.” 

There was never a discussion of whether that was okay for me. His tone very much indicated I had to comply. I have a strict work schedule (and hate being rushed before traveling, as I’m sure other introverts can relate to), so such demands usually didn’t work for me. In such cases, I’d reply, “Unfortunately, I can’t be ready any earlier than the time we’d already chosen because of my work schedule. But if that’s a problem, go ahead and travel without me.” That brief reply meant I missed out on some trips, but didn’t get into situations that I knew would create stress for me. 

This was also a great reminder that I don’t have to get into long-winded conversations when they’re not warranted; I just have to be assertive and speak my piece.

Remember, it’s not always necessary to get into how someone makes you feel. Using facts in your statement is sometimes enough to make your point. It also helps that my exchange was over in seconds — and got the desired result. I find that anticipated conversations make me less uncomfortable when they’re succinct, but effective. 

4. Offer an alternative suggestion or solution.

As an introvert, I find spontaneous social invites extremely difficult. That’s primarily because, if I know I’m socializing during part of the day, I plan the rest of it to be as low-key as possible. However, one of my friends frequently asks me, last-minute, if we can do things together. 

I know she genuinely loves our time together, so I don’t want to completely turn her down. However, I suggest a different day or week, giving me more time to prepare. I really don’t like disappointing people. However, I also don’t like feeling drained because I tried to be too sociable. Proposing an alternative day suits us both. 

I do something similar when I’m with someone and we’re trying to choose a restaurant. I’m a long-time vegetarian and want to make sure wherever we eat will have at least one veggie-friendly main course. 

The restaurant options in my area have gotten better over time. But it wasn’t very long ago that many places only had vegetarian appetizers. If someone suggested one of those establishments, I’d say, “I’d prefer if we choose a place with more vegetarian options. I recently tried that cafe in town, and it was excellent. How do you feel about going there instead?”

That example is a good transition into a related tip, which is that it often works in your favor to tell a person the reason for your preference. Although giving a reason isn’t necessary, I’ve found the lack of one could make someone assume I’m just being difficult. Being brief with your reasoning is perfectly okay. 

I’ve often said things such as, “That pub gets really crowded on Friday nights. I’d be more comfortable in the one across the street that’s usually less busy.” Mentioning those things can also help someone make more appropriate suggestions in the future. They’ll hopefully remember you don’t like crowds, or need to eat somewhere with more vegetarian options, and be more accommodating. 

5. Remember, communication is mutually beneficial.

There are certainly times I still keep quiet about something I need or want. Choosing to accept my hot coffee, although I’d ordered an iced one, isn’t a significant compromise. It also seemed to make the most sense at the time, given how busy the baristas were. I hate wasting things, too, and knew my unwanted coffee would likely get discarded if I spoke up. 

But when the situation has far-reaching effects, and/or is making me upset, I now know better than to stew in silence. I’ve reached this point by understanding that a person may not realize how their actions or words are frustrating or harming me. I’m the only one who can change that, and can do that by having an honest conversation that gives equal value to the input of myself and anyone else involved. 

If you’re still feeling hesitant, tell yourself that as long as you keep a level head and choose your words carefully, speaking up is unlikely to worsen the situation. There have been so many times when I’ve dealt with uncomfortable situations, then found I could resolve them in a few minutes with a brief, calm conversation.

And remember, healthy communication is a two-way street. It doesn’t do either of you any good to dump your complaints onto the other person and not give them a chance to respond. Be open about how you’re feeling, and give the other person plenty of time to answer as you listen carefully

I can’t promise all your conversations will proceed without hiccups, but I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me. Being assertive can be scary, mostly because you can’t always predict how the other person will react. However, choosing to tolerate an unwanted situation is often worse.

You might like:

This article contains affiliate links. We only recommend products we truly believe in.