The Soft-Spoken Introvert’s Guide to Being Assertive

Introverts are not weak, nor are we pushovers — we just have to assert ourselves in a way that works for us.

As a soft-spoken introvert, I do not particularly care to assert myself unless it’s for good reason. This is kind of my philosophy for a lot of things in life. I won’t answer the phone if a text message will suffice. I refuse to put on pants with actual buttons or zippers unless it’s really worth it. Answer the door for pizza? Nah. I’ll take no-contact delivery please. The list goes on…

However, one can only be talked over, waived off, and ignored so many times before some wrongs need to be righted. Being a “quiet one” can make it difficult and uncomfortable to get your point across with respectable authority. By definition, the word assertive is having or showing a dominant or forceful personality. I do not know many dominant or forceful introverts. That is why assertiveness is more of a temporary mood shift for us than a true state of being. 

Nevertheless, no one wants to be a doormat, so it’s necessary to be assertive sometimes, whether it’s negotiating for a raise or telling the tenant upstairs the midnight raves they’re hosting must stop. Here are some things I have learned along the way that can help aid the process.

6 Ways to Be More Assertive as a Soft-Spoken Introvert

1. Believe in yourself and trust your instincts.  

The first step is to believe in yourself. So cliché, I know. I just rolled my eyes writing that… but hear me out. What I mean is, if you are being assertive because you feel like someone has wronged you or screwed something up and you can fix it, don’t let that belief falter. 

People will try to rock your boat of self-assurance and make you question what you’re making a fuss about. They will question your reasoning when you object to their transgressions and second-guess your math when you come up with answers that do not match their own.

But do not let them shake you. Assert your belief in your own abilities. You have the answer: Don’t let anybody get away with toxic behavior and gaslight you into a position of submission. If you have a great solution for a problem at work, but your coworkers refuse to acknowledge the possibility, assert yourself by putting everything together on paper and presenting it to the higher-ups. All your narrow-minded office mates might scoff at it, but they’ll realize you mean business — and next time maybe they’ll lend an ear. 

The same applies for experiences outside of work. If you know something doesn’t feel physically right and you go to the doctor and they tell you “Everything seems fine,” demand they dig a little deeper. 

Trust your instincts. Everyone has a right to a fair shot, but life won’t always give it to you: Sometimes you have to take it. No matter if you do it quietly, just do it. You deserve it. 

2. Prepare ahead of time, but don’t drive yourself crazy with “what ifs.”

Many times, I have rehearsed an impending conversation of importance, like telling my boss I needed to switch from full time to part time. Many times, I’ve ruminated over important conversations of days past, like when I had to defend some of my social media posts at work. Often, I beat myself up for what should have been done or said differently. I know I am not the only introvert who spends way too much time overthinking, overanalyzing and hypothesizing about what was and what could be. 

Admittedly, I can drive myself insane thinking about all the “what ifs.” Because of these tendencies, introverts may hesitate to assert themselves on a whim. We usually need to prepare ourselves for potential conflict (even though we hate conflict!). I like to have my points and counterpoints ready to go. 

Yet no matter how well-prepared I am, at some point during my delivery I will stumble. I get thrown off or I will blank out. Maybe it has to do with social anxiety or my total inability to focus when there are copious amounts of environmental stimuli. Who knows? I do know, though, that I am not alone. 

Many nights have been wasted preparing for my “moment” — only to result in embarrassing bouts of verbal diarrhea. Slicing and dicing every potential outcome never actually makes me feel better. It just consumes a lot of time. It creates a sense of impending doom. It makes room for self-doubt. The few times when I asserted myself in the moment out of necessity for my kids, like taking action against a bully at school or addressing a service my special needs son wasn’t receiving but was entitled to, I. GOT. IT. DONE. 

Those are the times I can think back on and feel really good about. The mind — especially the introverted mind — can become caught up in its own internal dialogue and forget to speak out loud once in a while. Trust yourself in the moment and let it go.

3. Play to your strengths — the written word can give exact demands and expectations. 

I will be the first to admit: I’m not much of a talker. Beyond introversion itself, I have difficulty maintaining a conversation with someone, be it on the phone or in person. My social timing is frequently off and I do not feel at my strongest.    

I have always preferred writing instead. To me, my mind flows better with words to paper. I think this is not uncommon among introverts. There are many of us who’d rather handle a situation via email than in person because… why not? There does not have to be any small talk or niceties. You all get straight to the point and it is efficient. 

If you can write like you mean business and it is mode of preference, there is nothing stopping you from going that route. You can be assertive with your written word. Anyone who has received a hurtful letter or love note can attest that written words convey great emotion — or quite the opposite. Words can give exact demands and expectations. 

4. Speak at your own octave; it’s not necessary to change your tone of voice. 

Once you have someone’s attention, do not try to raise your voice or change your voice to sound more intimidating. This almost almost always backfires. Trying to sound tough or confident by overprojecting or changing the natural tone of your voice — only to have it crack or waiver — is embarrassing. Especially since being loud and forceful doesn’t come naturally to us introverts.

Even if you have to rehearse a hundred times, keeping an even keel projects a steady image (never mind that you’re reeling on the inside). People are more apt to take you seriously — no matter if you are soft-spoken or a deep baritone — when you just speak from a place of knowledge.

What you have to say is important and people should listen. This should not entail having to scream at the top of your lungs. If they do not listen, it is a “them” problem, not a “you” problem. 

So speak your truth. Like the famous saying goes, “Keep calm and carry on.” 

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5. Remember that some of the deadliest creatures on the planet are silent.

To get a dose of being-more-assertive, you can always look to nature for inspiration. Some of the deadliest creatures on the planet are silent. Sharks have no sound-producing organs, not a one. They do not actively seek out humans to eat, but they can rip one to shreds. There are also black widow spiders, and even the adorable, unassuming slow loris. Choose to tango with them and you shall meet your demise. 

So, as an introvert, remember that you can be silent, yet deadly (so to speak). Use the mystery that being silent projects to your advantage. You are always thinking, always calculating and recalculating, and therefore, always unpredictable. As any partner to an introvert can attest, this superpower is most disarming. Use this to keep others on their toes.

6. Be assertive, not angry. 

As introverts, we tend to bottle up our emotions. This could be as superficial as not audibly cussing out the guy who cuts us off on the way to the grocery store or more deeply rooted, like never really giving our relative the earful he deserved for not showing up to our wedding. We say it on the inside, but not on the outside. 

Because of this, once in a while, all it takes is one little spark and KABOOM — that anger bomb explodes. It is easy to mix assertiveness with anger because, oftentimes, these two elements like to ride in the same car. A simple word of caution is to always keep anger in the backseat when assertiveness is driving. Cooler heads will always prevail. 

But you can be stern without being sadistic. If anger is the initial reaction to a given circumstance, breathe. Walk away. Gather yourself and come back in a solid state, not so volatile. There is a difference between being assertive with the receptionist that overcharged you at the dental office vs. verbally obilerating her and squirting hand sanitizer at her face. Nobody likes a loose cannon, especially one that is generally quiet. You want to be assertive, but not over-the-top angry, so tread carefully.

Unlike what much of the world may perceive, introverts are not weak and we are definitely not pushovers. We will assert ourselves when necessary and we will do it with precision. Use your introvert superpowers to assert yourself in your best light — and when the time comes, don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. Respect yourself enough to be your own champion and others will respect you for it.

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I am a mid-30s mom, wife, and woman who found my voice through the written word very early on in life. Writing is the best way I know to connect with others. No matter what direction life pulls me in, I always come back to writing, as it is a part of me, and I can only hope to share more of it with a wider audience someday.