Be Assertive… But Keep Your Cool

January 18, 2021

Categories: Assertiveness

I had a frustrating experience the other day. We ordered dinner online from GrubHub. I got a notification that the food was ready to be picked up, but I could see on the map that the driver wasn’t heading to the restaurant to get it. I contacted the driver, and he said he had just picked up the food. I knew he wasn’t telling the truth, because I could see on the map that he wasn’t anywhere near the restaurant. Then I proceeded to watch the driver finally head over to the restaurant, pick up the food, and drive to our house. The food was delivered 90 minutes after it was ready. It was cold.


I was pissed. I could feel myself starting to get angry and emotional. I felt like lashing out at the driver, but even though that might have felt good in the moment, I didn’t know if that would get me anywhere. But I definitely was angry—and I didn’t just want to sit there and do nothing. I felt stuck.

Struggling with Assertiveness

I tend to struggle with assertiveness in my life. I feel like I swing to one extreme or the other. Either I do nothing (and accept the injustice) or I get really angry and blow up, which isn’t usually the most effective option. I struggle to be assertive and keep my cool at the same time.

3 Steps for Calm Assertiveness

Here’s a quick 3-step process that has been helpful for me as I have tried to grow in this area of my life:

  1. Try to calm down. If I’m feeling actively emotional and angry, it’s hard for me to think straight or engage in effective action. When I’m feeling this way, I usually need to do something to calm myself down first. Sometimes I try to slow down my breathing. Or, sometimes I do something physical like go for a quick run or do a bunch of jumping jacks or push-ups. Sometimes it can be helpful to blow off some steam to a family member or friend. Whatever you need to do, get to the place where you have some control over your emotions.
  2. What do you want in this situation? The next step is to think about what the best outcome would be in this situation. It may not be possible to get exactly what you want—sometimes we have to deal with a less than ideal situation in life. But given the circumstances and what is happening right now, what would be the best realistic outcome? For example, once I calmed down and thought about it, I decided the best realistic outcome for me would be to get my food delivered (even though it was late), and then try to get a full refund from GrubHub.
  3. Aim for calm AND assertive. After you have figured out what you want, the next step is to engage and try to get it. If you are uncomfortable with conflict, this might be a tough step for you. But with practice, you will get better over time. The key is to stay calm, yet be assertive and strong. You don’t want to yell and scream, because the other person is likely to get defensive and you are unlikely to get what you want. But you don’t want to be weak and wimpy either—you won’t get what you want. Be strong and hold your ground (this is why it’s important to do step #2 and know what your goal is), yet speak in a calm tone of voice. In my example, I contacted GrubHub, explained the situation, and asked for a full refund. The GrubHub representative apologized and told me she could give me 20% off my next order (but not a full refund). I held my ground (but stayed calm). I eventually got my full refund.

Be Assertive, But Keep Your Cool

This process won’t always get you what you want. Sometimes other people don’t cooperate and we have to accept something less than what we want. That’s part of life. But if you engage in this process on a regular basis, it will give you the best chance of getting what you want. Remember: be assertive, but keep your cool.


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