We've all met those people who can't stand up for themselves. Even when they know they should be assertive, they can't express their opinions. When others try to take advantage of them, they can't seem to take charge of the situation. And no matter how overwhelmed they are, they'll never say no or ask others for help.

A growing body of research suggests that being too passive can reduce your ability to get what you want on the job, in relationships, and in life. What's more, it can impact your health. In controlled trials conducted by the Primary Care Outcomes Research Institute at New England Medical Center, patients who were more assertive ultimately received better health care than their more compliant counterparts.

What's more, some experts believe that passive people are more likely to be passive smokers, which puts them at greater risk for heart disease, cancer, and other serious health conditions, warns the National Institutes of Health. And because passive people have difficulty saying no, they often feel overwhelmed and anxious. The resulting stress can lead to low self-esteem or even depression.

Taking a Stand

Fortunately, it is possible to stop being a doormat and start asserting yourself. First, you need to understand that expressing your opinions honestly will earn you respect in the long run. Next, keep in mind that being assertive doesn't mean having to be aggressive. You don't need to force your opinion on anyone else, and you don't need to put other people down; the goal is to establish a level playing field. From there, just follow these four S.T.E.P.s.

  • Specify: Be specific about what you want, describe things you feel are a problem, and request a change of action. Explain that there will be consequences if the change is not made, and be prepared to follow through on them. For example, if you're offended by the language someone is using at your workplace, tell him or her which words you find offensive and request that they stop. Explain to your coworker that if he or she doesn't stop, you'll file a formal complaint with your employer.
  • Tone: Remember, you don't have to raise your voice to be assertive--instead, try to keep it steady and at a reasonable volume. It also helps if you know what you want to say before you say it, so you may find that it's helpful to practice in front of a mirror. In addition, according to the University at Buffalo Counseling Services, it's best to use "I" and "we" statements (e.g., "I am upset," "We need to talk"), rather than "you" statements, which can be perceived as accusations and trigger defensiveness.
  • Eye contact: In establishing an assertive communication style, it's always important to maintain direct eye contact with the person you're talking to. Eye contact demonstrates that you're not afraid or intimated by the other person and forces him or her to look at you and pay attention to what you're saying. In turn, it shows them that you're interested in what they have to say.
  • Posture: Just like eye contact, your posture speaks volumes about your communication style. To establish assertiveness, sit a comfortable distance away from the person you're talking to. Talk with your hands to emphasize important points, but be mindful of what those gestures may say about what you're thinking. For example, pointing at someone may indicate that you're blaming that person, while throwing your hands up in the air may suggest that you're giving up. And like Mom always told you, don't slouchstanding or sitting up straight shows that your confident and in control.