1. Keep a scorecard

The first thing to do, says Randy J. Paterson, PhD, author of The Assertiveness Workbook, is nothing. Or nothing outward, at least. “Go through a week, and don’t try to change anything,” says Paterson. “Just record every difficult exchange you have with another person.”

Documenting the details of the situation—what they did, what you did, and which communication style you used—will help you become more aware of how you’re presenting yourself in tough situations. Most importantly, it will give you a chance to Monday-morning quarterback constructively. Ask yourself what you would do differently next time to be more effective.

2. Don’t go at this backwards

We all know women who emerged from the womb kicking butt and taking names. They’re confident, and that confidence allows them to stick up for themselves. Right?

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Wrong! Or—not necessarily. Nicole Kalil, author of Validation Is for Parking: How Women Can Beat the Confidence Con, says one of the most surprising, and inspiring, things she discovered is that the relationship between confidence and assertiveness is more complicated than we tend to think. “So many people think you need to be confident in order to stand up for yourself.” says Kalil. “But actually, you need to stand up for yourself and that will help you build confidence.”

“So, fake it till you make it?” I ask.

“I prefer ‘Choose it until you become it,’” she replies.

3. Don’t kneecap your sentences

You know what this is. Instead of “That bothers me,” you say, “That sort of bothers me a little bit.” Instead of, “I need to reschedule,” you say, “I may need to maybe reschedule, if that’s okay.”

“We have a tendency to soften our bolder statements,” says Kalil. “Don’t do that. Don’t kneecap your sentences.”

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I do this, big-time. When I’m nervous, I enfeeble my sentences with a flood of maybes and a littles and kind ofs. I am Tonya Harding and my sentences are Nancy Kerrigan.

Kalil’s hack is to write out what you want to say beforehand. That way, you can cut the softening words, leaving your sentences lean and muscular, kneecaps fully intact.

4. Never have to say you’re sorry

Okay, we’ve come to a pain point for me. I am a pathological apologizer. In fact, I’m tempted right now to apologize for the Love Story reference I just made.

First of all, Paterson says, let’s forget instances like “I’m so sorry your cat died.” That’s not an apology; that’s empathy. “Take a knife and cut those two apart,” he instructs me. He’s aces at being assertive, so I do.

Moving on. “The moment you apologize to someone,” Paterson explains, “you’re saying ‘I’m doing something wrong right now.’”

Since it’s not wrong to assert yourself, it’s not appropriate to apologize for it. Simple as that.

5. Don’t wait for the mic drop moment

The most critical thing to remember when speaking up for yourself, Kalil says, is to actually speak. Don’t go along with something you don’t agree with or don’t want to do just because you’re not ready or prepared to issue a rejoinder: “Stop waiting for the mic drop moment, the right and perfect thing to say.”

Instead, she suggests having some simple responses in your back pocket. If someone says something insulting or offensive, a simple “I don’t agree” or “I don’t see it that way” works well. Or ask questions that make the other person explain themselves and, in the process, hear how they’re sounding, like “I don’t understand. What do you mean by that?”

Remember that clumsily speaking your mind is a helluva lot better than staying silent.

6. Aim at a target

“Assertiveness is about effectiveness, not self-expression,” Paterson says. “There’s a change you want to take place in your life. You’re aiming at that change.” To that end, you want to beware of hooks, which are little diversionary tactics that your conversation partner might employ to pull you off track.

So, let’s say you’re telling your husband you’d like him to soak the pot after he cooks oatmeal in it and he replies, “You’re criticizing me for being messy? Oh, that’s rich! Have you seen the shower after you use it?”

That shower comment? It’s a hook! Don’t swallow it! If you do, you’ll cede control and let your emotions yank you off course. Paterson suggests saying, “We can talk about the shower later, but right now, the pot.” Ready, aim, fire.

Kalil agrees. “We don’t want to ignore our feelings,” she says, “but we don’t want them to run the show, either.”

7. Let it get awkward. Let people get mad

“One of the principles of assertiveness training,” Paterson tells me, “is that it will feel unnatural and clunky because it takes you out of your comfort zone.”

So, just as it is with squats, if you feel the burn, you’re doing it right.

A little rehearsal in front of the mirror can somewhat lessen the discomfort and make you feel more prepared. But at the end of the day, it will feel weird, and that’s okay.

It’s also okay if (or when) people get mad. “We have been taught as women that we should care a lot about what other people think,” says Kalil. “It requires a level of courage to risk someone thinking something negative about us.”

It’s scary to stick up for yourself, she says, for all kinds of reasons —you don’t want to get fired, or lose a friend, or be thought of as a “nasty woman”—but, when you stop and think about it, it’s scarier to be a doormat.

“Just because someone gets mad doesn’t mean I should’ve stayed quiet,” Kalil says.

Paterson agrees. “If you can’t be assertive, you are not in charge of your own life,” he says. “And whose life is it, anyway?”