Why Be Assertive?

“To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Over the past few days, I’ve observed some blatant passive-aggressive communication. A lot of “I’m okay; you’re not” behavior that focused on one-sided needs. There were visible instances of ‘attitude’ as well as self-serving and sarcastic expressions. Figuratively speaking, there were people who were being steamrolled and walked over. I wasn’t directly involved so I simply watched the interactions.

How do you cope in passive-aggressive situations? Do you bite your tongue? Do you take your displeasure out in other ways? Or do you use a little assertiveness?

Assertiveness has been described as a personality trait and social competency. It is expressing one’s thoughts, opinions and wants in a direct way. Being assertive also means treating others fairly and with respect – while respecting yourself. Knowing when and how to assert yourself can be an asset in work and social settings. Yet many people don’t know how to be assertive – at least comfortably.

Assertiveness is also connected to self-esteem, communication style and values. Keep in mind that putting the needs of others ahead of your own does not make one unassertive. Take charity for example. Most of us want to be charitable, but charity is a choice to sacrifice your convenience, comfort or resources for the sake of someone else or the common good. Personally, I have no problem hanging up on telephone solicitors seeking money. That’s just me responding assertively to their emotional extortions.

Some people are naturally assertive. However, if you’re not one of them, you can learn to be more assertive. Being assertive can help you:

  • Improve communication
  • Create honest relationships
  • Earn respect from others
  • Understand and recognize your feelings
  • Create win-win outcomes

If you want to communicate in healthier and more effective ways, here are four tips to help you become more assertive:

  1. Use “I” statements. This lets others know what you’re thinking without sounding accusatory. Consider saying “I disagree,” rather than “You’re wrong.”
  2. Do not assume to know someone’s motives. Just because someone is acting badly does not necessarily make him a bad person. Stick to the facts at hand.
  3. Keep emotions in check. Conflict is hard for most people. Although feelings of anger and frustration are normal, they can get in the way of resolving conflict. Wait a bit if necessary and work on remaining calm. (This took me a long time to learn.) When you choose to speak, keep your voice even and firm.
  4. Do not get hung up on the outcome. You can only deliver the message. How it is received is up to the other person.

Be comfortable and confident, and be okay with sticking your neck out. 🙂

37 thoughts on “Why Be Assertive?

  1. I’ve been in the Middle East working for the last 7 years and most of the people I’ve come across here would be lost by this article. Sadly, in most of my work situations, there is a severe lack of assertiveness as no one wants ownership or responsibility for anything. They don’t want the blame; only the praise. And confrontation here rarely happens. A lot of passive acceptance and moving on.

    • Thanks for this insight, Ger. Sadly, the environment you describe is not limited to the Middle East. It’s prevalent in the U.S. too. In a very small way, I like to believe that, at least, we’re working to create positive awareness. And helping others to see the benefits of assertiveness. Cheers!

  2. Something I would like to say that I have mastered; but in truth I have much to learn and refine?
    However, I shall enlist this blog entry as a reminder that I am capable…I just need to keep emotions in check!
    Cheers Eric

    • I think many people believe they have mastered ‘something.’ I prefer your view – that most of us have much to learn and refine. Kudos on acknowledging the potential in keeping your emotions in check. That’s a positive step, Bob!

      • I must admit it’s good to probe and to question. Thank you for bringing these things to my attention Eric…they always interest and challenge my thinking.
        I hope that you are well my silver tongued friend.

  3. This is a very nice article. I struggle with being assertive at times mainly due to self-esteem issues. I believe low self-esteem can have a direct effect on assertiveness. One good thing for me is having good self-awareness which allows me to monitor myself in different situations. That usually lead to making good decisions and chosing the right means of communicating my needs or likes. Thank you 🙂

  4. Excellent writing. Passive-aggressive actions are so inauthentic that they rarely, if ever, resolve anything. We only have power over what we “own”, not what we try to passively place upon others.

  5. I have found using “I” statements is a great way to express thoughts, feelings and emotions to others without being accusatory (as you mentioned). I also think it opens the door for more effective, open communication. Another example would be saying “I feel hurt” instead of “You hurt me”, which could cause a defensive reaction. I really enjoyed this article Eric! .

    • “I” statements are simple and powerful. They clearly communicate one’s needs. feelings and intentions. And to your point, why use language that puts others on the defensive? Thank you! for adding to this thread. 🙂

  6. I agree. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was upset about the curt and dismissive responses she was getting from one of her peers about a project they were both involved in. My response to her was to demand the detailed response she wanted. I told her to ask questions that demanded what she wanted that included things like “Why?”, and “What are your concerns?” I totally agree that it is a self-esteem issue. You really must respect yourself to exercise effective assertiveness. Once that happens you will receive the respect you deserve.
    Great post!

    • We’re on the same page, iB. I like your term “exercise effective assertiveness.” I agree with you, so much of what anchors effective communication is respect, especially mutual respect.

      As a piece of unsolicited, yet well-intentioned feedback, I (personally) pause at the word “demand” because when used, it is often conveyed in a harsh, insistent way. Tone is so important when we communicate, especially when we want another to hear receptively. Your thoughts, if any? 🙂

      • That is true. We must be careful with our words. One should pause at the use of “demand.” I have found that I need to place certain demands on myself in order to be assertive. Like giving myself a little pep talk to encourage me to act, but when I am resolving a conflict I don’t project any demands on the other person. I have been a pushover in the past and sometimes I need that harsh insistence to exercise effective assertiveness.

        What a wonderful discussion! Thank you.

  7. I am learning to tone down the aggressiveness with my assertiveness. I just do not do doormat, cowing down, brown nosing and kissing arse. I am more blunt, terse and to the point and it scares a few people and comes off as rude at times too. Great Share – Happy Thursday 🙂

  8. Okay, see– this is why I need to not stay away from here. Assertiveness has been a hot topic for me lately because while I tend to go all over the top Street Aussa in volatile situations, I can totally be a doormat in workplace conflicts when it’s not something I’m terribly invested in. I just get all passive like “sure, yeah, go ahead.” But then I’m angry later on– despite not sticking up for myself. Doesn’t work that way! I need some assertiveness training or something!

    • Good to have you stop by. Thanks! Without doubt, you are not alone. I would wager you are aligned with many who also default to passiveness. Meh. It’s unlikely that most people are “terribly invested” in everything, so part of the solution might be being selectively intentional about when/where we channel our assertiveness. You do know there are plenty of assertiveness training programs out there? Yep, yep, getting angry after the fact often just serves to elevate stress and BP. And I know you know this. 🙂 Always appreciate your candid sharing, Aussa. Stay well!

  9. Assertiveness is so often misunderstood. Some think that they are being assertive when they’re really just being selfish or bullheaded, and others avoid being assertive because they think it is selfishness.
    “Being assertive also means treating others fairly and with respect – while respecting yourself.” Such a great way to put it! Assertiveness, when done properly, benefits both parties. I definitely have a lot of work to do concerning this. I have a hard time communicating my viewpoint and feelings and usually wait until I’m so upset that I communicate them very emotionally. Not a great habit. Thanks so much for the tips and the great post, Eric!

    • Kaela! The ever-busy Mom, runner, reader, Jill of Everything fellow blogger! It’s good of you to stop by. 🙂 I appreciate your creating time to read and comment on the post and to acknowledge that you (as well as the rest of us) have work to do concerning being assertive. The opening contrast in your comment is spot-on.

      Habits can be changed. 🙂 I trust and hope all is well in the Heartland.

  10. Those are really helpful tips, Eric. I especially like the one about not having expectations on the outcome. Life is much easier when I’m not busy trying to convince everyone to think like me anymore.
    I was taught as a child to be aggressive, which as an adult thought was being assertive. I have learned the difference, and now realize how much I contributed to tension filled situations by my own actions. Yikes.

    • Many people expend so much personal energy trying to influence outcomes, Denise. To your comment and the extent to which we channel our valuable energies elsewhere, life can become easier! We age and we learn, right? 🙂 That alone is experience for which to be grateful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  11. and I wave my magic wand on the world and everyone awakens to the fact that they are allowed to express all of themself, no matter what… Such a good article Eric, it really shows just how limited our physical reality has become… but never the less, one heart at a time is realising that they can own their expression and not that of others… Barbara

    • And every time another heart realizes what they can own, express and positively influence, many others welcome their strength and spirit! Thanks for your always warming comments, Barbara.

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