What is assertiveness? Can it be learnt and is it important?

Assertiveness is described as someone who expresses themselves clearly and articulately without aggression and standing up for their own and other's rights in a reasonable way. An assertive person allows others to have an opportunity to express themselves without dominating the conversation. Assertiveness may be explained to be someone who has courage, respect and honesty in difficult situations.

Having some understanding of the different types of behaviours helps to clarify what assertiveness involves:

There are three different types of assertive behaviours: 

  • Passive behaviour: this behaviour has characteristics of someone would will avoid conflict, allowing others to take advantage of you, and feeling annoyed at yourself for allowing this to happen and therefore ‘getting your own back ‘in a passive way.
  • Aggressive behaviour: this is the opposite of passive behaviour, someone who acts aggressively will express their own needs and wants freely without thoughts of others and usually within a loud and intimidating manner.
  • Assertive behaviour: this is acting in a way which is neither passive or aggressive but more a happy medium. Acting assertively, you will express your own needs, wants and feelings but in a constructive manner, allowing others to express themselves also.

Do you know which one you fall into?  Do some people create a passive side in you and others an aggressive side? I think it is fair to say that at any given time in our lives we may have drifted in between these behaviour types, and again there may be that certain person who brings out the more assertive in you, and then again, the aggressive out in you.

Why is it important to be assertive?

If you behave in a passive way all the time, it is likely your needs, feelings and wants will go unmet, unrecognised and unfulfilled. Then when you consider aggressive behaviour, maintaining relationships which hold genuine respect can become more difficult.  Being assertive can be difficult especially when you could be dealing with someone else who is passive or aggressive. Assertiveness takes practice but can be learnt.

Here are some tips to help become more assertive:

  • Identify the thought pattern behind what you are feeling at that particular time, link your emotions to the thought within the situation before you react.
  • Establish the best way to communicate your feelings. Normally this will involve another person, sometimes taking time out is important to give yourself and another person time to relax, reflect or cool off.
  • Give yourself space before you react, allow yourself time to explore how to react and what the best possible outcome could/would be for everyone involved.
  • When communicating to others, be clear on how you are feeling and how the situation has affected you rather than pushing blame or pointing fingers. Try asking yourself, how has this made me feel?
  • Draw up a list in relation to the positives/negatives of you becoming assertive: who will it affect? Why? Costs/Benefits?
  • Set yourself realistic specific goals (SMART), starting off small and building up but be mindful this will not change overnight. It takes time and effort to change behaviours you have possibly always done.
  • Reward and praise yourself for any success, no matter how small it is, don’t create pressure and remember it is not about being perfect. It is about changing an aspect of your personality which will help in the long run.

Benefits of being assertive

Making the choice to work on your assertiveness will have more benefits than costs. It will help you become more in tune with your feelings and thoughts, helping you identify the people who bring out the best and worst in you. You will find that you will communicate more effectively in your relationships, job and friendships. Any unhelpful anxiety will decrease and you may find yourself making new friends, getting that promotion or understanding your partner better. Being able to say what you want without worrying about others will give you great satisfaction.

"Assertiveness is the courage to be ourselves and shoe the world our likes and dislike, out thoughts, feelings and shortcomings. It’s about communicating honestly with family, friends and colleagues. As we become more assertive, we drop the mask and show our true selves."