Many people have the misconception that by being assertive they’re hurting other people’s feelings, or coming across as arrogant or uncaring.
Assertive behavior, however, is being able to express your feelings, opinions, beliefs, and standing up for your own or other people’s rights while remaining calm and positive.
It is a style of communication that involves being able to say what you want, need and feel, safe in the knowledge you’re not hurting the feelings of other people.
Assertiveness involves expressing your needs honestly, directly and in an appropriate manner. Putting your point across without becoming aggressive, without denying the rights of others or passively accepting what you don’t want.
It involves understanding the other person’s point of view and behaving logically.
“Behavior which enables a person to act in his own best interests, to stand up for himself without undue anxiety, to express his honest feeling comfortably, or to exercise his own rights without denying the rights of others.” – (Calberti and Emmons 1974 )
What is Assertive Behavior?
Assertive behavior is often confused with aggressiveness behavior. It’s important to remember assertive behavior does not involve physically, or emotionally, hurting another person.
Not every situation leads to both parties getting what they want. Adopting an assertive approach enables you to seek the best possible outcome for both parties and helps maintain a positive relationship. It involves seeking to equalize the balance of power and negotiating an agreeable compromise.
Assertiveness is a key communication and behavioral skill and, the great news is, you can learn it. Assertive behavior is not only what you say, but how you say it.
Becoming more assertive will greatly enhance your self-confidence, make communicating with others easier, reduce social anxiety and enable you to gain positive reactions from others.
Developing assertiveness is definitely a worthwhile investment.
Low self-esteem, depression, feeling unappreciated or social anxiety, are often associated with individuals who find it difficult to express their option’s assertively.
If this is you, it may because in the past (as a child etc.) you were punished, by teachers or parents for expressing your opinions, especially when your opinions differ from others. People who are assertive don’t let others take advantage of them, but at same time will not attack or put others down for being who they are.
As an assertive person, you feel respected and people view you as an adult, capable of making decisions and being honest. You believe that everyone has their own opinion and has the right to express it.
When you become more assertive you change and reshape beliefs that you established as a child. Lower levels of angers and resentment build up, while your level of acceptance for other peoples needs, opinions and wants are heard more easily. You develop a greater understanding and love for other people.
What is Passive or Submissive Behavior?
To fully understand assertive behavior, we also need to understand passive behavior. Passive behavior, or submissive behavior, is where you don’t express your needs, opinions, to avoid upsetting other people.
Submissive behavior typically involves allowing other people to get their way so you avoid upsetting them or so you can gain their approval.
When you are being submissive or passive, you allow others to violate your rights. You express your thoughts in a self-effacing way, enabling others to easily disregard them.
For example, you may really need help with something but you don’t ask for a favor, or someone may ask you to do a favor but you are really busy. Instead of saying “No, I can’t do it today as I have lots of other things to do”, you reply “Yes, I will do that after I have done all my other tasks and jobs.”
Being non-assertive is when you don’t let others know what you need or want, or when you let other people decide what is best for you.
When you are passive, you are prone to a lower level of self-esteem and a build-up of anger and stress. Repressing your frustration can also lower your positive feelings.
People who are passive tend to present themselves in a less positive light and put themselves down, which ultimately leads them to feeling inferior to other people. People often see you as unable to make decisions, you don’t get what you want and you feel like you have been used.
This can severely damage your self confidence.
What is Aggressive Behavior?
We often adopt more passive behavior when we’re confronted by someone who acts in a more aggressive manner.
Aggressive behavior, or dominant behavior, involves a more threatening, demanding, or punishing expression of an opinion. This haslittle respect for the other person’s rights or feelings.
An aggressive person aims to achieve personal goals regardless of how it may affect other people. Aggressive behavior involves standing up for rights in a way that is inappropriate and often involves obtaining superiority by putting others down.
Often, aggressive behavior is associated with deeper feelings of inferiority. These feelings can contribute to a person feeling the need to put others down in order to compensate. In addition, aggressiveness creates enemies and resentment among people on the receiving end of this behavior.
The aggressor may get what they want, but they end up losing more in the long term. After displaying aggressive behavior, they often feel alone, angry and that people avoid or dislike them. they lose friends and self-respect.
It is easy for a person who engages in aggressive behavior to dominate a submissive or passive person. The submissive person is very likely to let the aggressive person have their way. This will lead to the aggressive person feeling the satisfaction of getting what they want. However, the submissive person is likely to feel dissatisfied with their own behavior and unhappy.
They are also likely to feel resentful towards the other person.
The Fear of Being Assertive
Most non-assertive people have a belief that they don’t have the right to be assertive, or are fearful about what will happen if they are. Other people feel that they lack social skills, or simply do not know how to effectively assert themselves.
One of the biggest reasons a person is not assertive comes down to their self-esteem and self-confidence. When these are low, a person will often deal with others in a passive way. This in turn leads to others treating them this way.
Stress and past experiences can also cause people to be passive. Stress can make people feel like they have little control over their life and as a result, they behave passively or aggressively.
Anxiety can also lead to a person behaving passively. Experiences that people have encountered in the past will further contribute to how they communicate with others. If your family dealt with conflict by yelling and arguing, then you may have learned to deal with conflict in the same way.
If they taught you to place the needs of others before yourself as a child, it may be difficult for you to assert yourself.
The type of relationship you have with the other person will further influence how you behave. For example, you may find it easier to be more assertive with your partner than your boss or work colleagues.
So, how do you become more assertive?
Assertiveness is not always easy, but it is definitely the most effective approach to communicating with others. With practice, assertive behavior is a skill you can learn and master. However, it will require you to be honest with yourself and analyze your own problems.
Identifying your general behavior when communicating will help you to establish whether you are being respectful of other people’s rights, or whether you may need to assert your own rights more.
Admitting that you might be passive or too aggressive is a necessary first step in becoming more assertive. Be committed to making the changes required in your behavior and attitude. This is likely to involve changing your beliefs.
Your Beliefs Matter
If you believe that you are not good enough, or that you do not have the right to share your opinion etc., you must make a commitment to changing this belief. This is a fundamental element of being assertive.
You must believe in your rights and know that it’s ok to pursue them. Likewise, other people have those rights too and you must respect them in the same way they should respect yours.
Some people find it useful to write down statements such as “I will stand up for myself in a respectful manner” and “I will express myself directly and openly” on a piece of paper and place them somewhere they can look at each day.
This exercise will help enforce your commitment to becoming more assertive. It also keeps your mind focused on the type of behavior you want to achieve. Identifying and analyzing your own emotional processes can further help you to change the way you communicate with others.
By doing this, you will learn to effectively manage and express your emotions more assertively.
Becoming more assertive will take practice. Therefore, a good idea is to rehearse or practice assertive gestures or phrases out loud. In this way, you become familiar and comfortable with using assertive language.
If this sounds too scary, start saying them in your head. As you become more confident, progress to rehearsing out loud in front of your mirror. When you feel comfortable, try to identify small situations where you can apply your assertive behavior and identify how well you did.
Start small and identify simple areas where you can practice being assertive and progress further as you become more confident.
For example, when meeting new people take the opportunity to practice your new assertive skills. The most important aspect of meeting a person for the first time is to establish the right atmosphere.
You should begin by introducing yourself and offering a firm handshake. It is a good idea to establish eye contact and smile while asking an open question to start the conversation. A question about their journey or the weather for example.
There are many little tips and tricks you can implement to build on your assertiveness. For example, order your own dinner from yourself every evening. State exactly what it is that you want.
It sounds silly, but listening to yourself clearly stating what you want is a great first step to take on this path of confidence.
If you’re ready to bring the practice outside of yourself, try giving a coworker praise on something they did well. Be concise and honest. This not only boosts your own confidence but that of your co-workers as well.
Learning How to Say ‘No’
Let’s look at some other assertive techniques. Many people struggle to say “no” when they know they should. This is usually because people fear the response they may receive by refusing someone.
You may feel that by saying “no” you will lose their respect or friendship, or that it may result in a negative response. It’s important to remember if you don’t want to do something, or do not have the time to do something, you should say “no”.
This is your right.
There will be many times when you will need to refuse a request. Everybody has the right to say no when asked by another person to do something. Just like another person has the right to refuse your request for help.
Learning to say “no” will help reduce stress, anger, resentfulness and avoid conflicts in the long term. When saying “no” it is important to be clear, polite, honest and demonstrate an understanding of the other person’s position without allowing the other person to make you emotional. Sometime you may need to be persistent with your refusal.
Another important aspect in being assertive is learning how to take responsibility. Taking responsibility involves analyzing how you respond to a situation.
You can’t control the behavior of others, but what you can control is how you choose to respond to their actions.
Take ownership of your feelings. Blaming others for how you feel may be seen as an attack. This can result in the other person becoming defensive. When this happens communication becomes ineffective because the channels of communication have broken down.
Your body language will play an important role in assertive communication. It is possible to think that you are being assertive when you are using assertive language, but your body language or nonverbal communication must match your language.
It is possible to think you are acting assertively when you are actually being passive or aggressive, because of your non-verbal communication style. This also goes with verbal communication.
When you’re putting across your point of view or opinion, it is important that you clearly state that it is your opinion.
By expressing your feelings or point as an opinion, it will help others to feel their thoughts or views also matter and encourages them to share. This leads to effective communication. To avoid being misunderstood and reduce conflict, it is important to use simple and clear sentences. This will help others understand what you are asking and avoid any frustration.
Learning To Express Yourself Effectively
For example, don’t use hints and expect people to know what you’re talking about. This regularly leads to arguments as the other person gets frustrated trying to figure out what it is that you want.
We’ve all seen examples of this in relationships and it’s important to make sure you’re being clear when communicating with everyone in your life.
If you’re the type of person that feels put on the spot when someone asks you something and don’t know how to respond, remember you can always ask for more time. If you don’t really know what you want, or maybe you feel that you might be too emotional to make a decision right there and then, you can ask for more time.
It can often be easier to postpone saying anything until you’ve had time to think it through. To do this just be honest by telling the other person that you need some time to gather your thoughts and that you will get back to them shortly.
“Bob, your question has caught me off guard. I’ll get back to you within an hour.“
Dealing With Aggressive Behavior
There will be times when you’re confronted with someone who acts in an aggressive manner. This can manifest itself in a person not taking no for an answer, or ignoring other aspects of effective communication.
However, there is a technique you can use that will help in these kinds of situation.
This is what we refer to as the broken record technique.
This technique is often used when you have to deal with someone who is being persistent. It involves you repeating the same message repeatedly. For example, during a conversation, you may have to keep restating your message using the same language over and over again. This is done until the other person is clear that you are not going to change your mind.
Often, people try to break down your resistance but with a clear and consistent message, they will be unable and will eventually accept that you mean what you are saying. It is a good idea to have the message you want to convey prepared ahead of time and remain calm, polite and not become emotional.
It is also important to demonstrate an appreciation of the other person’s difficulties.
If you find yourself becoming upset at any point take a few deep breaths as this will initiate your body’s calming process and help you stay in control throughout the conversation.
Manager: “I need you to work on the Simmons project.”
You: “I can see your urgency, but I cannot take on any more projects right now.”
Manager: “I’ll pay you extra for working on it.”
You: “I cannot take on any more projects right now.”
Manager: “This is really important and my boss insists this gets top priority.”
You: “I cannot take on any more projects right now; I am at full capacity.”
Manager: “Please, as a personal favor to me.”
You: “I value our professional relationship and would if it were possible, but I cannot take on any more projects right now.”
With practice, this technique is very effective and lets you feel in control of a situation you previously might have dreaded.
Avoid Becoming Overbearing
How can we make sure that our own behavior to other people is not overbearing? One of the most important aspects here is to listen to what other people are saying and implement negative assertion. Negative assertion involves looking at your own behavior and identifying negatives.
When doing this you should accept these errors with the mindset of working on them. It is important not to become anxious or defensive, but instead, recognize your faults without apologizing.
An example of this would be:
Friend: “You’re not very good at listening to what I have to say.”
You: “You’re right. I don’t listen as closely as I should to what you’re saying.
The best approach to dealing with criticism is to listen carefully to what the other person is saying and demonstrate an understanding of the point they are making. If there is truth in what they’re saying agree with it or the logic of it from their point of view. You should accept your errors and not make excuses for them. Instead sympathetically agree with hostile criticism.
While these techniques are effective, it’s also important to know when to use them. A large part of this will be down to practice. However, it’s also important to anticipate certain behaviors so you can react. By anticipating other people’s behavior, you can prepare your responses in advance and practice your responses for different scenarios.
This will greatly improve your self-confidence, enabling you to remain assertive.
Using ‘I’ Statements to Become More Assertive
Another useful technique when being assertive is to use “I” Statements. “I” statements enable speakers to be assertive without making accusations. You are saying how it is for you, or how you see things, rather than how it should or shouldn’t be, which helps prevent the listener from becoming defensive.
“I” statements convey that you are willing to take responsibility for your own thoughts and behaviors. The purpose of using the “I” statement is to improve the relationship and when used properly they can lead to effective positive communication.
Let’s look at some examples of this in action.
“I understand that”
“I think that I…”
“When I think I’m not being heard I…”
“I enjoyed your presentation.”
“I get really anxious when…”
“When you raise your voice, I feel threatened.”
“I would like…”
“I know you are busy, but I need your assistance.”
“When you arrive late, I have to wait, and I feel frustrated.”
“If you are late again, I will be left with no choice but to pursue disciplinary action. I would prefer to avoid that.”
People can get defensive when you imply their behavior affects everyone and you cannot speak for everyone even if this was the case. You can only speak for you and by using the “I” statements you’re doing so and also removing the danger of the person feeling like they’re being ganged upon.
How to Avoid Judgment, Assumptions, and Generalizations
Along with this technique, it’s also important to remember to avoid judgment, assumptions or generalizations. Assumptions can lead to a world of inaccuracy and judgments can lead to frustration and defensiveness from the other person.
To ensure assertive communication use very descriptive language.
You: “You could have made more effort to make it on time!”
Friend: “My babysitter didn’t show up, so I had to make other last minute arrangements.”
This results in you feeling guilty. Remember, you never know what might have happened so give the other person the chance to explain it.
If you speak in generalizations the person you’re speaking to is going to focus on the negatives. For example, if you tell someone that they’re always late, then chances are they’re not, but they’re going to focus on the ‘always’ rather than hearing your message.
If you label someone, they’re going to be too focused on that label rather than the real issue. So if someone is late to work a lot and you state:
“You are very disorganized, if you sorted that out you’d be on time more often.”
The person you’ve said this to isn’t going to hear the message about them being late, they’re going to focus on being called disorganized.
The Art of Scripting
To tie all of this together we’re going to examine one final technique which we refer to as scripting. Scripting is an assertive technique used to view a problem as if it were a scene from a play. The DESC script was developed by Sharon and Gordon Bower and is discussed more fully in their book — Asserting Yourself . DESC stands for Describe, Express, Specify, and Consequences.
- Explanation – Explain the situation as you see it.
- Feelings – Acknowledge your own feelings & empathize with the other people’s
- Needs – Outline what you want. Be realistic, be fair, and be prepared to compromise
- Consequences – What will happen as a result?
EXPLANATION: Tell the other person how you see the situation.
“Mary, production has overspent by 30% this month and you didn’t give me any indication that this was happening. I didn’t account for, or prepare for this massive overspend.”
FEELINGS: Describe how you feel about express your emotions clearly.
“This makes me feel frustrated as I feel that you don’t understand how important it is to have financial controls in place or the severity of going too far over budget.”
NEEDS: Tell the other person what you need so they don’t have to guess.
“I need you to be fully honest with me and to let me know when production is going over budget. In this way we can make contingency plans and be prepared
CONSEQUENCES: Describe the positive outcome if your needs are fulfilled.
“I am always here to help and will in whatever way I can, if we overspend I’ll account for it but I have to know. If we work together with trust and honesty, we will be able to turn this around and make sure that we’re working as efficiently as possible.”
This is an example of scripting in action and is particularly useful if you’re worried about a certain situation. By using the DESC scripting method, you can prepare yourself in advance for multiple situations. This makes you feel much more in control and allows you to address the issue at hand.
Be Mindful of Negative Situations
Along with all the positives of assertive behavior, it’s important to be mindful of some negative situations.
For example, some people won’t like this type of communication as they are not used to it. Others will not like that you assert yourself when they prefer to be the dominant party. Others still might not like the issues you bring to the fore or observations you make about them.
If you are being fair and respecting the other person’s viewpoint, you might not always get what you want. This is part of assertiveness. Remember it is the aggressive personality who insists on getting what they want all the time.
Sometimes, you will discover that a long-term belief or viewpoint you held is in fact wrong. This is seen as a disadvantage but it is also a strong positive.
The people who admit that they were wrong and are comfortable with reassessing their own beliefs, are the people who are being assertive in the correct way. On occasion, the onset of your new assertive behavior may be perceived as aggression by others.
Stick with it, they are just not used to this version of you or maybe feeling aggrieved that they’re no longer able to assert their dominance over you.
There’s no guarantee of success by approaching a situation in an assertive manner, it does depend on the person or situation you’re dealing with. However, implementing the techniques in this article will give you the best chance of success and will also allow you to feel you tried everything you could to make a difference.
 Your Perfect Right: A Guide to Assertive Behavior | Robert E. Alberti, Michael L. Emmons
 Asserting Yourself | Sharon Anthony Bower