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The Impact of Assertiveness

Know how to deal with difficult people.

Key points

  • Assertiveness allows you to stand up for yourself, especially during conflicting situations.
  • Being assertive is the golden path of full engagement.
  • Assertiveness builds and maintains resiliency and confidence.
Karolina Grabowska/Pexels
Source: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

Are you able to be firm with others? Are you able to express your opinion and speak directly? Do you take accountability for your own mistakes? Do you know what assertiveness entails?

What Assertiveness Is

Assertiveness allows you to find effective ways to stand up for yourself and other people, especially during challenging or conflicting situations. Assertiveness is characterized by clear, respectful, confident communication. You express your feelings, thoughts, and opinions in a way that is open and direct and that does not violate the rights of others. Being assertive is the middle ground between the extremes of aggression and passivity. It is a commitment to act based on the deep value of care.

Being assertive means that you consider the safety, boundaries, and needs of all: yours and other people. Assertiveness is a mindful behavior that encompasses the principles of responsibility, nonjudgment, and compassion.

As you listen empathetically to the needs of others and cultivate mutual dialogue and cooperation, you learn to act from a sense of strength, justice, care, and authenticity while appreciating these same qualities in others. You are speaking and acting in a way that integrates decisiveness and respect.

For example, suppose your supervisor criticized a project of yours in front of your coworkers. Quite understandably, you feel angry. There are a range of ways you could respond. At the passive end of the spectrum, you could keep quiet and stew in your own resentful thoughts, maybe venting with a coworker later. At the aggressive extreme, you could say to your boss, “You acted like a jerk today. Don’t you dare talk to me like that in front of the others ever again!” The assertive response might sound like this: “When you said the quality of my work was unacceptable without explanation in front of the others, I felt angry. I would like to know specifically how I can improve my work, and I hope we can address this issue productively.”

When you act assertively, you don’t withhold your opinions or minimize your feelings; instead, you make a conscious decision to share them in a way that is conducive to peace and harmony. You strive to express your needs clearly without making the other person “lose” so you can “win.” When we feel stressed, frustrated, or angry, it’s natural to want to react, blame, and make the other person suffer. On some level, we hope that, through punishment, we will put a stop to the behavior that has hurt us. We hope this “lesson” will be strong enough that the other person will never again do what he or she did that hurt us. However, aggression is a poor motivator. Attempting to control another person might seem like a win-lose scenario, but it is ultimately a lose-lose. It doesn’t work. It is through influence, not aggression or control, that we arrive at win-win solutions. This kind of mindful behavior promotes peace, harmony, and unity; it supports integrity and justice.

Lack of Assertiveness

Lack of assertive behavior refers to difficulty or hesitation in expressing one's opinions, needs, or desires in a clear, confident, and respectful manner. People who struggle with assertiveness might find themselves avoiding conflicts, going along with others' wishes even when they disagree, or having difficulty standing up for themselves. They may also experience criticism, anxiety, and passivity. In extreme cases, they may be like “emotional doormats” and may completely lose sight of what they want in life.

Some of the few reasons why individuals might exhibit a lack of assertive behavior include low self-esteem, fear of conflict, desire for approval, lack of communication skills, cultural influences, anxiety, past negative experiences, and limited self-awareness.

Practicing Assertiveness

To some degree, we all need to influence others, which makes assertiveness a key communication skill for everyone. When you practice assertiveness, you strive to establish healthy boundaries and take personal responsibility for your feelings, thoughts, and actions. But, as with many important things in life, it can be hard to move from theory to practice. Learning assertiveness skills is the key.

Assertiveness is empowering. It manifests itself in healthy communication and behavior. It aligns your position with the person you aspire to be. When you employ assertiveness elegantly, you give power not only to yourself but also to the people you interact with, and this promotes a win-win environment. You dramatically enhance your well-being, increase value, and influence others to gain positive results.

Guidelines for Becoming Assertive

  • Aim for open, direct, and honest communication.
  • Know and protect your boundaries and other people’s boundaries.
  • Value yourself and your rights as well as others’ rights.
  • Accept that you can’t control other people.
  • Express your feelings and needs respectfully.
  • Listen to understand other people’s perspectives.
  • Communicate calmly and pay attention to your body language.

The Impact of Assertiveness

Most people respond more calmly to assertiveness than they do to either aggression or passivity. However, the situation may still escalate. If this happens, avoid merely acquiescing to the other person’s expressions of anger. Hold your position while remaining centered and confident. Express your emotions calmly and voice your opinions clearly. Explain your limits or boundaries authoritatively, firmly, and always politely. By doing so, you convey that your needs matter as much as the other person’s and that you will not submit to pressure or intimidation.

Being assertive about what you want affirms your right to want what you want—even if there’s little chance of getting it. When you understand your right to be who you are and ask for what you need, and at the same time, you are flexible in your expectations about what you will actually get, you are able to be real and authentic, and less attached to the outcome. Assertiveness builds and maintains boundaries, resiliency, and confidence. It is the golden path of full engagement.

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