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What is assertiveness?


What is assertiveness?

Gill Donnell

In a previous post, I talked about the benefits of being assertive, outlined what it was and suggested a tip to get your point across in a CALM way.

In order to understand how beneficial assertive communication is, it is necessary to look at other types of communication and behaviour.

Firstly, let’s look at Passive behaviour, because in my experience, many women find themselves regularly acting in a passive way.

  • Are you uncomfortable expressing your thoughts, feelings and needs?
  • Do other people dominate you, dictating what you should or shouldn't do?
  • Are you easily manipulated by others and end up with their needs taking centre stage?
  • Do you find it difficult to stand up for what is right or wrong and end up going along with things that you don't agree with?
  • Do you apologise excessively, say yes when you mean no and appear indecisive? 

If this is you, you might even have got to the stage that you are not sure what your own views of feelings are anymore, but you just have a general feeling of being taken for granted.

Why do we behave passively?

If your parents, siblings, teachers or friends were very controlling and dominant when you were a child, you may have felt unable to speak up. If you were always told that others came first, you might think you were not allowed to ask for what you want.  

What about these phrases? "Those who ask don't get" or a particular favourite from my childhood "Little girls should be seen and not heard."

If I uttered those words to either of my two girls today… well let's just say they haven't been brought up to not express their views!

These types of behaviours and beliefs are often very ingrained and can result in you feeling out of control with no ability to impact positively on your future.

These attitudes, behaviours and views, however long you might have held them, can be changed. When you behave in a more assertive way, you are much more likely to have a positive attitude and start to believe you can affect situations more positively. 

Our levels of confidence and self-esteem impact on our ability to behave more assertively. In order to be able to tell other people what your wants and needs are (not in a selfish way - for those passive readers) you need to have the confidence to look them in the eye and speak honestly. Something that can seem very scary to some of us.

What happens when you are not assertive?

Not telling that rude shop assistant/ customer service representative / waitress that you were offended by their remarks leaves you frustrated with the situation, as well as feeling bad for not standing up for yourself. 

Translate the situation into one involving hurtful remarks from a partner of friend and the feelings escalate as you bury your hurt feelings.

Do assertive people ever feel anxious about expressing their feelings, needs and wishes? 

Of course they do, but the difference between them and non - assertive people is that they are prepared to take responsibility for the outcome of situations. Rather than concentrating on their fear and anxiety, they focus on dealing with people and situations despite that fear and worry. They realise that they need to deal with this stuff, instead of avoiding it.

Now, at the other end of the spectrum are Aggressive people. they make sure they are okay resulting in the other party being 'not okay' and when we get to passive - aggressive, usually no-one is okay!

Aggressive behaviour and communication is typically thought of as being loud and shouty, controlling and expressing opinions in a way that dismisses other's points of view. Usually if you think you have been treated badly, you react in an angry and hostile way. This is a one-way process, blaming, often sarcastic (I have a tendency for sarcasm at times) where you don't take other people's needs and feeling into consideration.

  • Getting your own way, no matter what.
  • Getting your own point across at other people's expense.
  • Being loud and violent.
  • Interrupting other people.
  • Aggressive people often think that the world is a tough place and the only way to get through is to push your way. This behaviour is often the result of being ignored, misunderstood, put upon or cheated.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is not always easy to recognise, but is usually manipulative, where we are dishonest about our feelings and opinions, controlling situations without seeming to.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is expressed through hostility and resentment towards others, maybe because you were told it was rude or selfish to show your feelings or opinions or wants. As a child, any display of anger or frustration may have been punished, so you had to learn to not be detected when expressing your needs.

Passive people usually accept that their feelings and opinions will not be taken into account, but passive -aggressive people resent this, yet will not be happy asserting themselves. They therefore resort to underhand ways to get what they want (or don't want), but this doesn't mean that they know they are doing this.

Next week, I will share some tips and techniques on keeping communication and behaviour assertive. 

This blog first appeared as a guest blog on the Springboard Consultancy website