Communication Skills

How To Be Assertive

People skills | Assertiveness

Macho does not prove mucho.

- Zsa Zsa Gabor


The most common way people give up power is by thinking they don't have any.

- Alice Walker


1. What does assertiveness mean?

Assertiveness is about 'being direct without being in-your-face'. Assertiveness is being able to express our feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions in an open manner that doesn’t violate the rights (and toes) of others. In other words, assertiveness is a cornerstone of the 'live and let live' philosophy. Assertiveness has nothing to do with aggressiveness (which is all about violating other people's rights and toes).


2. What does rights mean?

Here, rights mean more than personal rights or fundamental rights. In the workplace, you have rights as an employee and team member and you should calmly and strongly assert these rights whenever you need to.


3. Examples of assertive behavior (knowing you have as much right to do these as the next person)


Saying No, Giving compliments, Expressing your opinion, Asking for help, expressing anger, expressing affection, stating your rights and needs, giving criticism, being criticized, starting and keeping a conversation going, etc.


There is no need to be shy or reticent about any of the above activities.

Unassertive behavior can easily lead to low self esteem (not feeling worthy enough).


4. What is assertive communication?

Assertive communication happens when we respect others, recognizing the other person also has rights and views. Now that we know, 'no man is an island' (thank you, John Donne), we can all perhaps work together in solving problems/conflicts and move forwards.


5. Assertive vs passive behavior

Now we know that assertiveness is not about being aggressive. Consider assertive as the middle point of a scale, at one end of which is aggressive behavior, and at the other end is passive behavior.


Passive people avoid conflicts, basically avoiding 'any shaking of the tree'. They will readily agree to go where others are going, without giving their opinion on the matter. They will let things be dictated by other people/forces and ultimately, people start to take benefit of their behavior - taking things for granted, and even abuse of one's rights. If this goes on for long, feelings of stress/resentment/anger/victimized begins to eat us from inside. You see where we are going with this?


Before your passive behavior causes to get things out of control, it is time to slide towards the middle of the scale, towards assertiveness.


6. Assertive vs passive aggressive behavior

Passive aggressive behavior (a negative attitude) is passive behavior which, having gone unchecked for long, has made us cynical ('who cares?') or sarcastic ('Yes, master'). At this far end of the scale, our negative attitude will lead to souring of relationships and loss of respect from others. They won’t hate us as much as they do aggressive people, but they will resent us, for sure.


7. How can start being assertive?

Assertiveness starts with us knowing our rights and calmly using and expressing them. We have to stand for our point of view.


Assertiveness starts when we start to use 'I' statements, which lets others know what we're thinking in a calm and casual tone. Start saying, 'I disagree,' rather than, 'You're wrong' more often.


8. Positive aggression: It is when we use assertive behavior to get people to do things for us.


Three positive aggression techniques are:


- Broken Record

Say what you want over and over again, calmly, until the other person finally hears it - you can use this when someone keeps refusing to accept your instructions or persists in asking you to do something you do not want top do.


- Fogging

Use this to deal with manipulative criticism. Instead of being aggressive, you calmly acknowledge the likelihood that there may be some truth in the criticism. But remain in charge of yourself and the judgment about you. It allows you to receive criticism without being anxious or defensive.


You respond by agreeing with the person, wrapping up your agreement in constantly changing way:

- e.g. 'Yes, I agree, it’s awful, I got it so wrong.'


- Counter Behavior

We tend to mirror other people’s behavior, often, quite unconsciously. By becoming more aware of this, you can be more assertive and avoid aggression.


For example, if someone is acting aggressively towards you, pointing a finger, talking in a loud voice, waving their arms, rather than doing the same, you consciously choose to relax, breathe deeply, and talk in a calm manner.


Thank you for reading.
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