In this article, we will explore the benefits of being assertive and provide tips on how to become more assertive in various situations. We will also discuss the difference between assertiveness and aggression and provide exercises that can help individuals practice assertive communication. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of assertiveness and the tools needed to become more assertive in your daily lives.
What Does It Mean To Be Assertive?
Assertiveness can be defined in several different ways, from being dogmatic, positive, confident, etc. but these are basic starting points (Garner, 2012). However, it’s best to see assertiveness as the following, a skill that can be learned which involves expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly and confidently while also respecting those same things in others. In short, assertiveness respects the personal boundaries of everyone.
Being assertive means being able to stand up for your point of view or rights, or those of others in an efficiently positive way, without being either aggressive or passively accepting (SkillsYouNeed.com). This is an important distinction, because if you’re being aggressive then you’re not being assertive. Assertiveness doesn’t mean being aggressive in any way.
There are many sides to being assertive. But the main three that can really affect how we interact with others are how it can affect our way of thinking, how it can change behaviour, and how useful it is in resolving conflict (Garner, 2012).
This is one of the reasons why being assertive can be a good way to strengthen relationships and reduce stress from potential arguments. That’s because people who are good at being assertive are able to reduce interpersonal conflicts in their lives (Pipas and Jaradat, 2010).
The Benefits Of Being Assertive
Many people struggle with being assertive because they fear conflict or lack the necessary skills. There also exists considerable evidence that links not being assertive to poor mental health (Speed, Goldstein, and Goldfried, 2018).
According to Pipas and Jaradat (2010), the concept of assertiveness was introduced in behavioural therapy, with claims that assertiveness could inhibit anxiety and reduce depression. They also state that assertive behaviour leads to improved self-image.
This is supported by Speed, Goldstein, and Goldfried (2018), whose research showed that assertiveness training can improve the symptoms of various clinical mental health issues. They found that research showed that anxiety, especially social anxiety, can be reduced with improvements in people’s assertiveness. Their own study also found that assertiveness training helped increase assertiveness in their participants, which led to alleviation in their symptoms of depression.
Therefore, learning how to be assertive is a valuable skill that can benefit individuals in both their personal and professional lives. Assertiveness training can help individuals recognise and learn assertive behaviour and communication, plan responses, avoid guilt, use self-talk, and set boundaries. It can also help individuals build self-confidence and self-esteem, which are essential for assertiveness. It’s also an important part of happiness and wellbeing.
Being assertive also has its role in sexual enjoyment, made even more important with the fallout of the #MeToo movement. Sexual assertiveness is important for the attainment of sexual goals and for the protection from unwanted or unsafe sexual activity (Morokoff et al., 1997).
So to sum up this section, being assertive has many benefits, including:
- Improved self-esteem and self-confidence.
- Better communication and problem-solving skills.
- Increased respect from others.
- Reduced stress.
- Reduced anxiety.
- Better control over one’s life and decisions.
- More positive and fulfilling relationships.
- Healthy boundaries.
- Meeting sexual needs.
- Being safe.
The Consequences Of Not Being Assertive
On the other hand, failing to be assertive can have negative consequences, consequences like:
- Feelings of resentment and frustration.
- Increased stress.
- Increased anxiety.
- Difficulty with effectively communicating.
- Boundaries being ignored or not being set in the first place.
- Low self-esteem.
- Low confidence.
- Difficulty expressing needs and opinions.
- Relationship issues.
- Missed opportunities.
Being Assertive: A Guide To Speaking Up Confidently And Effectively
Simply put, being assertive is the most effective way of solving interpersonal problems as direct
communication, honesty, and openness avoid misunderstandings, which maintains relations with others (Pipas and Jaradat, 2010).
It’s important to say what’s on your mind, even when you have a difficult or negative issue to deal with. But you must do it constructively and sensitively, as that helps to avoid people feeling attacked. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and to confront people who challenge you and/or your rights. Thus, learn how to be more open and honest with the people around you, especially those you’re in a romantic relationship with.
It’s important to remember that you are allowed to be angry. However, you also need to control your emotions, otherwise, it can turn into an argument rather than a conversation.
When expressing yourself, use “I” statements to communicate your thoughts and feelings without blaming or attacking others. For example, say, “I feel…” or “I believe…” rather than “You always…” or “You never…”.
According to Pipas and Jaradat (2010), “I” statements help to focus on what you’re feeling and how you have been affected by others’ behaviours. For example, saying, “I would feel better if you stopped engaging in that behaviour” rather than “You must stop doing that”. The latter is often perceived as an attack.
However, although “I” statements can be effective, it is possible for some people to still feel defensive, so it’s important to be tactful when you use “I” statements. This was something I found out the hard way while in my course-mandated experiential group for therapists. It wasn’t pretty.
Being assertive demonstrates respect for yourself and others, and promotes self-disclosure, self-control, and a positive appreciation of self-worth (Pipas and Jaradat, 2010). What better way to do this than through the use of boundaries?
The first step in developing assertiveness skills is to identify your needs and wants. Thus, take the time to reflect on what is important to you and what you want to achieve in all areas of your life. One way to do this is to journal about what these might be.
One way to identify your needs and wants, it’s can be useful to make a list of your priorities. You can use a table or bullet points to organise your thoughts. This can help you clarify your thoughts and communicate them more effectively.
The next step is to set boundaries. Boundaries are limits that you set for yourself and others to ensure that your needs and wants are respected. Setting boundaries involves communicating your limits clearly and consistently. You can use “I” statements to express your needs and wants and explain why they are important to you. For example, “I need some alone time to recharge my batteries” or “I want to be treated with respect in this relationship”.
Know your rights
One thing that’s important to remember is that you have the right to express your opinions, set boundaries, and make choices for yourself. As does everyone else. Thus, recognise that your thoughts and feelings are valid, just the same as anyone else’s.
According to Garner (2012), assertive rights are an important component of the assertiveness movement. These rights aren’t your legal basic rights, although there will be some crossover of course, but cover what can be helpful in any situation. These include things like the right to say no, the right to be heard, the right to change your mind, the right to make mistakes, and the right to stay quiet.
Practice active listening
Be attentive when others are speaking and try to understand their perspective. This will help you respond more effectively and engage in constructive conversations.
Use confident body language
Stand or sit up straight, make eye contact, and speak clearly. Use gestures and facial expressions that show you are engaged and confident.
Watch your self-talk
It is often the self-talk that goes through our heads that determines how we behave in different situations. Negative self-talk will ruin your life if you let it. As stated by Garner (2012), our early experiences can affect our self-talk, and thus how easy it is for us to be assertive. This is where assertiveness training comes in. Such training can help break the cycle where your mind makes you relive that one time you were heavily criticised by someone.
Working to change your negative self-talk to positive self-talk can have a massive positive effect on our mental wellbeing. You can start on this journal by engaging in thought challenges or even using affirmations.
Non-assertive people have a hard time saying “No”, particularly if the request comes from people they want to impress. Or, if you’re anything like me, because you’re desperate to be liked by others because you’re a people-pleaser. But it’s yours, and everyone else’s, right to say “No”. You don’t owe anyone a reason for why you’re saying “No” either.
If you continue to say yes all the time, then you’re going to find yourself becoming other people’s doormats (Garner, 2012). I can tell you from experience, that’s an awful way to live. To help with this, start small and make it an experiment. You’ll be testing how people will respond to when you say “No”, and noting if it goes worse or better than expected. A good place to start might be to list situations where you feel you can’t say “No”, and put them in order of worst to least worst situation. Then start with the least worst situation.
Be open to criticism and compliments
Accept both positive and negative feedback and remain calm and positive as you do. However, if you don’t agree with the negative feedback you’ve received, then be prepared to say so in a way that doesn’t come across as defensive or angry (Mind Tools). No one likes getting hit with the criticism sandwich, but it can be a way to learn and grow.
My Workbook On Becoming Assertive
I created my assertiveness workbook as a result of my work, talking to a colleague, and wanting to find a better way to support my clients with their recovery goals. Sometimes it’s just easier for someone to understand something and promote change when they’re actively doing something, at least that’s my belief. Talking and working things through is great, don’t get me wrong, but writing out answers to questions and completing the exercises helps install the new knowledge more succinctly. But that could be because I’m dyslexic.
The workbook covers a range of topics in its 36 pages. Some of the topics I talk about are the myths around assertiveness, communication styles, and the basics of assertiveness. All of these and more are mixed in with exercises to complete and probing questions that a therapist would ask you.
You can find my new assertiveness workbook in my Unwanted Life Store by clicking here.
There are a lot of advantages that come with being assertive, advantages that can protect your wellbeing and make you happier. What’s more, there’s no such thing as being too assertive, because what they really mean is you’re behaving in some other way, such as being aggressive. This is because a key part of being assertive is also respecting others and their rights. Thus, be as assertive as you need to be to live the life you want to have.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences with assertiveness, either being or not being assertive, in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Garner, E. (2012). Assertiveness: Re-claim your assertive birthright. Bookboon. Retrieved from http://thuvienso.bvu.edu.vn/bitstream/TVDHBRVT/15270/1/Assertiveness.pdf.
Morokoff, P. J., Quina, K., Harlow, L. L., Whitmire, L., Grimley, D. M., Gibson, P. R., & Burkholder, G. J. (1997). Sexual Assertiveness Scale (SAS) for women: development and validation. Journal of personality and social psychology, 73(4), 790. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lisa-Harlow/publication/13900135_Sexual_Assertiveness_Scale_SAS_for_Women_Development_and_validation/links/00b7d51d83cbc8ad59000000/Sexual-Assertiveness-Scale-SAS-for-Women-Development-and-validation.pdf.
Pipas, M. D., & Jaradat, M. (2010). Assertive communication skills. Annales Universitatis Apulensis: Series Oeconomica, 12(2), 649. Retrieved from http://www.dime.uab.ro/upload/lucrari/1220102/17.pdf.
Speed, B. C., Goldstein, B. L., & Goldfried, M. R. (2018). Assertiveness training: A forgotten evidence‐based treatment. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 25(1), e12216. Retrieved from https://www.sunysb.edu/commcms/psychology/_pdfs/faculty/Speed_et_al-2017-Clinical_Psychology__Science_and_Practice.pdf.