Assertiveness is self-empowerment in action

‘This above all: to thine own self be true

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.’

 William Shakespeare

Your personal power is expressed primarily in your interactions with others. Remember, you always have the right to:

  • Express your feelings (but you must decide when it is appropriate to do so).
  • Stand up for your opinions.
  • Demand respect from others.
  • Make requests (but remember the other person has a right to refuse).
  • Refuse requests.
  • Change your mind.
  • Say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t understand’.
  • Choose not to explain your behaviour.

If you are not used to asserting yourself, you may feel uncomfortable the first few times, but don’t be put off. EVERYONE CAN LEARN TO BE ASSERTIVE. I did! The rewards include greater confidence, better relationships, fewer frustrations, and a more fulfilling and successful life.

Benefits of Assertiveness

  • Assertiveness enables you to deal more effectively with all situations, including difficult ones.
  • It prevents you being steamrollered into going along with something against your will.
  • It is good for your physical and emotional well-being. It lowers your stress levels.
  • Assertiveness ensures that relationships are built on genuine foundations and everyone concerned understands each other. Without it, people are not being themselves.

What Assertiveness Is

Assertiveness is often misunderstood. Many think it means being loud and pushy and acting selfishly, but nothing could be further from the truth. When you value yourself, you value others too. Real assertiveness acknowledges others’ needs, while being true to your own.

Assertive behaviour is:

  • Saying what you think, calmly and politely.
  • Making your point clearly and with conviction.
  • Being in touch with your inner feelings, trusting and valuing them.
  • Expressing your feelings with consideration for others.
  • Sticking to your point and, if necessary, repeating it the other has got your point too.
  • Being decisive. Indecisiveness invites an aggressive or derisive response.
  • Standing up for your rights without violating the basic rights of others.
  • Being clear on what you want and asking for it.

Passive behaviour – and how to recognise it

Which of these is your typical response when you feel angry or upset? Do you:

  1. Let people know in a roundabout way?
  2. Keep quiet?
  3. Try to say how you feel and be specific?
  4. Explode?

Passive behaviour is submissive. It is failing to express your needs, opinions and feelings for fear of upsetting other people. Passive people are preoccupied with trying to please and avoiding conflict. This rarely leaves you feeling fulfilled.

Passive behaviour can include:

  • Apologising excessively
  • Trying to justify yourself all the time
  • Indecisiveness
  • Inability to stand up for yourself
  • Understatement
  • Pretending to agree with others
  • Body language and/or tone of voice being incongruent with the spoken word

Passivity comes naturally to those who are taught from an early age to keep their feelings to themselves. As a result they may grow up burning with resentment (which can come out as sudden and ill-timed flashes of bad temper).

The irony is, far from being easy to get along with, passive people can be very exasperating. It’s hard to know how they really feel, and they often give the impression they don’t even know themselves.

Passivity mostly stems mainly from lack of confidence. Learning to be assertive helps you to be more confident, and working on your confidence and self-esteem will make you more assertive.

Passive people may say that they don’t want to be more assertive, because they don’t like loud, pushy behaviour. This is an excuse. Correcting submissive behaviours does not automatically mean becoming quarrelsome or overbearing.

Aggressive behaviour – and how to handle it

Aggressive behaviour is about getting your own way no matter what.  Aggressive people don’t mind taking advantage of others.

Direct aggression

They may be can be intimidating – this is ‘Direct Aggression’. Their behaviour carries an overt of covert threat. They may speak in a raised voice accompanied by glaring eyes, pointing, leaning forward and constant interrupting. Directly aggressive behaviour is often a sign of low self-esteem. Underneath the facade is someone who is insecure and who doesn’t believe they can get their own way by any other means.

Aggressive behaviour builds up bad feeling, hostility and resentment. Others feel defensive in their company and close up. And it often results in loss of friendships as others either avoid them, or find a way of getting their own back.

Indirect aggression

Aggression need not be loud. Put-downs, gossiping, manipulating and tricking people and using sarcasm are also aggressive. So are deliberately using silence, turning your back and ignoring people.

The main weapons which indirect aggressors employ are fear and guilt. When confronted, they usually deny their intentions. They say they were only joking or accuse you of being oversensitive. If you feel someone is using these tactics on you, the best strategy is to challenge them immediately. Remember, your power is always located in the present moment. Say, ‘You’re not trying to make me feel ….., are you?’ Normally, they will deny it. If they try it on again, keep challenging. They won’t like it, but sooner or later they will get the point.

I repeat – everyone can learn to be assertive. Learn the basic techniques, then practise, practise and practise and you WILL succeed.

©David Lawrence Preston, 16.6.2016

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