Assertiveness means expressing your point of view in a way that is clear and direct, while still respecting others.
Communicating in an assertive manner can help you to minimise conflict, to control anger, to have your needs better met, and to have more positive relationships with friends, family and others.
Assertiveness is a style of communication which many people struggle to put into practice, often because of confusion around exactly what it means.
People often confuse assertiveness with aggression, because it involves sticking up for yourself. But the two are actually quite different. Look at the following examples:
Aggressive communication Assertive communication
Forces your needs or opinions onto others Expresses your needs clearly but respectfully.
Often involves bullying or pushing others around Others are treated with respect.
Ignores the needs of others. Considers the needs of others as well as yours.
Hinders compromise. Promotes compromise.
Damages relationships. Strengthens relationships.
May lead to shouting or physical aggression Uses clear language to get your point across.
Damages self-esteem Builds self-esteem
For example, imagine you are standing in line at the bank and someone else pushes in front of you.
An aggressive response could be to grab them by the shoulder and say loudly: Hey! What makes you so important that you don’t have to wait in line like the rest of us?
This might make you feel better in the short term, but you will probably also spend the rest of the hour feeling annoyed about the interaction. Or perhaps the other person will shout back at you and the situation will get even worse, really leaving you in a bad mood.
A more assertive response could be to gently tap the person on the shoulder and say in a clear but respectful voice: Excuse me, there is actually a line here. It would be better if you could wait your turn like the rest of us.
Chances are you will get a more positive response to this - perhaps the other person will apologise and move to the back of the line, or they may explain their reason for wanting to push in and you may feel happy to do them this favour. They may still respond badly - your assertiveness does not guarantee others will not be aggressive
Here are some tips for practising being assertive:
• State your point of view or request clearly
• Tell the other person how you feel as honestly as you can, and remember to listen to what they say as well
• Tone and volume of voice: how you say it is as important as what you say. Speak at a normal conversation volume, rather than a shout or whisper, and make sure that you sound firm but not aggressive
• Make sure your body language matches - your listener will get mixed messages if you are speaking firmly while looking at the floor. Try to look the other person in the eye, stand tall, and relax your face
• Try to avoid exaggerating with words like always and never. For example: You are 20 minutes late and it is the third time this week, rather than: You are always late!
• Try to speak with facts rather than judgement. For example: This report has important information missing, rather than you have done a bad job again
• Use “I Statements” as much as possible, to tell the other person how you feel rather than be accusing. For example: When you leave your dishes on the table, I feel frustrated because I don’t like the mess but don’t want to clean it up for you, rather than: You’re such a pig!
• Practise often - assertiveness is a skill which requires you to practise in many different situations