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Assertiveness

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What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a kind of confidence. It is a way of behaving that helps people clearly communicate their needs, wants and feelings without hurting anyone else. Assertiveness is a way to communicate what you think, feel, want and dream about.

This doesn't necessarily mean you will get more of what you want. It does mean you will feel good about the relationships you have, will have more control of your life and will feel more relaxed, content and confident about yourself.

Being assertive:

  • is being honest without being rude or hurtful.
  • is about what you really want.
  • allows others to feel safe and get what they want too.
  • is being respectful of yourself and of others.
  • does not intentionally hurt people.

Assertiveness could be seen as the balance between two other kinds of behaviour – passiveness and aggression.

Passiveness

When you act passively, you might:

  • put yourself down - "I never know what to do"
  • put other people’s needs first - "You need it more than me"
  • say "It doesn't really matter" when it does
  • not say what you really want - "I don't know", "I don't care" (while thinking "I do")
  • let others choose for you - "No, no, you decide"

Passive behaviour can lead to feeling hurt, upset, nervous or angry. Your needs are not met and you can feel out of control, dependent and helpless.

Aggression

When you act aggressively you might:

  • meet your own needs at the expense of others - "You better watch out, because if you don't…"
  • tell people (sometimes everyone) what you feel, and hurt others in the process - "You're a stupid idiot" (or other language not to be seen on this site!)
  • make choices for other people - "You will… or I will bash your head in"
  • hurt other people to get what you want – physically or verbally

Aggressive behaviour can hurt people and does not respect the rights of others. If you try and control others you may lose them.

Passive and aggressive behaviours are not just what you say. They can also be what you do. Slamming doors, giving someone "the silent treatment" or "dirty looks" may satisfy you at the time, but it doesn't let others know what you are feeling.

How do you do it?

Assertiveness takes time, patience and guts. It doesn't "just happen". There are two important things you need before you do anything:

  • You need to choose to be assertive.
  • You need a willingness to check out, try and do new things.

Here are some tips:

  • Value yourself and others around you.
  • Think about what you want and think about whether it is fair and respectful.
  • Discuss your needs and feelings clearly, openly and honestly.
  • Stay calm, cool and collected while talking about them.
  • Be open to new ways of thinking about yourself, others and situations.
  • Give compliments to people and take them when you get them back.
  • Be open to fair criticism and don’t be afraid to make fair criticism yourself.
  • Acknowledge your and others rights.
  • Negotiate and make compromises.
  • Problem-solve and collaborate with others to do this.

The key to assertiveness

The key to assertiveness is clear, open and honest discussion that does not blame, ridicule or put other people down. A way of saying things in an assertive way is to use the following formula:

  1. I feel…. (eg. hurt, embarrassed, angry, etc. - this must be what you feel [a feeling], not what you think)
  2. When you….(don't do the dishes, kick my dog, call me fatso)
  3. Because…...(It seems like you take advantage of me, I don't know what is going on, etc.)
  4. I would like/Let's/How can you resolve this?……(talk to me about it, if you didn't keep treating me that way, I want to be supported in my decisions, etc.)
  5. What do you think? / What do you see?

Planning to do something differently

Think of a difficult situation you have recently been in.

  • How might you respond in a passive way?
  • How might you respond in an aggressive way?
  • How might you respond in an assertive way?

For example, if you are at a party and your friends are smoking, you may feel you have to smoke but you really don't want to. You have the right to say no to a cigarette without your friends being upset. You could say "I feel uncomfortable when you ask me to smoke because I'm not into smoking. I'd like your support so please don't offer me any smokes! Thanks". You could practice ahead how you would handle this situation and what you would say.

Why bother?

Assertiveness helps people to leave situations with good feelings about themselves.

It means you have compromised or negotiated an outcome. It is not always exactly what you want. Some people find this frustrating because they hope assertiveness will help them get more of what they want. Assertiveness is more a way of living that is respectful of yourself and your own rights and respectful of others and their rights.

People who use assertiveness regularly report these advantages:

  • They feel more confident, relaxed and happy to be themselves.
  • They are more aware of who they are (including their strengths and weaknesses).
  • They spend less time comparing themselves with others and feeling "not good enough".
  • They make more realistic decisions and choices for themselves.
  • They choose more successful relationships, by accepting that not everyone in the world will or can be caring towards them!
  • They feel they can regain control in their life and live it to the fullest!

Coping with the negative stuff

So you invite assertiveness into your life. All is going well until someone comes along and all of a sudden you are faced with… Put-down! Criticism! Disagreements!

How do you stop people treating you this way? Well the answer is, you can't! You can't change someone else. What you can do is develop some skills to protect and look after yourself when you come up against negative people.

Coping with put-downs

  • Remember that just because someone says something, you don't have to believe it.
  • Put a stop to the put-down as soon as possible.
  • Choose to leave the situation.

This might take persistence, being open to negotiation or compromise, and having the ability to ask for and accept constructive criticism.

Criticism

Often people react to criticism by avoiding it, taking it to heart or reacting aggressively to it.

Criticism can be helpful if it:

  • is specific
  • acknowledges positives
  • is calm
  • is to the point
  • doesn't stereotype or label people
  • is focussed on a person's behaviour, rather than attacking the person.

Here are some tips about how to use criticism assertively:

  • Face and listen to criticism rather than avoid it.
  • Don't take it to heart - taking it to heart can affect how you view yourself.
  • React calmly and respect others' rights - attacking the person can lead to hurt.
  • Be brave and don’t be frightened of constructive criticism.
  • See constructive criticism as useful to everyone concerned.

Being open to constructive criticism can be a scary thing at first. Remember, you too can make constructive criticism. This does not include blaming, put-downs or attempting to hurt someone to get what you want.

Disagreements

  • Negotiate - listen, understand, put yourself in others' shoes and ask for clarification.
  • Keep calm - take deep breaths, take your time, and allow others to express their feelings.
  • Be prepared - stick to facts.
  • Compromise - try to find a "win-win" solution.

The arts of negotiation - listening and respecting others, as well as putting forward your own ideas and needs - are the key points in attempting to cope with disagreements.

How could assertiveness help you?

What are some of the advantages you can see assertiveness might have in your life? How do you view your future with these advantages in your life?

Assertiveness helps good communication. This doesn't mean you have to start making speeches for the Prime Minister or President, but what it does mean is that you can:

  • listen well - that means really listening to what someone has to say, not just waiting for a pause to say your stuff
  • be aware of body language
  • speak clearly and easily - saying what you really mean, think or feel
  • start and keep conversations going
  • be able to stay calm and relaxed.

Once you become used to this style of assertive communication, you’ll be able to see how it can help to improve your relationships and your life in general.

Another topic -  Conflict and negotiation may help you get some skills that will lead you to be more assertive.

Resources in Australia 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.
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