Assertiveness is a communication style that involves being able to express our feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions in an open manner that is respectful towards others. Our behavior is either highly aggressive or completely passive. We need to learn to find a balance between these two extreme forms of behavior’s and learn to be assertive where we respect both our own needs and those of others.
We are all born assertive. But, as we grow, we learn different patterns of communication. Our environment can make it difficult for us to be assertive. Sometimes, we hold unhelpful beliefs and assumptions about ourselves, other people and the world that can make it difficult for us to be assertive. We may not have the skills to be assertive, we may experience anxiety, our cultures may not allow assertiveness or we may find certain situations difficult.
We may have various unhealthy and unassertive thoughts like:
- I shouldn’t say how I’m really feeling or thinking because I don’t want to burden others with my problems.
- If I assert myself I will upset the other person and ruin our relationship.
- It will be terribly embarrassing if I say what I think.
- If someone says “no” to my request it is because they don’t like or love me.
- It is rude and selfish to say what you want.
- People should keep their feelings to themselves.
- If I express that I am feeling anxious people will think I am weak and ridicule me or take advantage of me.
When we are unable to become assertive and express our wishes in a healthy manner, we may experience some emotional and personal difficulties. These may include low self-esteem, lack of purpose, feeling of not being in control of our own lives, feeling tense, stressed, anxious or resentful, and have uncomfortable relationships.
As human beings, we need to remember that we have certain rights. These include the right to:
- judge own behaviour, thoughts, and emotions, and to take responsibility for their consequences.
- change our mind.
- make mistakes – and be responsible for them.
- disagree with someone’s opinion.
- say “no”.
- say, ‘I don’t know’.
- say, ‘I don’t understand’.
Once we realise our rights, we can change our unhelpful beliefs following these 2 steps:
- Identify unhelpful belief.
- Challenge thoughts/belief.
When we challenge our beliefs, we realise that our beliefs are just learned opinions, not facts. These opinions should be questioned rather than accepted blindly.
Here are some techniques that we can use to be more assertive.
- Nonverbal Behaviors – look and feel confident, make eye contact, smile at others and not get stressed about communicating our needs.
- Basic Assertion – make an “I” statement. Eg: “I would like to have my lunch now”.
- Self-disclosure technique – disclose feelings with a simple statement. Eg: “I am very unhappy that you made me wait for so long?”
- Empathic Assertion – Recognise other person’s feelings, needs or wants, as well as a state your own. Eg: “I understand that you want me to come to your house. But I am at work right now. I will try to come in the evening”.
- Broken Record – prepare what you are going to say and repeat it exactly as often as necessary, in a calm relaxed manner. Eg: “I do not want to buy that vacuum cleaner”.
- Consequence assertion – the strongest form of assertion and the last resort. It can be used in a situation where someone has not been behaving well and you want to get their behaviour to change without becoming aggressive yourself. Eg: “If you cannot talk to me in a polite manner, I will not continue this conversation with you”.
We all need to be assertive in various situations, regardless of our age, gender, income etc. Some of the situations where our assertiveness skills can come handy could involve saying “no” to people, accepting and giving compliments, handling criticism, dealing with aggressive people and communicating disappointment.
Assertive communication is an important step towards being confident and satisfied with ourselves. Assertiveness does not guarantee that we will get everything we want. But it does guarantee that we will be able to communicate our thoughts, feelings and ideas in a calm and respectful manner.
Ms Dhara Ghuntla
Clinical Psychologist & Psychotherapist
Jarma Wellness LLP