The ability to be assertive allows for constructive communication, satisfying communication and resolution of conflicts or difficult situations. Alternative communication behaviours that are often used include being aggressive, manipulative, passive or passive aggressive. The aggressive person is known to respond to their own rights but not the rights of the other person and in contrast, the passive person does not stand up for their own rights at all. People that are unable to act assertively may become frustrated, hold resentment towards others for taking advantage of them, regret outbursts if they are unable to express emotions effectively and lose opportunities by avoiding situations in which they feel uncomfortable or lack confidence. By being assertive, we can communicate our own feelings and thoughts, stand up for our own rights and still respect and acknowledge the rights of another individual.
There are various techniques that can be employed to strengthen one’s ability to be assertive. Different situations call for different techniques but they can all be applied to workplace conflict, unreasonable requests, or day to day activities. The most important part to developing techniques in becoming assertive is to understand ourselves and appreciate how we interact with other people. Reflection is a key part to this as we need to be able to reassess and improve ourselves while also being able to identify and communicate our thoughts and feelings.
Assertiveness techniques include:
1. Body language:
An assertive person is confident, self-respecting and honest with their emotions. As a result, good body language utilized by assertive individuals includes maintaining eye contact and standing straight with clear fluent and confident speech. In contrast, an individual who lets others choose for them, or is inhibited tends to present themselves with a lack of eye contact, hesitancy and by being unsteady or shifting in their stance. An aggressive person leans forward, uses a loud voice and uses strong gestures.
2. Using the different types of assertion
a. Basic assertion: Involves standing up for beliefs, feelings, needs or opinions or expressing an emotion.
b. Empathetic assertion: This type goes beyond just expressing one’s own emotion by appreciating the other person’s point of view or rights. For example, if a request is declined, a speaker may go on to acknowledge the right of the person to make the request in the first place. Empathetic assertion is a powerful tool because people respond more positively when they have been respected in an interaction.
c. Escalating assertion: This involves starting with minimal assertive language. If the needs of the speaker are not met, or their rights are violated again, they can repeat their point by becoming more firm. For example, the transition can be from an empathetic assertion to a basic assertion, from a request to a demand and from a preference to a refusal.
d. Confrontative Assertion: This involves describing what the other person was meant to do, explaining what actually happened and finally expressing what the speaker wants to happen e.g. knowing why the event occurred.
3. Using compromise and negotiation
Here it is important to realize that assertiveness does not equate to getting what we want. It is simply a way of expressing our needs or rights and sometimes, it is necessary to compromise our needs so that they can be balanced with the needs of another person. To satisfy both parties, a middle ground must be reached and this can be done by:
a. Listening to and understanding the other persons point of view before starting to bargain
b. Using tact and planning so that you are able to support your case
d. Trading so that both sides come out of the negotiation as winners
4. Broken record technique
This can be employed when one feels their rights are being ignored completely. It involves repeating your message in the same words with a calm voice until the message is reached by the other person.
5. Using ‘I’ statements
This allows one to express their thoughts in the form of ‘I felt….when…because of….’. It allows the problem at hand to be focused on without creating blame or finger pointing.
6. Strengthening your ability to say ‘no’ to unfair or unreasonable requests
Quite often, people struggle to say ‘no’ to a request for fears about appearing selfish or not being liked. It is clear however, that the individual who always says ‘yes’ is not necessarily respected by their peers. In order strengthen this skill, the following steps can be used
a. Being honest – to your timetable, your feelings or your emotions
b. Speaking in a straightforward manner without diluting the answer
c. Offering a compromise if needed
d. Acknowledging the other persons feelings (i.e. empathetic assertion)
7. Being direct and clear one’s language
It is often thought to be safer to water down a statement or question in an effort to avoid appearing ‘bossy’ or firm. In actual fact, doing so has the outcome of making the person speaking appear weak or indecisive. Using terms such as ‘will you please’ instead of ‘would you mind’ or ‘I will not be…’ instead of ‘I’m not sure if I can…’ gives clear direction and is a vital part of assertive language.
Assertiveness is a skill that if used wisely can strengthen and advance any individual to reach their goals. Without understanding what it is to be assertive, we run the risk of living our lives at the command of others or employing less desirable techniques such as aggressiveness or passivity. By reflecting on our current skills, utilizing known techniques and continuing to analyse and appreciate communication and interaction, we can build success in our workplaces, social lives and homes.
1. Arthur J. Lange, P.J.w.a.c.b.T.V.M., Responsible Assertive Behavior. 1976, Champaign, Illinois: Research Press, 2612 North Mattis.
2. www.healthyplace.com. Cited 12 Oct 2008.
3. Dr. Claire Alwan & Nesta Reeve, C.P., Assertiveness: A self-help guide. Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Care NHS Trust. Produced by Norfolk NHS, 2005.
4. Phillips, A., Assertiveness and the Manager’s Job, ed. G.P. Ross Gilham. 2003, Melbourne: Ausmed Publications Pty Ltd.
5. Sharon Anthony Bower, G.H.B., Asserting yourself. A Practical Guide for Positive Change. 1976: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.