Are You Assertive Enough?
What things in life do you value the most?How do we start being assertive? Start by learning more about yourself and your values. What things in life do you value the most? To help you do this you might think about the important moments in your life, the highs and the lows. When have you felt happiest? Saddest? Most confused? Most helpless? Most angry? Think about these times and about what was actually going on. What was it that made you happy, sad, confused, angry? What values lay behind this?
How do you hope to be treated by friends? By family? By colleagues? What is acceptable and what is unacceptable for you? Set clear boundaries in your mind of the behaviours you expect and also of what is less than you would like, but still within the ‘OK range’. This process will start to show you which kinds of behaviour are unacceptable in your personal value system. The reason for getting it clear in your own mind is that you can only successfully communicate boundaries to others when you are clear about them yourself. You can then work on how you will respond when other people do not treat you in a way that feels alright. It is often when we stay unclear about our values that communication is confusing or may come across as aggressive to the other person.
Assertiveness is often seen as the balance point between passive and aggressive behaviour. Assertive behaviour involves being open in expressing wishes, thoughts and feelings, listening to the views of others and responding appropriately, and taking responsibility for one’s behaviours and actions. It is a win-win situation as both people tend to feel heard by the other and have been given the opportunity to express themselves.
Conversely, passive behaviour means responding to situations in a compliant manner. People may not express how they feel or what they want to someone else, usually because they don’t want to “rock the boat” or upset someone or because they feel scared to express themselves often in fear of how the other will respond. For many people, a passive response is about wanting to be liked by others. People who are passive tend not to view themselves as equals because they place greater weight on the rights, wishes and feelings of others. Being passive results in failure to communicate thoughts or feelings and results in people doing things they really do not want to do – in the hope that they might please others. This also means that they allow others to take responsibility, to lead and make decisions for them. This is a lose-win scenario as your needs are not expressed and the other person totally gets what they want.
People who are passive tend not to view themselves as equals.
To become assertive, we need to ensure we don’t voice our wants in a manner that can become aggressive and, in the process, undermine the rights and self-esteem of others. Aggressive behaviour fails to consider the views or feelings of other people. Those behaving aggressively will rarely show praise or appreciation of others and an aggressive response tends to put others down. Aggressive responses encourage the other person to respond in a non-assertive way, either aggressively or passively. Aggressive behavior is a win-lose situation. The person acting aggressively gets their needs met, therefore a win, but the other person doesn’t get what they need or are not heard or able to express themselves, and so they lose.
If you are treated in a way you find upsetting or asked to do something that you’re not comfortable doing, you could start by checking in with yourself, asking ‘how do I feel at this moment?’ Once you have a better idea of how the comment or action made you feel, you can ask the other person if they realise they spoke to you in a way that made you feel dismissed, unimportant etc. Words can and do hurt. All of us have been hurt at some time by something said to us by another. The key thing is to own the hurt feeling as your own response and to decide from there the appropriate action you want to take. You may want an apology or it may be enough to have a sense that the other person knows they did wrong. Perhaps, the first step is having the conviction to say “no” to a request that doesn’t fit well with you. Maybe, assertiveness for you is when you decide things have gone too far with this person and you want to end your communication with them.
We need to say ‘no’ sometimes so that we do not take on too much. When we say ‘yes’ to more than we can manage, the result is anxiety and stress overload. Saying ‘no’ is just a way of managing our well-being and our time.
Learning to be assertive is the ultimate win-win scenario. Being assertive allows us to express ourselves, to have a voice, to be able to say “no” and stops unexpressed emotions from building up and overwhelming us. The challenge is to ensure we don’t become aggressive as we strive to have a voice. In relationships we need to work towards a win-win outcome, so everyone feels like they have had a voice, had their concerns aired and feels respected.
About the author:
Adam Borge is an experienced relationship counsellor.