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Assertiveness : A Simple Way To Develop Yourself

Assertiveness : A Simple Way To Develop Yourself

Updated on Aug 26, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Assertiveness A Simple Way To Develop Yourself

Before we begin, ask yourself these questions – How comfortable are you saying “I could be wrong” in situations? And are you the person people normally go to for advice? That may reflect how assertive you are as a person.

Now, you must be thinking that ‘assertive’ by definition means being confident and having a strong personality. Well, although yes, but in terms of behavior- that’s a yes and no.

Assertive behavior is the ability to be confident yet receptive towards others’ thoughts, opinions, and feelings. 

Assertive Infographics

Assertive Behavior - Characteristics & How to Be More Assertive v
Assertive Behavior – Characteristics & How to Be More Assertive
Assertive Behavior vs Aggressive Behavior
Assertive Behavior vs Aggressive Behavior

Assertive definition

Assertive behavior is defined as a skill or character trait that is characterized by confidence and positive affirmation of a person’s rights. It is established without threatening or manipulating the rights of others.

To put simply, Assertive behavior favors the expression of one’s feelings, opinions, beliefs, and wants in a lucid and appropriate way’. There is a high regard for one’s personal rights as well as respecting the rights of other people.

The concise Oxford dictionary defines assertive behavior as “forthright, positive insistence on the recognition of one’s rights.”

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, assertive behavior is defined as “disposed to or characterized by bold or confident statements and behavior.”

According to Calberti and Emmons (1974), “Assertive behavior is defined as “Behavior which enables a person to act in his own best interests, to stand up  for himself without undue anxiety, to express his honest feeling comfortably, or to exercise his own rights without denying the rights of others.”

Assertive behavior: the perfectly imperfect one

The one that’s confident, compassionate, considerate, and well-composed. They are honest and can express feelings openly. Assertive people can engage in healthy debates rather than just dominating the opposite one.

To behave assertively is the ability to express yourself clearly and still be aware and open to thoughts and different possibilities of an argument. 

Let’s take an example from our own lives to understand assertive behavior. Think of that one (or maybe two if you’re lucky) person you go to for advice or feel comfortable talking to about your problems.

Now, think about why that person in particular? Is it his/her way of talking or their listening skills or is it just out of sheer respect of age?

Possibly all three, but think deeply for a minute- did you ever notice that you feel relaxed around them, maybe because you’re more likely to trust them? And compare this with the set of people whose opinions you dismiss with and without a thought.

There is a difference, right? This trust is a consequence of that person’s assertive behavior. Behavior is a person’s way of expression. Being assertive is not just about being confident; it’s layered and yet so simple.

Think it this way, we analyze our thoughts and feelings, so why not let the opinions of others channel through the same filters of reception, absorption, consideration, analysis, and forming a final thought?

Think about it, in the above example, you agreed that because the person is receptive, you feel comfortable to speak freely.

As a result of this, you are more open to listening to their views too. In a nutshell, being assertive is the ability to put across views with conviction and yet be open to alternate ideas.

Importance of Assertiveness

It’s important to have this behavior because,

  1. It helps you to grow since being receptive to ideas and thoughts enhances your perspective.
  1. You’re likely to be the preferred person to collaborate since you’re not just imposing your views, thus inadvertently improving your and the team’s idea. A definite win-win situation.
  1. You will experience a sense of composure since you’re not out there to just prove a point. It’s about bettering situations or people, thus it helps you personally to be in a healthy and more positive sphere of mind.
  1. You will experience a sense of achievement since you’re doing more than just expressing- you’re also helping others grow. Isn’t it wonderful not just to learn but also to teach and impact someone’s life?

10 Characteristics of Assertive people

Assertive people are bold and confident. They know how to respect and love themselves; they always stay calm and positive-minded.

Assertive people make their priorities clear in front of others but never upset others. Assertive behavior teaches them self-control and emotional mastery. They know how to draw a line and set limits. These people have some notable characteristics that make them stand out in the crowd.

  1. Assertive people are self-confident and courageous, but their confidence is never out of pride or superiority.
  2. You are not aggressive but know how to move across your viewpoint to others.
  3. There is immense respect for ‘self’ and others.
  4. Assertive people are free to express their ideas, thoughts, and opinions.
  5. You are comfortable in initiating and maintaining good social contacts.
  6. Assertive people are less angry-prone and more reasonable in solving problems.
  7. You know how to count your own and other’s needs.
  8. Assertive people are good listeners and respect what others have to say, without much interference.
  9. You have a firm and confident body stance that speaks for you.
  10. Since you value mutual communication, you have the ability to express yourself clearly and simply and want the same from others.

Assertive behavior examples

There are various examples of assertive behavior that you use in your day-to-day life; but unknowingly.

  • In an office meeting, you sit comfortably with good eye contact, a firm demeanor, and a kind expression. This shows you know your place in the scene.
  • When you remain relaxed, upright, and calm in social gatherings.
  • With regard to relationships, you respect personal space and privacy. You are less accusing and more adjustable in building healthy bonds.
  • You feel psychologically safe to offer your ideas and suggestions to others.
  • When you say ‘no’ without hesitation for things you do not like, you set an example of assertive behavior.
  • If you disagree with your friends over an issue but remain open to further discussion, you are assertive.
  • You have committed a mistake in a team meeting in your office. After realizing it, you own it and try to rectify it. This shows you are bold to admit your drawbacks openly. This shows your assertive behavior.

12 Aspects of Assertiveness

Assertive behavior involves the free expression of your thoughts and feelings in an open and honest manner without any disregard for the rights of others.

As you operate from a space of no undue anxiety; you are free and confident to face challenges and overcome them successfully.

You are firm yet receptive to the needs and wishes of others. Assertive people make good leaders because they are self-reliant and do not seek the approval of others to feel worthy of themselves.

Moreover, the hallmark of this behavior pattern is, it helps you to remain responsible for your actions and decisions.

The various aspects or facets of assertive behavior are:

1. Accepting responsibility

When you accept responsibility for your actions; you become assertive and confident. You know how to seek another viewpoint and become less defensive. Responsibility helps you to avoid blaming others. It helps you to choose your thoughts and feelings and act accordingly.

You choose your response and take ownership of the way you think, feel, and act. Being responsible also means you admit mistakes and try to rectify them. You are looking for a solution rather than focusing only on the problem.

2. Avoid assumptions and judgements 

Being assertive means you avoid judgment, assumptions, and opinions about others as much as possible. If you assume too much; it makes you tied up in a blame game.

Assertive behavior helps you to analyze situations with logic and reason. You always keep the line of communication open with the other person.

Your motive is not to change the other person; rather manipulate the situation in such a manner so that the desired behavior is achieved. You should use language that states what you want from the other person.

Make yourself clear enough for the other person to understand your priorities. Assertive behavior is less about control and more about cooperation.

3. State opinions and not facts

When you wish to raise an issue or share your point of view, make sure to state opinions and not facts.

It means that you should not present your views ruthlessly; as it sounds that the other person’s view seems irrelevant to you. In doing so, you allow and encourage the other person to share their ideas fearlessly.

It also symbolizes respect and mutual understanding. Assertive behavior leaves room for more communication. You can show that you might be wrong as well. Use polite language to give a positive vibe to the other person that their opinion also matters. You may use phrases like

  • In my opinion
  • My ideas on this are….what else can we have on this to improvise?
  • I may be wrong but this is what I feel….would like to know your views as well.

4.  Remain open to alternate views  

Another aspect of assertive behavior is you should allow the other person to share their views. It means you are open-minded to what others bring to the table. You appreciate their views and accept their suggestions.

This represents mutual trust and respect and helps to reach a common understanding. Assertive behavior promotes two-way communications.

It fosters cooperation, not force and domination. It helps to promote a win-win situation for both parties involved in the communication process.

5. Constructive feedback

Constructive feedback is giving a genuine opinion, even a negative one in a fearless manner. It means you are showing disappointments that encourage improvement.

So, when you use constructive feedback, the other person takes it positively and tries to improve himself. It is not perceived as a threat or attack rather respects the dignity of the person on the other end.

6. Never leave things unsaid

Assertive behavior invites suggestions and opinions of others. It makes the other person feel valued and recognized. You should never leave things unspoken because effective communication demands it.

When you are assertive you never impose your views onto others. You also trust the ability of the other person to come up with new ideas and solutions.

7. A warm, humble tone is a welcome

Being assertive means having a warm and humble tonal quality. You are enough polite but firm in putting across your opinion. You do it rationally, without aggression or disrespect.

A warm and welcoming tone makes the other person feel comfortable. It demonstrates openness and a friendly attitude.

8. Spend your words wisely

Your volume of words tells a lot about you. Assertive people are less talkative. They are straightforward and firm.

Often less emotionally inclined, these people are neither aggressive nor timid. They speak fewer words but with conviction and confidence. It influences others around them.

9. Speech fluency

When you speak fluently with less volume, you take charge of the situation. You are stable and can operate from a mental state of comfort and relaxation. A fluent speech is clear and bold. It also means active listening and formulating a proper answer before you reply.

10. Eye contact says all

In order to show assertiveness, you need to have good eye contact. It helps to pay attention and builds trust between the speaker and the listener.

Your eye contact should be gentle, inviting, and consistent. Being able to relate to others improves your self-esteem. It also fosters deeper social connections.

11. Congruent facial expressions and mannerisms 

Your facial expressions and mannerisms speak on your behalf and assertiveness is not an exception to this. Facial expressions communicate your real feelings. If you are not feeling good about something; your expressions should match with your intended flow of words.

For example, bad news given to someone should match with a grumpy and sad face, and then only it looks and feels real.

12.  Open body stance

Body language and demeanor are signs of good assertive behavior. It helps to develop a positive mindset. Your body language should be calm and relaxed. Movements of hands should be natural. This makes you approachable to others.

People who possess an open body stance are humble, pleasing, and engaging. They are considerate and respectful of others’ needs and opinions.

Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is a type of interactive style, where the exchange of ideas and information take place in a firm, direct, and non-manipulative manner.

It means that assertive communicators share their views, ideas, wants, and feelings respectfully with one another. When you communicate assertively, you respect and regard your choices but consider other options as well. 

Assertive communication respects the integrity of others’ feelings, and at the same time, it indicates ownership of one’s feelings and behavior. It is not bossy and dominating.

Here, you advocate your needs firmly, yet being polite and receptive towards the opinion of others. This form of communication can be used to resolve conflicts and interpersonal disagreements. Assertive communication helps to:

  • Reduce stress and foster healthy relationships.
  • Lowers the chance of interpersonal conflicts.
  • It helps to reduce anger and develop rational methods of problem solving.
  • You learn to use a clear and firm language to put your point across; without disappointing or hurting others.

How to be assertive?

Many of us struggle with being assertive at times because it is a learned skill that can be developed with time and practice.

You need to hone this skill and get more comfortable with speaking up and expressing yourself. Practicing assertiveness can be done by using the following self-help skills.

1. Stick to one style of communicating

Firstly, you need to know whether you follow a passive, aggressive, or assertive style. After you know it, develop that style by using it in your day-to-day life. Being assertive is the best option because it is firm, yet polite. It is also direct but respects the opinion of others.

2. Positive self-talk  

Being assertive means having a positive self-image. This image develops when you talk good about yourself. Avoid blaming yourself and do not feel guilty, if you have committed a mistake.

It is okay to be wrong at times because it gives you an opportunity to improvise and hone your skills. Positive self-talk boosts self-esteem. You learn to give worth to your opinions and advocate your wants in a better way.

3. Engage in honest communication 

When you engage in a conversation, make sure that you say what you feel. Respect others but share your thoughts, opinions, and beliefs as well.

Make yourself count in the conversation. This makes you assertive and speaks for yourself. If you disagree with someone or have a different point of view, make yourself clear about it.

4. Active listening

Be a good listener. When you listen well, you speak well. You can understand the other person’s point of view in a better way. Avoid interrupting in between as it breaks the flow of communication.

5. Be calm and serene

Avoid getting agitated as it makes the communication heated up. You need to have poised eye contact. Relax and stick to your opinion. Listen to the other person and arrive at a consensus. You should speak politely and respectfully.

6. Never try to control the other person’s behavior

Never try to control how others think and feel about you. If people show resentment towards your assertive behavior, do not show your anguish. It is desirable to handle situations peacefully and remain calm and measured; if things appear tense.

Let others feel what they want. Having a strong sense of self-worth and acting in your interest is a ‘must have’ to develop assertive behavior.

7. Embrace compliments and criticisms with open arms

Being assertive means remaining open to both compliments and criticisms. If others speak well about you, embrace it and show your gratitude.

On the other hand, if people disagree with you; then accept it positively and improvise on yourself. Take both positive and negative feedback equally well.

8. Speak direct and simple

Your speech delivery should be direct, clear, and precise. Never use manipulative words that may abuse others. Speaking your truth should not make the other person feel wrong and hurt. You should use fewer words without long-winded explanations.

9. Practice saying ‘No’

Saying ‘no’ to things that you do not like or disagree with makes you assertive. Never try to please others without a reason. If you disapprove of something, be clear in saying a ‘no’. It makes you feel worthy and valued in front of others.

10. Setting healthy boundaries

When you set boundaries, you set rules and limits for yourself. It helps you to decide ‘what you will’ and ‘what you won’t’ allow others to do with you. Setting boundaries empowers you to understand what works best for you.

Other types of behavior patterns

When you try to look at the areas of your life, you should be able to realize the varied types of people you have met and their differing personalities.

Being assertive begins by first knowing all the other dominant types of behavior in people. Let’s take a ride back to childhood days, the simpler times no doubt.

1. Aggressive behavior: the wild child

Your least favorite person of all. Somebody who is constantly pushing down views in an aggressive manner because they’re “dead-sure” about their opinion is known to have aggressive behavior. Good teammate to have for debates though!

In a classroom full of children, you are placed at the center of the class. You look around and see the class topper whom everyone hates because they never share their homework and are in an argument- always, always has an opinion. This is classic aggressive behavior.

Oh, is it too rude to give an analogy through innocent children? All right, children are children after all so let’s give them the benefit of naivety.

So instead, think about your office- one guy who shoots down every request of yours (don’t think about the office cleaners here- they will never change).

Let’s be right by saying that they are your least favorite to collaborate for any and every work. In colloquial terms, you may call them rude but it’s actually the behavior of an aggressive person.

2. Passive behavior: the scared cat

The one that frustrates you the most. Not because he/she has an annoying nature but annoys you because they never speak up for themselves. Always the one to back down no matter what is someone with passive behavior. Most of the time, you pity this guy!

Now, think of a guy in your office, perhaps from another team whom you always pity. Why? Everybody throws their work at that guy because he is always the last to leave.

He is the one, the manager is always taking advantage of. Because you have never heard that guy saying a ‘no’. Well, firstly, don’t be like him. This is a classic example of passive-style behavior.

Do you remember that small kid with glasses who was always seen writing other people’s homework- that’s the one! You may argue that passive behavior is just about being nice and polite, but it’s actually letting people take undue advantage of you.

What’s wrong with it is you may never grow in an organization, you may never stand out and ultimately, you’ll be a frustrated individual which let’s face it- nobody wants to be that guy!

3. Passive-aggressive behavior: a ticking time bomb

Often the one is known to have destructive behavior. Either by choice or chance, passive-aggressive behavior is a serious issue, and in most cases, also the one that goes unrecognized by people around.

The third type is passive-aggressive behavior. They’re the kind with a lot of pent-up frustrations.

In a way, we all have a side of us that’s dealt with this kind of behavior. When you’re angry or upset you choose to hide it, avoid confrontation or find ways to disguise it.

Some people use humor, bullying, or sarcasm as a coping mechanism, it’s a sign that you are developing passive-aggressive behavior patterns.

In light of today’s times, we are hearing a lot of cases where people are unhappy or bending towards depression. There can be a lot of reasons for this- difficult childhood, negative outlook, or disinterest in general.

They are the quintessential stubborn kind. And this attitude keeps building inside them. This person seems to feel good from the outside but has a whirlwind going on the inside. This communication skill affects the mental health of the person the most.

Assertiveness Techniques

Assertiveness techniques are the guidelines that you can use to develop your communication style and speak for yourself. You can implement these methods whenever you notice situations of conflict and disagreements. Three well-known techniques that are commonly used are:

1. Broken record technique of assertiveness

In this method, you repeat the same message to the listener, until the person is clear that you will not change your mind and shall stick to your standpoint.

You can use this technique; if someone is trying to manipulate you constantly and making every effort to twist and turn your opinion. 

When you are consistent with the same message over and over again, the other person is left with no more choice but to leave you with your wish and agenda. For example, your boss wants you to come to the office on a Sunday and tries to convince you in various ways.

But, you keep cool and insist that ‘Sunday is meant to be with family and you have a pre-planned outing with them. Stick to your plan, no matter what others think about it.

2. Fogging

In this method, you allow your critic to speak against you. When someone criticizes you, you accept it positively without losing your temper or showing resentment.

Accept all criticisms as feedback. It is used to avoid verbal attacks and unpleasant situations. This technique shows your critic that you are confident and open to accepting things positively.

Here, you avoid arguments but in a non-defensive way. You find truth in the criticism made but you remain firm in your statement.

For example, your boss tells you that you are useless with your job and need improvement. You respond by saying, ”Well, I know that I need to work on, but still, nobody is perfect after all.”

3. Say ‘No’ without guilt

Practice saying ‘No’ to things you do not like. Being assertive means that you speak for yourself and establish your point of view. So, if you disagree on something, say a straight ‘no’ without feeling wrong about it. It’s okay to disagree and do not repent your decisions.

Benefits of Assertiveness

Assertive behavior can earn you higher self-esteem and emotional well-being. This also helps to develop better-coping styles in times of stress and anxiety. Being assertive is beneficial in many ways. A few of them are as follows:

  • Improved self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • You know your worth.
  • Assertiveness helps to validate your thoughts and feelings.
  • You can easily earn respect from others.
  • It helps to develop honest and long-lasting relationships.
  • You have learned not to blame others and remain responsible for your actions.
  • It helps to view others based on facts and not assumptions.
  • Assertiveness training can improve your problem-solving and decision-making skills.
  • It helps you to overcome your deepest fears and irrelevant anxiety.

The downside of assertiveness

Everyone loves to be a part of a sweet conversation. But, the reality is, it doesn’t work well in all situations. At times, assertive behavior may not give you the desired outcome. Here lie the disadvantages of this communication style.

  • If not properly mastered and conveyed, assertiveness can be considered rude and arrogant.
  • It can also reflect overconfidence in certain circumstances.
  • There may not be a guarantee of a good solution because few people may find it uncomfortable to deal with your honest and direct opinions.
  • It is difficult to master assertive behavior because there is always a thin line between aggression and lack of it. To draw a fine line between authority and easygoing is a tricky skill altogether.

Assertive Vs Aggressive Behavior

Although they appear similar in many situations and at a first glance; ‘being assertive,’ is not the same as ‘being aggressive.’ These two communication styles are different both in approach and the results or solutions it brings to the table.

A close look at the subtle differences will make things lucid and unambiguous.

Assertive BehaviorAggressive Behavior
Assertive behavior means showing up and supporting one’s beliefs, values, and needs without ignoring or disrespecting others.Aggressive behavior means establishing one’s needs and beliefs in a threatening, attacking, and disrespectful way.
Being confident and self-assured about one’s abilities and opinions.Overconfident and has a tendency to overestimate the abilities of oneself. It leads to harshness and arguments with others.
It employs direct, persuasive, honest, and open communication to explain and clarify one’s needs to the other personIt employs manipulative, hostile, demeaning, abusive, and insulting words to get the message across to the other person.
Assertiveness fosters rich interpersonal connections based on mutual trust and understanding.It fosters unhealthy, hostile, and stressed relationships based on jealousy, blame, and criticism.
Assertive people are flexible. They can change their mind and adopt new ideas.Aggressive people are rigid and they do not change with the demands of the situation.
People who follow assertive behavior deliver messages in a kind and non-violent way.Aggressive people explode and blow out messages. They use force and overt manipulation.
Assertive people are soft, yet firm. They are understanding, polite, and humble.These people are haughty, unkind, rude, and ruthless.
Assertive behavior is rooted in respect and trust. It involves all and abuses none.Aggressive behavior is rooted in manipulation, threat, and violence. It is more abusive and less understanding.
It is full of empathy and never intends to hurt others.It lacks empathy. Thus it aims to damage the self-esteem of others.
In an assertive communication style, the person participates and engages in the group.In an aggressive communication style, the person tries to control the group.
Goals are reached by keeping everyone happy and satisfied.Goals are reached by hurting and disrespecting others.
It ensures a relaxed body stance that is comfortable and full of positive energy.Closed and tensed body language like stiff jaw, crossed arms, and clenched fists.
Assertive people admit mistakes and acknowledge their drawbacks.Aggressive people never admit mistakes rather engage in a nasty blame game that ruins group solidarity.
Assertive people are curious to know the agendas of others.Aggressive people push their agendas forcefully on others.
The differences between assertive behavior and aggressive behavior

The video link given below tells you about the various ways to develop Assertive behavior.

How to be more assertive

Closing thoughts

Lastly, good vibes attract good vibes, so be good…

So to sum up, assertive behavior is more than about growing in your workspace; it is also about developing and bettering yourself as an individual. Remember, the world can sometimes be cruel.

So, the good idea is to be assertive because nobody else will stand up for you, and at times the world can be miserable- so be assertive because you need to make your voice heard and presence felt in this ruthless and competitive society.

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