The term ‘assertive’ gets thrown around a lot. We suggest ‘being assertive’ when standing up for yourself at work, to your family, friends, and in a relationship. We may shy away from assertive behaviour because we don’t like confrontation or think that speaking your mind may offend people. We often confuse ‘assertive’ with ‘aggressive’ – there is a big difference between the two.
Assertiveness is a skill and one that can serve you well through all aspects of life if you practice its mastery. Aggression serves no one and acts as a social contraceptive. It may only be of benefit if you find yourself participating in a real life Hunger Games, or perhaps in a winner-takes-all high stakes game of Snap.
So what constitutes assertive behaviour? Assertiveness is performing your actions with confidence and communicating your thoughts, feelings, and intentions in a self-assured manner. It is not being bossy or overbearing. Politicians, managers, CEO’s, entrepreneurs and Power Rangers are generally assertive people. They are able to speak their minds confidentially (perhaps too confidentially sometimes). With their confidence comes support, a sense of authority, and trust (again, only sometimes!). Assertiveness is an essential leadership quality.
A stark contrast to assertive behaviour is aggressive behaviour. This is intimidating others, forcing your perspective onto others, and acting defensively. Aggressive behaviour can also take a ‘passive’ form. Passive aggressive is similar to sulking and can take the form of a silent ‘revenge’ through actions.
For example, if you have a friend with a tendency to make plans and then cancel at the last minute after you’ve already put yourself out for them, ignoring their phone calls and texts, or failing to show at the next scheduled catch up without prior notice, constitutes passive aggressive behaviour. An aggressive reaction would be to call your friend and give them a jolly good verbal seeing to. A passive reaction would be doing and say nothing, and let your frustration silently consume you. Over time, this creates contempt and erodes relationships.
Assertive behaviour allows you to communicate your position on a matter clearly without sulking, yelling or acting defensively. An assertive response is not a bullish reply. It’s clear, confident and to the point. If stood up by a friend, an assertive response would be, I’ve noticed you’ve cancelled at the last minute a few times now. Next time, please give me more notice so I can instead attend the Star Wars themed roller disco I’ve been dying to check out. Here, you’ve clearly identified the action that’s affecting you and how you wish for it to be resolved in the future. It’s a direct way of getting your feelings across without burning anyone with heated comments.
Key things to remember when being assertive:
- Tone – speaking sarcastically or in a short and sharp tone can be aggressive. Use a neutral tone – remember you’re having a normal conversation – you don’t need to get nasty.
- Confidence – this is king. Confidence makes your message believable. If you’re not confident with what you’re saying, it’ll be smelt a mile away and you won’t get the respect you’re looking for.
- Short, sharp and sweet – you don’t need to provide an encyclopedia of reasons as to why you’re making a firm position. Give a simple reason if you need to. We have a tendency to over-explain things which can take away from a confident statement.
Sometimes our natural reaction is to say yes when we mean no because we’re put on the spot, feel obliged or don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But if you’re always a ‘yes’ person, you set a precedent. Always saying yes makes no even harder to say. The beauty of being assertive is that you don’t have to respond on the spot to every situation.
We have the power to defer our answer instead of saying yes right away, and being left with no choice but to make up creative white lies to get out of things later. We can simply say, I’ll get back to you on that. The important part is to stop speaking after you’ve said it. You don’t need the additional …I just need to check with my friend that we don’t have this thing on because she invited me a fire-pit tribal moon dance a few weeks ago and I said yes… Oh, and I also need to just triple check I’m free as that could also be the night I promised my grandma I’d take her to see Thunder from Down Under and…I’ll let you know, like today. Or maybe tomorrow. I’ll text you. You’ve said your bit, don’t over think it and move on.
Honesty is also a great tool to use when being assertive. It could save you from future encounters with polite excuses. Saying something such as, thank you for inviting me to your weekly Amazon Warrior Spirit Rainbow Empowerment Circle. It sounds interesting but it’s not my jam. Most people won’t be offended, it’s better, to tell the truth.
Telling your boss, I’ve got a lot of work on at the moment and I really want to do a great job of my current tasks at hand, is fine too. In fact, it says a lot about your time management, that is, you know your workload capacity and you’re realistic about what you can commit to. He or she is likely to respect that. You can also use this opportunity to suggest someone who might want to take on the extra task. Make sure you’re referral is genuine, and that you’re not using someone as a human shield as part of your response.
Assertive doesn’t have to be ‘no’. Why not suggest an alternative that’s more convenient for you? A simple, I’d love to catch up, perhaps instead of having a Twilight marathon and crying into a tub of ice cream at your place, we could meet up with the lads and have a beer at the pub. Suggesting alternatives could save you from some very uncomfortable situations you’re really not ready for.
Practice and master the art of assertive responses. Follow these steps:
- Stop and think before you respond. Recognise whether you’re genuinely interested in an offer or invitation.
- Be honest, defer, refer or counter-offer.
- Keep it concise. Changes the subject afterwards if you need to.
Life is too short for reluctant obligatory commitments. An assertive ‘no’ won’t leave you friendless, jobless or crying into tubs of ice cream alone. It will empower you to make your choices you’re comfortable with, and build honest relationships with others who respect you.
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