Many people have heard the word “assertive” before. From my experience, most people are unclear about what being assertive actually means. Some people confuse assertiveness for other adjectives, like being confident or being bossy. Others conflate assertiveness with aggressiveness. In addition, some people may even assume that they are being assertive and are left confused and frustrated when they find they still aren’t getting what they need from their relationships. No wonder there’s confusion. When you google “assertive” the definition that pops up states: “having or showing a confident and forceful personality.” While confidence is part of being assertive, it’s only a piece of the puzzle!
I teach about assertiveness as part of a spectrum of communication. Where passivity is one end of the spectrum and aggression is on the other. Being passive often involves “giving in” to someone else’s wishes or desires and not sharing your thoughts or feelings on a subject. Conversely, aggression can often involve bullying and involves prioritizing your own wishes and desires over someone else’s. That’s where assertiveness comes in: it’s the sweet spot in the middle that recognizes that both your needs and the needs of the other person are important!
When we are assertive, we clearly and calmly express our needs, wants, and boundaries without being too passive or too aggressive; we are fair to both ourselves and the other party involved. Research also shows that benefits to being assertive include less anxiety, less depression, greater self-esteem, and better relationships.
Below are four ways to practice being assertive in your own life.
1. Use “I Statements.”
Make sure you are clear and direct about what you’re asking for – and start that statement with “I!” Instead of stumbling over words or starting out with talking about the other person, start out with something like “I would like ____ from you.”
2. Be assertive with all your languages- including body language.
Always be aware of not only what you’re saying, but how you look when you’re saying it. Assertive body language that matches your assertive words and tone will help maximize your chances of success! Stand up straight, make direct eye contact, and clearly face the other person- these tweaks communicate confidence that your request is fair and reasonable.
3. Use the “broken record” technique.
Especially if you’ve been more on the passive side in the past. Sometimes people are not sure how to respond when you start trying out communicating more assertively. They may push back or try to bully through to get their way. This is where the “broken record” comes in- no matter how the other person reacts or tries to dissuade you from making your request. Keep repeating it without backing down. That doesn’t mean ignore the other person; rather, you can acknowledge what they said, and restate your request. For example, “I understand that you’re busy, and I still need you to help me clean the house for company tomorrow.”
4. It’s all about balance.
Remember, assertiveness relies on you to take into account both your own needs and the needs of others. This involves remaining calm, actively listening and empathizing, and standing your ground on your own request. It’s a tough balance to achieve, but the good news is that it gets easier with practice and can be used in every type of relationship.
If you are struggling with being assertive in your own life and relationships, why not make an appointment for therapy today? We can help you learn the tools and skills you need to feel confident, successful, and fulfilled. Give us a call!