How to Be Assertive

Assertiveness is a concept that seems all so simple at first, but its proper execution requires much more effort than you may think. The truth is, being assertive is all about getting your message across without being passive, or excessively aggressive. If you fall within either of these two classifications, it is likely that you will find that the effects turn out to be rather counterproductive. What you need is a balanced approach, something to which assertiveness is the only answer. 

Let’s first clarify what assertiveness really is. When you’re passive, your role is as an audience, watching as everybody else make their moves. You nod in agreement, assenting to all the decisions made. Here, you don’t have a voice, you don’t have an opinion. Being passive takes away your ability to stand up for yourself. A stark alternative is to be aggressive. You try to shove your opinions down peoples’ throats, acting as a dictator, making sure only your wants are heard, paying little or no attention to what others have to say. Again, the message is lost as you are over doing it. People will feel suffocated, they will feel forced.  

Being assertive involves putting your thoughts, your wants, and your opinions on the table and putting some stress upon them, while also lending an ear to what others have to say. It is based on mutual understanding, whereby both parties are given a voice and nobody feels unfairly treated. The idea is to avoid being arrogant, to avoid being selfish.  

People who try to be assertive are no strangers to tags such as rude, inconsiderate, and stubborn. This is because in attempts to take a stand, they end up overdoing it. Therefore, the need to send an unambiguous message is quite clear.

What Does it Mean to Be Assertive?

The first thing to consider is what happens if you are not assertive. You may already know the repercussions, since you are in fact reading this book. Such an approach is referred to as being passive. When you’re passive, your feelings and thoughts remain unspoken. You are not able to stand up for yourself and thus start to move towards anonymity. You feel undermined, unimportant, pushed around, and walked all over. This calls for an approach where you have a voice – but, a reasonable one. This is where the problem lies, because it’s easy to go too far, especially when you feel backed into a corner.

Imagine going up to a person and asking them about their political views, only to rebuff them seconds later. Similarly, imagine working in a group project and dictating all the work to be done, setting aside all the suggestions coming in and considering them all unimportant. How well do you think such an approach would work? How far do you think you are going to get in accomplishing the group task? This is not assertiveness.

You may think you are being assertive, but if you are too aggressive in your approach, you will find that people are not listening. Offending the beliefs of others and shrugging off their views as trivial is not being assertive. Assertiveness must not be confused with being always right, nor should it be linked to being haughty and proud.

This type of behavior may be the very thing that you’ve been so wary of, and so careful not to emulate, that instead you’ve become far too passive. Assertiveness is that middle ground, polite yet firm. It’s a healthy balance. 

Assertiveness means being communicative. It means instigating a healthy conversation whereby both parties are able to look and pay attention to what the other party has to say. Plain and simple. The problem lies in misinterpretation – a must-avoid scenario. Mixed messages need to be avoided. 

Now imagine the exact opposite. Imagine nodding along in agreement to whatever the other person had to say, regardless of whether or not you actually agreed. Similarly, following blindly what the project leader said, without giving any suggestions or stating how you felt about things. In both these situations, you are basically not being yourself. You are in fact suppressing your feelings and thoughts, and this is the farthest you can come from being assertive.

In the two scenarios above, you were either being rude and aggressive, or simply too passive to make yourself heard. Nobody likes a dictator, who has no ear to lend for what others have to say. An assertive person would have put forth his political views in the first scenario, while also asking the other person what they think. Then, any disagreement would have politely surfaced, and you would have agreed to disagree. All smiles, message delivered, no misunderstandings, neither party feeling walked on or pushed around.

Similarly, in the second scenario, an assertive person would have taken a route which was something between the two extremes. Giving what other members have to say importance, while also suggesting what you think is the best way. That’s what being assertive is all about. It’s about speaking up, respecting others, and reaching a final upshot that is good for everyone involved.