You have to stand up for yourself in life and be resilient. That means that there are going to be times when you are going to disagree with others, be they your partner, boss, workmates or someone you don’t even know.
But what if, when standing up for yourself, you offend other people? That’s why it’s so important to know exactly what assertiveness is.
What is assertive behaviour?
Assertiveness is the ability to communicate whilst respecting the rights of others.
What ‘rights’ are we respecting? Why, our assertive rights of course. You see, you and I and the rest of the people on this planet have a set of rights that are fundamental to the way we all deal with each other.
We have many assertive rights. Here are just a few:
- You have the right to your own opinion
- You have the right to think differently to others
- You have the right to be listened to
- You have the right that others respect your rights
So, the big test as to whether you were assertive or aggressive is by answering the question: when I disagreed with them, did I respect their rights?
Ready to make a commitment to learning more about assertiveness right now?
What is non-assertiveness?
Non-assertion is violating the rights of others when we communicate.
Need a couple of examples? Well non-assertion most commonly features two particular types of behaviour:
- Aggressive people
- Submissive people
Aggressive people violate your rights by talking over you or not listening. They will also deny your right to think differently. They can even violate your rights by lowering your self-esteem.
How do they lower your self-esteem? By telling you things like, “Now you’re just talking rubbish”.
An assertive person would never use a phrase like that. When an assertive person doesn’t agree they will simply say something like, “I don’t agree.” They certainly wouldn’t try and strengthen their own argument by attempting to belittle the other person.
Direct, logical and reasonable. That’s how assertive people behave.
Can submissive people be non-assertive? After all, they’re probably not going to offend you. They’re often such nice, perfectly agreeable people who always love to ‘go with the flow’.
But that’s the problem. They often won’t say what they are really thinking – and that can be maddening. You know the type – you might be the submissive type yourself.
Here’s an example.
You ask your submissive friend which film they’d like to watch tonight on Netflix, and they say, “Oh, I’m, easy. You decide.”
But now you are irritated because you always decide.
And you also remember those occasions when you’ve asked them what they thought of last night’s film and your submissive friend said things like, “It was all right. But I’m not really into rom-coms.”
Now you’re angry and snap back, “So why didn’t you say this last night when I asked what you wanted to watch?”
“Well, I guess I didn’t want to spoil your evening.”
So your submissive friend did have an opinion all along, they just chose to withhold it rather than play an equal part in the conversation.
How do you know if you are being assertive?
Simple: you treat others in a respectful yet direct way.
You share your thoughts, needs, wants and opinions openly. Once you’ve communicated these to the other person, you respectfully listen and honour the fact that the other person might have a different view.
Always remember: when you disagree with someone, you are disagreeing with what they say – not who they are. You refuse to allow an opinion to represent the entire personality of the person who is expressing it.
If an assertive person dislikes what someone says, they seldom walk away disliking the person.
After all, I’m a vegan. And most of the people I really love are dyed-in-the-wool carnivores, but I love and respect them still.
No offence, Michael, but sign me up NOW for your assertiveness course
Why do I struggle with being assertive?
We’ve all been there. We’ve all walked away from a situation thinking, “I wish I’d said something there.” But there are two factors that often prevent people from behaving as they know they should.
People who are assertive often have self-esteem. They believe that they are of worth. They also believe that they have opinions that have value. Their self-respect is such that they openly share what they are thinking with others.
Submissive people don’t. When you’ve low self-esteem, you tend to follow the old joke about passive people in meetings: ‘It’s better to sit in the corner and be thought of as a fool then to speak and remove all doubt’.
People who believe they are of worth, also believe their opinions are of worth.
My unhelpful brain
The French call it, ‘L’esprit de l’escalier’. English speakers refer to it as ‘staircase wit’.
You’ve left the room where the argument happened and now find yourself walking downstairs. Suddenly, the amazing thing you could have said 3 minutes ago comes into your head. Shoot! Why didn’t I think of that earlier? It’s too late now!
Well, there’s a good reason why it happens. The moment your brain feels that you are being socially threatened – such as being part of a very heated discussion – it triggers a small area of your limbic system which immediately chemically changes you.
You suddenly find yourself in the classic ‘fight vs. flight’ mode. Your intelligent, logical, reasonable brain region has hung an ‘out to lunch’ sign on your cranial wall and you struggle to recall all those killer arguments that so easily return to you 30 minutes after the event is over.
It happens in other ways as well.
Ever been to an interview or given a presentation and received a really difficult question? You know you know the answer! But, because your brain has hit the ‘panic button’, the answer is nowhere to be found.
Your agile, brilliant brain is, instead, swimming helplessly in a thick fog of panic.
In that interview, or in that presentation, all people are seeing when they look at you is a helpless rabbit in the middle of the road transfixed by two headlights coming straight at you…
How can I be more assertive?
I’m here to tell you there’s hope.
You see, none of us are born assertive. We’re born with the primitive emotions of flight and fight. But assertion is a ’learned behaviour’.
A few people develop it naturally, but most people don’t, they just need a little direction. A friendly steer as to what they should say.
Then, once they know what they should be saying, they go out and practise it.
But there’s one ingredient that’s missing in this recipe: courage.
Knowing what to say – and being convinced that it is the right thing to say – isn’t enough. You need the courage in the moment to hold your nerve and speak your viewpoint OUT LOUD.
Not shout it. Not say it so quietly that people think you’re an extra from a ‘mumblecore’ movie.
They need to hear it said with confidence.
What is assertiveness training?
So, how do learn to become assertive?
Assertiveness training is aimed at attacking not only the issues I’ve raised in this short article, but a whole bunch of other issues as well.
That’s why I developed my own online course.
I’ve had over 20 years’ experience of moving people to a more assertive place. And it’s been wonderful seeing so many good people who once were struggling so much, now taking their rightful place in their careers – and in the wider world.
And I want to change your life for the better.
Click on the link below to take you straight to my ‘Assertiveness – Don’t be a Slave to how Others Behave’ online workshop sign-up page.
Within minutes you could be on a journey towards a new you. One that will transform your image, achievements and life path.
Are you ready to start?