Assertiveness is a term that is widely known, yet often misunderstood. Many think it means to always get one’s way or to be the most powerful person in a room. It is important to distinguish between assertiveness and aggression.
In relationships each person has needs, and often our needs can conflict with one another. The question then becomes: How can we best assert our needs in those tense moments?
The best way to share needs is through direct communication. Though the temptation may be to become aggressive, manipulative or passive-aggressive. These less-healthy habits of communication may let off steam temporarily, however, they slowly deteriorate the quality of the relationship. Aggression often involves emotional communication that can be demeaning, blaming and accusing. Passive-aggression and manipulation both entail undertones of guilting and hurting others by reminding them of their inadequacies.
The Value of Self-Assertion
Assertive people practice communication that is clear, non-emotional and respectful of others. There is no blame or accusation, but rather openness to both speak and listen. Those who are assertive are able to clearly state their needs, yet respond calmly if their needs are not met. Assertiveness also involves offering helpful counter-solutions and not giving up easily when there are bumps in the road. So how can you start to practice healthy assertion? By practicing these habits.
How to Build Assertiveness
- Practice self-confidence. Assertiveness often flows from a place of confidence in one’s own worth and needs. This is not to be confused with aggressiveness or disregard for others.
- Tolerate discomfort. Asserting needs can often be uncomfortable, as it can breed tension or conflict. Tolerating discomfort enables you to move into respectful compromise.
- Offer positive solutions. When needs conflict, morale can often begin to run short. Positive and collaborative solutions go a long way to keep relationships strong.
- Respect boundaries. No matter issue, each person has her own emotional boundaries. A healthy awareness of every person’s inherent “bill of rights” (link) can help navigate conflicting needs.
- Practice perseverance. Taking a time-out when negotiating can be a wonderful solution if tension runs high. The key is to not give up prematurely! Self-assertion takes courage, resolve and patience.
Are you curious about where you are on the assertiveness scale? Richard Jaffe, certified professional coactive coach (CPCC) offers a simple assertiveness self-assessment.
Good luck in the journey!
Lesley Anne Mendonça
M.A., LMFT-Associate, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Dr. Amy Fuller, LMFT-S, LPC-S