What does assertiveness involve?
- Respect for self and others - Understanding your own wants and needs. Taking care of yourself, including being realistic and not making yourself miserable with unreasonable demands. Forgiving yourself your mistakes. Putting limits on what you are willing to do for others. Honouring people's basic human rights. Being prepared to negotiate when it is necessary and appropriate.
- Directness - Communicating feelings, beliefs and needs directly and clearly.
- Honesty - Regarding own feelings, opinions and preferences without putting yourself or others down in the process.
- Appropriateness - Taking context into account eg location, timing, intensity, frequency and nature of the relationship.
- Body language - Being aware of body language and choosing body language that supports your position and statement.
Different types of behaviour
Standing up for your rights and expressing your needs, wants, opinions, feelings and beliefs in a direct, honest and appropriate way which respects the rights of other people.
Not saying what you feel, tending to opt out or to let others act instead. Avoiding conflict: pretending to yourself something doesn’t really bother you, running away or giving in, feeling helpless. Voluntarily giving up responsibility for yourself; inviting persecution by assuming the role of victim or martyr.
It may also involve timid, overly apologetic, or self effacing expression of personal rights and preferences. Submissive and passive behaviour risks violating your own self by failing to express honest feelings or thoughts.
Standing up for yourself in such a way that the rights of others are violated in the process. Being self-enhancing at the expense of putting down or humiliating others.
Dominating or demeaning others in an attempt to achieve your own objectives, this includes being sarcastic. Giving the message "this is what I want/think/feel and what you want/think/feel doesn’t matter" which leaves a trail of hurt or humiliated feelings.
Either aggressive or passive but not directly so. Avoiding confrontation. Manipulative - never risking a direct approach but using deception, pretence or subtle forms of revenge. Playing games. In other words, a concealed attack; the other person may not even realise that it’s happening but may feel confused and upset.
Assertiveness is about you and how you use your own power: whether you give it away, whether you use it to violate others, or whether you use it constructively and assertively. It involves taking responsibility for our own feelings, thoughts and choices.
Techniques for assertiveness
- Know your rights - Be aware of your rights and others’ rights.
- Decide what it is you want - Identify what you want and what you feel.
- Ask for it as simply and clearly as possible - Make your statement specifically, clearly and directly. Be specific and keep it brief. Practice making a clear statement without ‘padding’ (Write it down in advance it you want to). Don’t confuse being clear and direct with being rude.
- Listen and acknowledge the other person - Let the other person know you’ve heard them - acknowledge and reflect back their response but don’t get hooked into it. E.g. ‘I know you are disappointed but I still have to say "No". or ‘I know that you are tired as well but I’d still like you to do your share of the work’. It’s OK to acknowledge your own feelings too, e.g. ‘I find this difficult to say but ...’. This acknowledgement reduces anxiety and helps the other person to know you are not just being careless about their needs. It helps the other person to feel respected too.
- Stick to your specific statement or request - Instead of getting into an argument simply repeat your statement clearly and calmly. Repeat it several times if necessary (‘Broken record technique’). This will help you maintain a steady position without falling prey to manipulative comment, irrelevant logic or argumentative bait.
- Decide what your bottom line is
- If you want to, you can compromise - Being assertive isn’t about winning at someone’s expense. If there’s a conflict between your needs and someone else’s you can negotiate from an equal position, taking into account the other person’s needs.
Centre for Clinical Interventions - Download a free information and self-help package 'Assert Yourself'.
Bibliotherapy - There are a number of books addressing assertiveness available in the library through our Bibliotherapy scheme including the following:
- Assert Yourself by Gael Lindenfield
- A Woman in Your Own Right: Assertiveness and You by Anne Dickson