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The Power of Assertiveness

Do you know how to stand firm when the need arises? Do you know how to exercise your rights? Do you consider yourself to be assertive? Generally speaking, the family we grow up in has a lot to do with how we end up learning to communicate in relationships. We may be passive and not advocate for ourselves, aggressive and attempt to run all over others, or passive-aggressive and smile while sabotaging others behind their backs.

In order to build healthy relationships, we must learn to be assertive which means being clear, direct, and respectful in how we communicate. Being assertive and is not easy, but it is a skill that can be learned and developed. Assertiveness and self-confidence go hand in hand. Once you know your value, who you are, and what you want, then you will be able to realize the inner power that you have to make things happen and be heard.

The following is a overview of the four basic communication styles and examples of what those types of communicators might say or think. Nobody can be assertive all the time which is why you will be able to find things in common with all of the different styles you see below. The aim, however, is to learn to be as assertive as you can in all areas of your life in order to reach your goals while being responsible and respectful to yourself and others.

Aggressive Communication involves expressing your feelings indirectly through insults, sarcasm, labels, put-downs, and hostile statements and actions. It is a style in which individuals express their feelings and opinions and advocate for their needs in a way that violates the rights of others.

  • My way or the highway

  • If I can't get what I want, then no one else will either.

  • I don't need anybody anyway.

Passive Communication involves saying nothing in a response, keeping feelings to yourself, hiding feelings from others, and perhaps even hiding your feelings from yourself. Passive behavior is often dishonest and involves letting other people violate your personal right to be treated with respect and dignity.

  • No one ever helps me.

  • I can't help it.

  • I'll never be able to do anything right.

Passive-Aggressive Communication involves acting indirectly aggressive rather than directly aggressive. Passive-aggressive people regularly exhibit resistance to requests or demands from family and other individuals often by procrastinating, expressing sullenness, withdrawing from conversation or acting stubborn. They spread rumors and are always acting “behind the scenes.” A hallmark of the passive aggressive person is that he or she believes life will only get worse if other people know of his/her true feelings.

  • I'm weak and resentful so I will sabotage, frustrate, and disrupt.

  • I'm powerless to deal with you head on so I will do things behind your back.

  • I will appear cooperative, but I'm not going to cooperate.

Assertive Communication involves describing your feelings, thoughts, opinions, and preferences directly to another person in an honest and appropriate way that respects both you and the other person. It enables you to act in your own best interests, to stand up for yourself without undue anxiety, to express honest feelings comfortably, and to exercise personal rights without denying the rights of others. Assertive behavior is direct, honest, self-enhancing self-expression that is not hurtful to others and is appropriate for the receiver and the situation.

  • Others may disapprove, but that's okay.

  • I don't have to be great at everything, but I am confident about who I am.

  • We are equally entitled to express ourselves respectfully to one another.

How to Become More Assertive

Some people are naturally more assertive than others. If your disposition tends more towards being either passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive you need to work on the following skills:

  • Value yourself and your rights by knowing that your needs, thoughts, and feelings are just as important as everyone else's.If you are apologizing for everything you do and say than you are probably not recognizing your own value.

  • Don't wait for another person to recognize what you need.You are responsible for finding your own way of getting your needs met without sacrificing others' needs in the process.

  • Acknowledge that others are responsible for their own behavior.Since you only have control over yourself and not others, don't accept responsibility for how others might react to your assertiveness.

  • Accept feedback positively.You do not have to agree, but you need to learn how to hear feedback without becoming defensive or angry.

  • Express negative thoughts and feelings or disagreement in a positive manner.You can say what is on your mind while at the same time respecting other people's feelings.

  • Develop healthy boundaries and learn to say “no” when needed.You can't do everything or please everyone, but if you try, you will feel like others take advantage of you.

Being assertive means having a strong sense of yourself and acknowledging that you deserve to get what you want. To be assertive, you will need to stand up for yourself even in the most difficult situations. Sometimes people are afraid to be assertive, which makes sense, since there is a fine line between being assertive and aggression. However, you will know you are being assertive when you see that your needs are being met more often, you feel good about yourself, and others feel good about communicating with you.

Assertiveness can be learned and developed, and although it won't happen overnight, by practicing the techniques presented here you will slowly become more confident in expressing your needs and wants. As your assertiveness improves, so will your productivity and efficiency. You will feel more powerful and the example you set will be empowering to others. Start practicing today and begin to see how being assertive allows you to work with people to accomplish tasks, solve problems, and reach solutions. As with all new skills you find yourself having difficulty mastering, don't be afraid to reach out to a professional to help you develop the tools you need. Reaching out for help is called being assertive. It means you acknowledge that you don't know everything and that you are willing to be proactive in seeking out professional assistance.

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