Have you ever walked away from a situation and wished you handled it differently? At times, do you feel that your rights are overlooked by others? Can you recall losing your temper and not getting your point across effectively? If you have answered "yes" to any of these questions, you may feel challenged in the area of assertiveness. Assertiveness is the ability to clearly represent your thoughts and feelings in a mutually respectful way. It does not infringe on the rights of others or rely on guilt for results. Assertiveness starts with the premise that each human being is given rights that do not depend on status or performance. You have the right to express your perspective. You have the right to assume personal responsibility and to decline responsibility for others. How you govern yourself in relation to these rights is important for ‘valued’ communication.
Communication is valued when both parties, the sender and the receiver, are respected. There are (3) three primary styles of communication; passive, assertive, and aggressive. The difference between passive, assertive, and aggressive communication rests with the exchange between parties and quality of the message. Passiveness diminishes your capacity to be heard and validated. Aggressiveness exerts differential power to promote a certain end result that is not based on mutual respect. Only assertiveness respectfully engages both parties for valued communication.
In order to achieve assertive communication, one needs a level of self-confidence, self-worth, and self-awareness. Self-confidence is projected, not performed. It has to radiate from within and does not rely on others. Self-worth comes from believing that you are a worthwhile individual who deserves the best that life has to offer. Self-awareness develops from personal monitoring. One learns of strengths and weaknesses by making internal assessments. Self-assertion is a natural process for individuals who are confident and aware. In essence, you must have confidence within before you can demonstrate it in the midst of others. How does someone shift to a more confident, aware, and worthy perspective? Read on!
Developing Assertiveness from Within
Determine areas that challenge you and proactively address them. Are you afraid of confrontation? What are you most concerned about – losing the person’s respect, physical altercations, etc.? If you tend to avoid confrontations and repress your feelings, it is important to rethink your practices. You forego an opportunity to shed some light, wisdom, or experience when you remain silent. Confrontation may not feel comfortable, but it is healthy when done appropriately. It conveys the message, "I care enough to work this out". By working through the initial discomfort of a confrontation, you begin building skills, confidence, and self-awareness.
Practice your message. Using "I" messages help to have your point heard without the interference of defensiveness. For example, the statement "I am most upset when you turn on your stereo while I am studying" provides a clear behavior that can be addressed. Conversely, "you make me mad every time I try to study and you turn on the stereo" has a different effect on the listener. Role play the conversation ahead of time to anticipate reactions and note your style of communication.
Remain calm. Anxiety cannot co-exist with assertiveness. Breathe deeply if you are nervous during a confrontation in order to restore control. Breathing tends to naturally shift to a shallow and rapid quality when one is nervous. Focusing on deep breathing may help maintain emotional and physical control as you share your thoughts.
Attend to your body language. Pay attention to your tone of voice, physical appearance, facial expression, eye contact, and physical gestures as you speak. These non-verbal aspects impact one’s ability to hear the message. One could perceive the same message in an aggressive, assertive, or passive manner based on the various non-verbal factors.
Physical appearance can influence the impact of the message. How one is dressed is important since impressions are based on both internal and external data. One’s clothes and accessories can paint a picture of credibility or the lack of it.
When considering assertive behavior, remember that researchers suggest 7% of what we communicate is with words. 93% of what we communicate is non-verbal (e.g., tone of voice, facial and body language). Being in tune with your body’s message is equally important as the words you’d like to convey.
Learning about how to be assertive: