Assertiveness

The ability to express yourself and your rights without violating the rights of others is known as assertiveness. When you assert yourself, you communicate directly, openly, and honestly while improving yourself at the same time. Acting assertively will bolster self-confidence and win you the respect of your peers. As you learn to assert yourself, your decision-making ability will improve, as will your chances of getting what you really want out of life.

However, before you can comfortably express your needs, you must believe you have a legitimate right to have those needs. You have the right:

  • to decide how to lead your life. This includes pursuing your own goals and dreams and establishing your own priorities.
  • to your own values, beliefs, opinions, and emotions — and the right to respect yourself for them, no matter the opinion of others.
  • not to justify or explain your actions or feelings to others.
  • to tell others how you wish to be treated.
  • to express yourself and to say “No,” “I don’t know,” “I don’t understand,” or even “I don’t care.” You have the right to take the time you need to formulate your ideas before expressing them.
  • to ask for information or help — without having negative feelings about your needs.
  • to change your mind, to make mistakes, and to sometimes act illogically — with full understanding and acceptance of the consequences.
  • to like yourself even though you’re not perfect, and to sometimes do less than you are capable of doing.
  • to have positive, satisfying relationships within which you feel comfortable and free to express yourself honestly — and the right to change or end relationships if they don’t meet your needs.
  • to change, enhance, or develop your life in any way you determine.

When you don’t believe you have these rights, you may react passively to circumstances and events in your life. When you perceive others’ needs, opinions, and judgments as important than your own, you may feel hurt, anxious, and even angry. This kind of passive or nonassertive behavior is often indirect, emotionally dishonest and self-denying.

Many people feel that attending to their legitimate needs and asserting their rights means they are selfish. However, selfishness is the concern for only your rights, with little or no regard for others. Implicit in your rights is the fact that you are concerned about the legitimate rights of others as well.

Techniques for Improving Assertiveness

Be as specific and clear as possible about what you want, think, and feel.

The following statements project this preciseness

“I want to…”
“I don’t want you to…”
“Would you…?”
“I liked it when you did that.”
“I have a different opinion, I think that…”
“I have mixed reactions. I agree with these aspects for these reasons, but I am disturbed about these aspects for these reasons.”

It can be helpful to explain exactly what you mean and exactly what you don’t mean, such as “I don’t want to break up over this, but I’d like to talk it through and see if we can prevent it from happening again.”

Be direct. Deliver your message to the person for whom it is intended.

If you want to tell Jane something, tell Jane; do not tell everyone except Jane; do not tell a group, of which Jane happens to be a member.

Own your message. Acknowledge that your message comes from your frame of reference, your conception of good vs. bad or right vs. wrong, your perceptions.

You can acknowledge ownership with personalized “I statements.” For example, you might say “I don’t agree with you” instead of saying, “You’re wrong.” Or you might say, “I’d like you to mow the lawn” instead of saying, “You really should mow the lawn, you know.” Suggesting that someone is wrong or bad or should change will foster resentment and resistance rather than understanding and cooperation.

Ask for feedback. You might say, “Am I being clear?” or “How do you see this situation?” or “What do you want to do?” Asking for feedback encourages others to correct any misperceptions you may have. Through your requests for feedback, others realize that you are expressing opinions, feelings, or desires rather than demands. Encourage others to be clear, direct, and specific in their feedback to you.