Are your words giving away your power? Do you avoid confrontation at any cost? Do you keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself so others will like you? You may have a problem with assertiveness. Being assertive makes others view you and your opinions as valuable. Assertive people get more promotions and raises, are more satisfied in personal relationships, have higher self esteem, and are generally happier with their lives.
A person may not know if they are passive or not. In his personal life, he may be very assertive, but passive with people in authority. Or he may be assertive at work, but passive with his parents. It is not unusual for someone to be passive in one area of life, and assertive in another. Most people fall somewhere on the continuum, not being completely passive or completely aggressive.
Do you apologize for what you’ve said, even when you were right?
Do you avoid confrontation at any cost?
Do you think people won’t be interested in what you have to say?
Do you take on tasks because you hate to say no?
Do you find yourself wishing you had spoken up for yourself when you look back on it later?
If you answered yes to any of these statements, you may have some problem with being assertive. Assertivenss can have many positive effects on your life:
It helps us feel good about ourselves and others
It helps to develop mutual respect.
It enables us to make decisions and free choices in life
It increases our self-esteem
It minimizes hurting and alienating other people
It reduces nervousness and anxiety
It helps us achieve our goals
It protects us from being taken advantage of by others
It enables us to express, both verbally and non-verbally, a wide range of feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative
Each action or statement we make falls into one of three categories: passive, aggressive, or assertive. Being too passive or too aggressive turns others off to what you are saying without even hearing you. In a business meeting, a passive person may be totally overlooked or their ideas devalued. An aggressive person may be judged as a “hot head” and their opinions dismissed. However, an assertive person is able to speak his words with power, knowing he is speaking the truth.
So how do you know which of these categories your actions reflect? Let’s examine one situation. Jenna comes in from a hard day at work, tired and hungry. Her husband Mark has been on vacation all week and told her he would make dinner that night, but she comes home to find him sitting on the patio having a beer with one of the neighbors, and no dinner. A passive person would either not say anything and make dinner themselves, or say something like, “Honey, I may be wrong, but did you say you were going to make dinner? Maybe I misunderstood you.”
An aggressive person might say, “Mark, I’m sick and tired of you never doing what you say you’ll do. You promised to make dinner, so do it!”
An assertive person might say hello to the neighbor and then turn to Mark and say, “Mark, I’ve had a hard day. You said you were going to make dinner. Can you do it now or if you’re tired, we can go out. I’m hungry!” The assertive person is direct and to the point, without backing down or attacking.
Assertive communication has these elements:
eye contact: demonstrates interest, shows sincerity
body posture: congruent body language will improve the significance of the message
gestures: appropriate gestures help to add emphasis
voice: a level, clearly spoken tone is more convincing and acceptable, and is not intimidating
timing: use your judgement to encourage others to be receptive to what you say.
content: how you say it may be more important than what you say
A passive person may use qualifiers, disclaimers, fillers, or body language to unconsciously confirm to others their passivity. Passive people may slump or avoid looking another person in the eyes. They may use qualifiers in their speech like, “I sort of wanted to go shopping” or “I thought I told you about it this morning” rather than being direct. A passive person may also use fillers like “uh” or “well” in their speech that makes them sound indecisive. Or they may make a disclaimer before expressing themselves. Like at a business meeting, a passive person might say, “I don’t know if this is a good idea or not, but I thoughtÃ¢Â?Â¦.” or “I’m not sure if this is pertinent but I wonderedÃ¢Â?Â¦.” To be assertive, you should begin to become aware of when you use these self-defeating verbal patterns.
To gain the respect of others around you, you need to be willing to risk not being liked. If you are expressing your opinion, or your ideas, and you do so clearly and truthfully, the other person’s reaction is not your responsibility.
Margaret had been passive for all of her marriage. She had also been very unhappy. Her husband Bob seemed to run all over her, and although she loved him, she knew she had allowed him to treat her this way. Her family and friends said she should become more assertive, and she began to learn more about it. When Bob asked her why she was wearing her brown dress to his business function, she replied, “I like this dress.” Bob replied, “Well, it looks terrible on you.” The old Margaret would immediately back down by saying, “You may be right, I’ll change.” But Margaret knew the dress looked nice on her, and it was her favorite dress, so she just said, “I think it looks great” and finished getting ready for the dinner. Bob may have been angry that she wasn’t doing it his way, but she felt wonderful that she had valued herself enough to express her honest opinion.
Saying no is another way people have a problem being assertive. Taking on tasks you don’t want to do, or don’t have time to do, just to make someone like you, is being passive. And being passive in this situation usually makes you resentful later on. It is much easier to say, “I just can’t take that on. I’m overtaxed as it is” than to make excuses later,or do it and feel someone has taken advantage. Use “I” statements to make your point, such as “I feel hurt when you don’t respect my privacy.”
When you begin to assert yourself, others may need some time to adjust. After all, they are used to you backing down. But you will find you begin to have more confidence and others will respond to that after awhile. And you won’t spend your evenings thinking of what you wish you had said. Assertiveness means expressing your thoughts, ideas, and opinions without apologizing or attacking. And in the long run, it is a skill anyone can learn and benefit from.