What does it mean to be assertive?
Assertiveness has gotten a bad rap. Somehow we’ve managed to equate it more with aggressiveness and selfishness.
However, assertiveness is meant to reflect the importance of all of us having an equal voice and representing our own voices under the assumption that we all matter equally. In a module on assertiveness by the Centre for Clinical Interventions, Dr. Fiona Michel and Dr. Anthea Fursland describe assertiveness as “being able to express your feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions in an open manner that doesn’t violate the rights of others.”
Yes, that sounds lovely.
But how do we do that?
The key to assertive communication is finding the balance between speaking your voice while also being respectful of the voices of others.
When we prioritize speaking our own voice but we disregard the voices of others, then we become aggressive.
When we prioritize being respectful of the voices of others but we disregard our own voice, we become passive.
Either of these extremes are not healthy, and most of us tend towards one extreme or the other. It’s helpful to note which of these extremes you may be prone to in order to determine which areas you can practice to find a healthier balance.
If you’re prone to being aggressive…
You may be helped by practicing healthy listening. In the psych world we like to call this active listening, to emphasize the fact that listening is not just a passive experience. Rather, good listening involves participation from both parties. I recently posted a video going over the basics of active listening:
I also link to several helpful resources at the end of this post if you’d like to dig deeper.
If you’re prone to being passive…
You may be helped by practicing speaking up for yourself, even if it reflects things that the other party or parties don’t want to hear. Two helpful tools for practicing speaking your voice are learning to utilize “I-Statements” and practicing setting healthy boundaries. Here are videos going over the basics of each of these practices:
Of course, all of us can benefit greatly from practicing all of these tools, no matter what end of the spectrum we’re prone to lean towards. These tools only begin to scratch the surface of assertiveness training. Here are a few additional tools if you’re interested in going deeper:
Center for Clinical Interventions Assertiveness Modules:
As a final disclaimer, I’d like to be clear that this blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re in need of support, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated.
Enjoy practicing being assertive!