To be an assertive person requires self-awareness, confidence and respect for others.
Assertive people actively listen and share their point of view in a way that does minimize or shame the other person. Assertive people know they don’t have all the answers and are open to hearing different perspectives to learn where other people are coming from.
In this article, we will look at a few scenarios with both assertive and pushy language. Soon you will see a pattern that the pushy responses are often emotional, selfish and dismissive while assertive responses are calm, open to hearing different points of view and clear in their communication.
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Assertive vs. Passive vs. Aggressive
Let’s start by reviewing the difference between passive, aggressive and assertive styles of communication.
Passive people tend to let others decide things for them. They go with the flow and use language like “I don’t care, whatever you think, you decide.”
Other people may read passivity as not caring, lacking confidence and may sometimes leave you out of decision making because you don’t seem to have a point of view to share.
Passive people can get passed over for promotions, be left out of planning activities due to their lack of enthusiasm or ambition for the work.
Aggressive people come across like bullies, stating what they think as if it is the only point of view and dismissing other viewpoints offered with language like “that won’t work”, “that’s stupid”, “you don’t know what you are talking about” or “what a dumb idea”.
Language like this disregards the opinions of those around them, can steamroll the conversation or, worse yet, prevent others from sharing their opinion for fear of being ridiculed.
Assertive people are confident, state their viewpoints calmly, clearly and accept other points of view even if they are different from their own.
Assertive people show respect for themselves and others in the way they communicate. They use language like “I think we might need an extension on this project, what do you think?”, “Can we talk about what happened in the meeting? I need some help understanding what went wrong”, or “I’m happy to take on this additional project, but know that I have a few deadlines ahead of it that I have to get to first. Can we check in next Monday to talk about it in more detail?”
Did you notice one important difference in the language used by assertive people? They ask questions.
Assertive people invite others into the moment because they know their opinion and point of view have merit. The passive examples and aggressive examples above show statements. Period. They either give permission (passive language) or draw the line and dismiss (aggressive language).
How Different People React: Case Study
Let’s investigate a few scenarios and look at types of responses from the three styles. Perhaps you will find one that sounds like you?
Scenario 1: The overbearing boss is pressing you for the report that isn’t due for two more weeks.
Passive Response:“I’m sorry, I’ll get it to you right away.”
In other words, even though you know you still have two more weeks, you don’t say anything because you don’t want to upset the boss or appear contradictory.
“Why didn’t you tell me you needed it sooner? The deadline is two weeks away! I can’t work any faster than I already am.” Then you huff, walk loudly out of the office and murmur to yourself under your breath rolling your eyes to your co-workers and shaking your head.
“Did something come up that you need it sooner? I know the original deadline was two weeks from now. (Pause for response. They may be getting pressure from above and just need to vent.) I’ll do my best to get it to you as soon as I can, but I might need to move some other projects around to get this done. When would you like to have it?” Stating the facts calmly while maintaining respect for the other person, even if they are showing high emotion or distress, shows confidence and concern for the other person.
Scenario 2: Your ten-year old child complains when you ask them to turn off the video games and do their homework. They ask for 10 more minutes, which they did 10 minutes ago and you agreed to the first request.
You don’t do anything because you don’t want to fight. You think to yourself “they never listen to me anyway and if his homework isn’t done his teacher will make him do it.”
“Get off that thing now!” “You never listen!” “Get your homework done now or I’m taking away the game for good!” You are frustrated, emotional and yell to get them to act.
You acknowledge that you already agreed to the first request, gave them the additional 10 minutes and now that time is up. “Sorry. I already gave you ten extra minutes so now it’s time to turn it off. Do you want to do homework at the table or in your room?” This question communicates that homework is happening now while giving the child a choice as to where they will do it.
In all of the assertive responses above, the speaker remains composed and sticks to the facts when communicating without laying blame or ridiculing the other person.
3 Fail-Safe Steps to Becoming an Assertive Person
You may be thinking this is easier said than done and yes, it is, but it is possible! Here are 3 fail-safe steps to becoming an assertive person:
1. Start by Checking in With Yourself
What is your current style of communication? How is that working for you? Think about and decide how you want to be perceived by others in communication.
If you aren’t sure of your communication style, take this free test to find out where you are on the assertiveness scale.
2. Be Curious and Open to Other Points of View
Shift your focus to learning, not about being right or wrong. Assertive people aren’t focused on winning, but rather being understood and problem-solving with others. They are open to being changed by what they hear and listen and consider other ideas with respect.
3. Use “I” Statements When Speaking and Follow up With a Question.
“I” statements are great because they are specific to you and your thoughts, feelings and perspectives. Practice asserting yourself by starting with “I feel”, “I noticed”, or “I wonder”, and then follow up with a question like “what do you think?” to invite the other person in and share their thoughts.
Be patient. Patient with yourself and others as you strive to improve your communication skills.
Remember that we all learn how to communicate as children based on the environments we grow up in and the examples that we see. The passive people, the aggressive people and the assertive people all are modeling the style they witnessed in their upbringing.
We all have room to improve so let’s strive for open, honest and respectful conversation to create a stronger connection with each other.
More on Assertiveness
- 8 Effective Ways To Be More Assertive
- How to Become More Assertive Easily
- How to Improve Assertive Communication Skills For Better Relationships
Featured photo credit: Luis Quintero via unsplash.com