Assertiveness is an essential communication skill. Individuals who are assertive are equally respectful of their needs and the needs of others. Learning to be assertive can be difficult. The alternatives to being assertive are being passive, being aggressive, and being passive-aggressive.
1. Being passive.
When an individual is being passive, he or she is accommodating the needs of others, without acknowledging his or her own needs. This person is being, “the doormat” or, “the push-over.” They may cry, run away, give in, or avoid confrontation. Often when people are being passive, they are afraid to express their needs or desires. They believe that if they express their true feelings, that their relationships will be ruined. Instead of expressing their concerns, they remain quiet. While they may have maintained their relationship with this person, they are still sad, anxious, or angry because their needs are not being met. If you have a tendency to be passive, I want you to know that you have a right to express your feelings. You deserve to be heard. You are not anybody’s doormat. You can express your thoughts and feelings, and still maintain your relationships.
2. Being aggressive.
When an individual is being aggressive, he or she is accommodating their own needs, without acknowledging the needs of others. This person is being, “the bully.” They may yell, call names, and make nasty remarks. They are angry that their needs are not being met, and they are willing to disrespect others in order to help themselves. They ruin their relationships. Due to their extreme efforts to meet their own needs, they have hurt other people’s feelings. Their feelings may have been alleviated, but now they are alone. If you have a tendency to be aggressive, I want you to know that you can express your thoughts and feelings, while still respecting the thoughts and feelings of others.
3. Being passive-aggressive.
When an individual is being passive-aggressive, he or she is expressing anger in an indirect way. This person is still refusing to meet the needs of others, but they are avoiding direct confrontation. When I was giving speech therapy to a three year old boy recently, he chose to resist my demands. I was asking him to pronounce words that began with the letter, “k”. He has difficulty producing the, “k” sound. He closed his eyes, and tilted his head forward. His body became very stiff. He would not look at me, or answer any of my questions. He just remained very quiet. This is a perfect example of passive-aggressive behavior.
He refused to meet my demands, but he completely shut down, in order to avoid conflict. Adults tend to display passive-aggressive behaviors in less extreme ways. For example, leaving a nasty note on someone’s car, or making sarcastic comments that make the other person feel uneasy. For example, a mother who is angry with her family for not doing chores might say something like, “I didn’t realize that I was the maid of the house.” If you have a tendency to be passive-aggressive, I want you to know that you can express your concerns directly, without making other people uncomfortable.
4. Being assertive.
Individuals who are assertive directly confront others with their concerns. They are not nasty or violent, but they do not apologize for their feelings. They do not avoid open and honest discussions. Assertive people are happy because they do not neglect their feelings. They are well-adjusted, and maintain healthy relationships. They are able to express their needs in a way that does not hurt other people’s feelings. They are more successful in their careers and in their personal relationships, because they refuse to be, “the push-over” or, “the bully.”
Keep in mind that if you can not express your feelings to someone in an honest, and respectful manner, then this person is not worth being in your life. If somebody wants to take advantage of you, then they are not treating you properly. You should not be afraid to express your needs, due to a fear of losing your relationship with this person. If the person who is being unreasonable is your boss or co-worker, try looking for another job. You deserve to be happy. When expressing your thoughts, try to use, “I statements.” For example, “I get upset when you forget to wash the dishes.” Using, “I statements” is a great way to be assertive.
You are taking responsibility for your own feelings, without blaming others. When you make statements that begin with the word, “You”, people are more likely to become defensive and angry. “You” statements are less productive and more confrontational. For example, “You make me angry because you ALWAYS forget to do the dishes, and leave everything to ME! You always take advantage of me, and you don’t respect me!” This is a form of aggression. Most people do not respond well to these statements. If you are very angry, give yourself some time to cool off, before confronting someone about your feelings. You are more likely to be assertive, and get your needs met, without hurting the other person.
Just remember that we are all equal.
Your needs are just as important as other people’s needs. Once you learn to be assertive, your life will improve. Your thoughts and feelings will be more positive, and your relationships will be healthier.