How to Start Being More Assertive: A Balancing Act

There are three main types of communication styles and you’ve probably heard of them before: passive, aggressive and assertive. Let’s define what those styles mean. Passive communication means that you often put your other’s rights/needs first and your’s second. Aggressive communication means that your rights/needs take priority and other’s are second. Assertive communication means that you are respecting both your own needs and the needs of others. It’s a balanced middle ground between the other two styles. Unfortunately, it is easy to tend to lean toward the more extremes than the middle ground.

Why is it important to be assertive in your communication?

Let’s first answer that by talking about the effects of being unassertive. Unassertive behavior can lead to low self-esteem. When we are passive, we don’t get our needs met and don’t feel respected, which can lead to resentment and anger. When we are aggressive, we don’t exercise empathy and compassion for others which helps us have strong connections to others.

When we can be assertive, we can learn balance. We will be able to show empathy for others and at the same time, make sure that we feel respected and our own needs are being met as well. This will lead to a happier state of mind and more healthy relationships.

So, how do we begin to practice or develop assertiveness?

My first suggestion is to create a solid foundation with recognizing what your rights and needs are as a human being. Manuel J. Smith suggested the following rights in the book, “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty.”

• You have the right to judge your own behaviour, thoughts, and emotions, and to
take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.
• You have the right to say “no”.
• You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behaviour.
• You have the right to judge if you are responsible for finding solutions to other
people’s problems.
• You have the right to change your mind.
• You have the right to disagree with someone’s opinion.
• You have the right to make mistakes – and be responsible for them.
• You have the right to say, ‘I don’t know’.
• You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.
• You have the right to say, ‘I don’t understand’.
• You have the right to say, ‘I don’t care’.

The important thing to remember is that these rights also have accompanying responsibilities. We each have the responsibility to  ourselves but also to think about how our thoughts and actions affect others. That’s where the balancing comes in.

Lastly, what are some basic assertiveness techniques I can start using right away?

One technique is being direct by using “I statements.” Some examples of this include, “I need to be home by 5:00.” or “I need some time to think about that.” You can also use I statements to identify and express how you feel. “I feel nervous about committing to that job.” “I feel frustrated when I am asked to do something with such short notice.”

Another technique that I mentioned earlier is empathy. Empathy involves putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Try to imagine how it might feel for them or what they might be experiencing. Also, use empathy for yourself. Think about what you are feeling or experiencing and allow yourself to validate it. “I am feeling burned out because I never say no. I have a right to say no sometimes and that’s okay.” Choose your actions based on the balance between empathizing with others and yourself. You may need to compromise and sometimes say yes because you are concerned about the other person’s well-being and want to help but there may be times where you respect yourself and recognize that you won’t be much help if you have to much on your plate and you need to say no.

Try these techniques for a little while and see how empowering it can be to be more assertive in your communication. If you’d like more help in developing assertiveness, don’t be afraid to seek out help.

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