“Assertiveness” is one of those words that can make you cower inside. For many of us, it reeks of conflict, confrontation, or exposure. It asks us to go naked in the lion’s den. It signals danger and evokes fear.
And yet, once you discover its door-opening magic, its power to move you with ease and grace toward
greater success and deeper connection, you’ll wonder how you ever managed to be afraid.
Why Assertiveness Feels Scary
Before we can discover its magic, though, we need to get clear about what assertiveness is–and isn’t.
The reason the word scares us is because we assume that the only time when we need to assert ourselves is when we’re at odds with another person’s opinions or behaviors–when we want them to think or do something differently, or when they want us to think or do something that we’re not comfortable thinking or doing. And that means we are in conflict with them.
In other words, we look at situations where we want a different outcome than someone else wants as win-lose situation. The only choices we see are to be assertive and stand up for ourselves or to give in.
Ouch! That’s a painful choice. If we take a stand, we put ourselves in opposition to the other person. If we don’t take a stand, we lose a little part of who we are. It feels a lot more like lose-lose, either path we take.
But there’s a third way, a way where both people get their needs met. It’s the way where assertiveness is neither offensive nor defensive, but is simply a confident willingness to share our preferences or needs while respecting the other person’s needs as well.
Authentic Assertiveness: From Conflict to Connection
The third way of looking at our differences with others is to see them as a puzzle that we can solve by working together. The final result may not match the picture I had in my mind or that you had in yours. But it can be one that we both think is fine, and we’ll love it because we grew closer in putting it together.
The truth is that all of us would rather be in harmony with each other than in conflict. And authentic assertiveness allows us to create and maintain harmony because it comes from a position of respect.
In fact, on her wonderfully helpful site, Speak Up for Yourself, assertiveness expert Dr. Linda Tillman says that respect is at the very core of assertiveness. “If at any point, you lose respect for yourself or respect for the other person,” she says,” then the communication has become non-assertive or even aggressive.”
Dr. Tillman explains that assertiveness is about connection. It’s about honestly revealing yourself to the other person and about being empathic as the other person explains his or her wants and needs.
Instead of seeing the other person as an adversary, you see her as someone with needs and wants of her own that deserve consideration and respect. When she feels seen and heard, she feels much less need to cling to her position as an expression of her identity. She recognizes that you see her as a whole, complex human being—just like you. Then the door opens for discovering together what kind of picture you can create with the pieces of your puzzle.
The Payoff of Learning Assertiveness
Positive assertiveness, the kind that seeks connection and solutions with others, is a skill that can be easily learned, and with a little practice, easily mastered. Dr. Tillman’s site is an excellent place to begin. You’ll even find a free class on assertiveness there. Read her blog; sign up for her Facebook page. She’s a warm, staright-forward expert. The resource links below provide simple-to-learn instructions as well. And the benefits of learning it make it well worth the investment of your time.
Assertive people, studies show, have fewer health problems and less depression, anxiety, anger, and social isolation than people who lack the skills.
When you learn to pay attention to your needs and express them with authentic assertiveness, you feel more confident and relaxed. You get more of your own needs fulfilled because you learn to state them clearly and to ask for cooperation in a sincere and respectful way.
You create a strong, inviting image of yourself both personally and in your profession. Because learning assertiveness strengthens your listening skills and deepens your empathy, you become more effective in working with others in partnerships and teams. Other people learn that you can be counted on for your honesty and your willingness to be constructive when a problem needs to be resolved.
But above all, learning to be assertive lets you be more fully present in the world, expressing who you truly are and inviting others to do the same. And that is a win-win situation all of us can embrace.
If you found this article helpful, please share it by clicking one of the icons below the following resources.
Tillman, Linda, Ph.D., Speak Up for Yourself — A warm and friendly top-notch guide to confident, assertive, pro-active communication.
How to Be Assertive — A wonderful video series that will make you laugh as you learn.
Road to Well Being — “The ability to effectively communicate our feelings, needs, opinions, and desires provides the bedrock for establishing healthy relationships. “ An excellent resource on the topic. See the differences between assertiveness, aggressiveness, passiveness, and passive-aggression in an enlightening chart.
Scott, Elizabeth, M.S. Learn Assertive Communication in Five Simple Steps — A few quick tips with links to additional articles.