Assertiveness – Are we doing it wrong?

Note: This article contains 1,421 words and 1 image, with an estimated read time of 6 minutes.


“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden


How often do you get talked into something you don’t’ want to do?  Do you often experience situations that infuriate, annoy or frustrate you but do absolutely nothing about them? Do you find it difficult to say “no” without being offensive?

If so then you are not alone. As children, we were usually reprimanded when we expressed ideas or opinions that differed from our peers or parents. We were effectively taught that revealing our true intentions and feelings or thoughts will result in rejection.

Therefore, many people have become intent on pleasing others at the expense of themselves. It has gotten so bad that some cannot identify their personal thoughts and feelings. This is where assertiveness comes in. Assertiveness allows you to clearly communicate your thoughts and intentions without aggression, manipulation or sarcasm, respecting your feelings and those of others in the process.


What is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is the ability to communicate your thoughts and your rights without trampling on the rights of others. It is expressive, open and direct communication which is self-enhancing. Assertiveness is about maintaining our sense of self-esteem and voicing our feelings and opinions clearly without violating the rights of others.


Benefits of Assertiveness

Assertiveness allows you to maintain your sense of self-worth and generally gains you the respect of others. It can also improve your relationship with others and helps you exercise self-control in a more fluid way.

Interestingly, in the 1950s, Dr. Joseph Wolpe made some fascinating discoveries about assertiveness. He discovered that standing up and speaking out has some physiological benefits. Being assertive lowered anxiety in his subjects. Furthermore, people who used assertion to express their feelings and thoughts were reportedly less angry.

Leaders have also found out that assertiveness is equally important in business. This is probably because managing people requires that you know how to communicate openly, give feedback honestly, and delegate responsibility without being aggressive.

There is a whole body of research documenting the value of assertiveness both in everyday communication and therapy. Assertiveness allows you to tell people how you want to be treated differently. Without knowing it some of us have allowed others to exploit us or violate our rights, not necessarily because they wanted to but because we have never honestly expressed our thoughts and feelings.

Assertiveness allows us to tell people how we want to be treated differently without coming off as rude. Once you begin to stand up for yourself, you will feel better about yourself and become more self-confident. This will significantly improve your chances of getting what you really want from life and in business.

Furthermore, assertiveness allows you to be a better communicator, helping you stand out as a leader and be viewed as worth following.

Generally, Assertive people are –

  • Great managers. They treat people with respect and fairness and as such gain the respect of others.
  • Active problem solvers. They are highly motivated to do whatever it takes to overcome any challenges they encounter.
  • Less anxious and stressed. They don’t feel threatened when the unexpected happens.


Common Misconception about Assertiveness

  1. Assertiveness is a way of letting off steam

Some people are of the opinion that assertiveness allows them to get rid of pent-up anger. They believe that it gives them free rein to their emotions. That is not true. The purpose of assertiveness is to bring about positive changes.

Assertiveness does not mean acting in your own interest without a kind consideration for other people’s rights, desires, feelings, or needs – that is hostile behaviour (aggression).

  1. Being assertive helps you to get whatever you want

Although it is true that being assertive will increase the chances of getting what you want, this is because most times we shy away from saying what we want because quite often we feel we are being unreasonable or assume that expressing our thoughts will make us less popular. And as a result, we refrain from speaking out at all which is rather unfortunate.

Granted, asking will increase the possibility of getting what you want, but it doesn’t guarantee it. In essence assertiveness is not about always getting what you want, but it involves the ability and willingness to express our feelings and thoughts freely.


  1. Assertiveness will hurt the feelings of others

This is a common myth that people find hard to dispel. The truth is nobody can make you sad or happy unless you allow that to happen. Eleanor Roosevelt put this aptly “nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent”. This is a fundamental belief in assertiveness.

Most of us do not speak up for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings. Now, keep in mind that anytime you hold off from speaking up, you are indirectly sending out a message to the other person. You are saying that this other person cannot take care of himself or herself and that you are responsible for the way they feel about themselves.

You have the right to express your thoughts and let the other person decide how he or she wants to feel about what you said. Assertiveness means communicating your thoughts and opinions tactfully and honestly, and if someone chooses to feel upset about that then there’s probably nothing you can do. That’s not to say you cannot support them through it.


Take Action

So how can we decide when to assert ourselves? The best predictor of human behaviour is previous experience. For instance, if you are dealing with a difficult boss and you have been on the receiving end of disrespect and mistreatment and you have decided to speak up and do something about it, there is a huge possibility that some people in the same company were assertive with that boss and nothing has happened to them. Chances are you can do it if someone else has done it too.

Most times we have an irrational fear, a feeling that something terrible will happen if we take that chance. And it is not based on reality. The truth is that most of us have a conditioned emotional response that have been with us since we were kids. What is this person going to say if I do this? What are people going to think about me?

The fact is assertiveness is situational, same with passive behaviour – not speaking out with what’s on your mind. So, if you don’t learn to speak up, you may exhibit aggressive behaviour when in a stressful situation. And as such you act differently according to the situation you find yourself in.

In the workplace setting, some people never express their feelings out of fear of displeasing or hurting the feelings of others. They bottle up their feelings of frustration and anger at work saving it for their loved ones at home. And what this does is cause division among family members.

The need to learn assertiveness cannot be overemphasized as it affects all aspect of life and business. Learning or improving your assertiveness skills will help you become more self-confident and will push you in the direction of your dreams.


The Bottom Line

To become assertive, you need to learn the right skills and have adequate motivation to use those skills in any situation. Assertiveness involves finding the right flow between being passive (not assertive enough) and aggression (hostile behaviour). It also means acknowledging that you deserve to get what you want and standing up for yourself in difficult situations.

It is a powerful communication tool based in equality and respect for yourself and for others. Anthony Robbins famously said “the quality if our lives is determined by the way we communicate with others.”

Of course, these changes do not happen overnight, but by constant practice and with the help of a coach you can learn assertiveness and slowly build up the self-belief and confidence you need to become more assertive. You’ll also likely find that you become more respected, efficient and productive.


Other blogs by the author (click here).

About the author: Kyle Kalloois the Chief Executive Officer, Business Coach with Change My Life Coachingand Change My Business Coaching. With 25 plus years of experience in senior management positions, Kyle has established a robust record in strategic positioning and brand management, operations restructuring, feasibility assessments, change management, people engagement, and executive development. Also, he is the recipient of awards for Networking, Profitability, Credibility, Innovation and Improvement in previous roles. http://www.changemylifecoaching.ca 

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