Some mistake assertiveness for aggressiveness when, in fact, it is quite the opposite. To be assertive is to demonstrate self-compassion, to value yourself and your ideas. Assertive communication is a core communication skill, which can help to improve self-esteem and help you communicate more directly and effectively with others. It is based on ideas of mutual respect and accountability.
Some opposites of assertive communication include passive or aggressive communication. And then there’s the grand daddy of them all-- passive-aggressive communication. These approaches tend to leave all parties feeling as if their needs or feelings aren’t being heard, because, well… they’re not (or at least not in a way that values both sides).
The dictionary defines assertiveness as: having or showing a confident and forceful personality.
I think that’s an interesting duality- to have OR show confidence. So you can be assertive even when you don’t feel confident, you just have to show or demonstrate that you believe in what you’re saying.
Situations that call for assertiveness include relationships (both personal, intimate relationships and those with your family and friends), workplace situations, and just everyday interactions with your fellow humans. Have you ever been in line and someone cuts in front of you and you just don’t know how to react? How can we be self-compassionate and mindful, while also standing up for what is right? Has anyone ever said something just downright rude and you wanted to react in anger or aggressiveness, or just run away with your hands covering your ears?
Even if you don’t have the confidence to stand up for yourself (yet), here are 6 techniques you can employ in order to “fake it ‘til you make it”. You might just find it feels really good.
This lets others know that your ideas are coming from you- a human being. Saying “I disagree” sounds much different than “You’re wrong”. It owns what you’re saying. vs. attacking or blaming the other person.
Keep Emotions In Check
Conflict is almost never easy, and the ideas swirling around in your head may lead to emotional responses. If you feel too emotional going into a situation, wait a bit if possible. Then work on remaining calm, and keeping your voice even and firm. This is especially true in the workplace. Set a time to meet that gives you both the space and time to think about how you want to communicate instead of reacting in the heat of the moment or argument. This can prevent further breakdowns in trust and negative assumptions being made.
This works if the interaction is with someone who is being manipulative or aggressive. The idea is to present an unconditionally calm response, responding in agreeance with any truth, rather than defending. Essentially you’re acting as a sea of fog where the arguments are thrown but not returned. When the aggression is not met in the intended way, it loses steam. Then you have the ability to work things out calmly.
"What kind of mother let’s her kids run around the store like that?"
I can see my children’s behavior is uncomfortable for you.
“Uncomfortable? Yes, my ears are piercing with the sound and they’re going to hurt someone!”
Yes, I’m concerned someone might get hurt as well.
Jaw drops, judgey lady walks away.
Stuck Record Technique
This involves repeating what you want, over and over, in a calm way, while avoiding the arguments brought up by the other side. We’ll call this the “Marshawn Lynch Effect".
Imagine you are upset over a charge from your phone company that you think is incorrect.
I did not authorize these additional charges to my account and would like them removed please.
"It looks like someone from your household authorized these charges."
I am the account holder and did not authorize these additional charges to my service and would like them removed please.
"You cannot expect me to remove the charges after you’ve used the additional services."
I will not be paying for these unauthorized charges and would like them removed please.
By continuing to press for your position, you will ensure the dialogue does not become derailed by irrelevant facts. The key is to remain calm, cool and collected, and to not give in. Accept a compromise only if you are accepting of the outcome of that compromise.
This technique is useful for helping to accept praise or compliments. Many people don’t feel they deserve such praise and will brush it off or change the subject. But to begin to embrace it, you might find it easier to accept if you ask for more. Sounds weird right?
I love your hat, it looks really good on you.
Thanks. It’s my favorite too. What do you like about it?
A passive response would look more like this: “oh, it’s my sister’s.” or self-deprecating response- “Really? I think I look terrible today.”
This is the oppositive of positive enquiry, and it’s a way to help you accept feedback or criticism. This is a particularly good skill to have in the workplace.
"That report you wrote was full of errors, it was essentially illegible."
It wasn’t my best work. What could I do to make it better?
This response shows accountability and a desire to do the best you can, without blaming for the mistake or shortfall. This is different from a defensive or aggressive response which could be “Well if you wouldn’t pile so much work on my plate I could do better!”
Start small and practice assertiveness often.
These techniques can be applied everyday, but the change in your communication style may take months or even years to change. What matters is that you have a desire to communicate more effectively and be heard. You might just find yourself getting more of what you want.
Written by Jessica Crain, Co-Owner and Director of Operations of Mindful Therapy Group. She is most often seen around the office tinkering with the website, office supplies or working with the team in an effort to improve systems and communication.