What is this magic word “assertiveness”?
What does it actually mean. For many people there’s a really fine line between assertiveness and aggressiveness and for some there is no line. For some people being aggressive is seen as a way of wielding power and most of them have never learned that there is another, far more effective way to behave. A way that gets results without tears and tantrums, without stress and creates a win-win situation for everyone. And that way is assertiveness.
So here’s a good way of looking at it. At the bottom left of the triangle we have passive – that’s when you choose to do nothing and allow people to trample all over you. For some people being passive is a choice – they believe it gives them an easy life, they can play the victim, refuse to engage with challenging people, ignore matters and hope they go away but the truth is they probably won’t. When you’re being passive you speak quietly, apologise for your opinions if you have any at all, constantly put yourself down and do anything to avoid conflict. The biggest problem with being passive is you give up all control over your own life and when you allow people to treat you badly eventually you start to believe this is how you deserve to be treated. You are inviting people to take advantage of you and waste your precious time and energy.
At the other side of the triangle we have aggressive. Aggressive people are always on the attack, always putting their own needs ahead of everything else, always wanting to “win” and feel superior and not caring about how other people feel about the encounter. When you are being aggressive you put other people down, you are condescending, threatening, boastful and always looking for your next victim to take the blame. Aggressive people get their energy by putting other people down, but inside they may be quite vulnerable. They have a belief that they’re not good enough and that they need to attack first before they get attacked. There’s truth in the old saying that inside every bully is a frightened child
Neither of these states are healthy or sustainable. You can see from the triangle at they are right at the bottom in terms of effectiveness.
Right in the middle and at the top in terms of effectiveness is assertiveness. This is where you feel able to stand up for yourself in a way that doesn’t violate others. When you are being assertive you are being calm and clear, you feel confident enough to state your position but you are able to distinguish between facts and opinion. When you are assertive you are able to be open and honest about your feelings and be willing to explore options that create a win-win situation. When you are being assertive you are able to hear other people’s views without feeling threatened.
So why aren’t we assertive all the time?
Often we learn to be passive or aggressive from our parents. Parents will teach their children to be “seen and not heard” which tells them that their opinion doesn’t matter, and yet paradoxically as children we often see aggressive behaviour being rewarded.
Many people simply don’t know that assertive is even an option! But learning how to be assertive is vital if you want to become a success in life.