Most people have experienced situations where they have not received what they wanted or needed. These might have been at work, with friends, family, or in intimate relationships. Some may have thought “I am just not an assertive person” and let it go or potentially have it fester into ongoing resentment or sense of helplessness. Some, may have reacted in an opposite manner, with anger and frustration, but this too did not result in needs being met but rather fractured relationships.
Assertiveness is important in all spheres of life from domestic to social to vocational. If you have ever found it difficult to get your point across, to even speak up or keep your cool and had a difficult time communicating your needs, you will undoubtedly recognise the importance of assertive communication in balancing relationships and having needs met.
Whilst one might accept these circumstances as the norm of not being assertive, assertiveness is actually a set of skills that can be learned and developed. Personality, culture, life experiences and previous relationships may all make this skill harder to learn for some people, however it is possible to learn to be assertive and doing so is likely to make a positive difference to one’s life.
So what is Assertiveness and what is it not?
Although the meaning of “assertive” may be familiar, it is important to consider what Assertive Communication actually looks like and what it entails.
Assertive communication has been defined as “the ability to speak and interact in a manner that considers and respects the rights and opinions of others while also standing up for your rights, needs, and personal boundaries” (Pipas & Jaradat, 2010, pp. 649). In other words, it’s a communication style which is comprised of direct yet calm, respectful and reasonable expression of your needs whilst also taking the other party’s needs into account. It is standing up for your values without impeding another’s right to do so. Assertiveness is a key skill that can help you to better manage yourself, people and situations. It can help you to influence others in order to gain acceptance, agreement or behaviour change whilst allowing one to feel less guilty for saying ‘no’ to tasks or plans that may not be serving them. It is not coming out as the champion of a heated argument. Assertiveness is knowing when and how to demonstrate your view.
Conceptually, if we look at communication styles on a continuum, assertiveness is the middle balance between being passive (where one is overly focussed on the needs of others’, but struggles to vocalise their own) and being aggressive (where a person may be overly forthright and demanding about their needs, but fail to acknowledge the needs and wants of others). Assertiveness is therefore a positive personality characteristic that enables individuals to be present, actively engaged and aware of their rights, whilst also extending the same to others. They are a benefit to both themselves and society (Parmaksiz, 2019).
Benefits of Assertiveness vs Consequences of when it’s lacking
The importance of feeling considered, heard and valued is well established. Not having our reasonable needs or wants met and feeling that these are not seen as important or valued, leads to feelings of stress and upset. These negative emotions can compound over time and can become a “time bomb” with detrimental impacts on our self-esteem, anxiety and stress (Bulantika and Sari, 2019). A lack of assertiveness may contribute to depression and anxiety, whereas maladaptive approaches to assertiveness may manifest as aggression (American Psychological Association, n.d.a, para. 1).
What are some of the traits of Assertive Communicators?
There are certain traits that are present in effective assertive communication, spanning both verbal and non-verbal characteristics.
- Direct eye contact which communicates confidence and that the person is not intimidated
- Assertive posture/stance which balances an open confident stance without looking aggressive. Hand gestures and fidgeting also need to be minimised.
- Tone of voice should be confident, strong, but not loud and aggressive.
- Clarity of communication is vital, so using specific words that clearly communicate ones needs with little room for ambivalence can assist in getting the message across.
- Facial expression needs to remain calm and important to not express anger or anxiety.
- Timing of any conversations needs to be considered and appropriate as should the audience
- Non-threatening: the person should not blame or threaten the others in order to get their way.
- Ability to own your mistakes whilst not taking the ownership for the mistakes of others is part of standing up for own beliefs.
- Communication needs to be framed in a positive, proactive but precise manner and self criticism should be avoided when trying to be assertive. It’s imperative that when trying to have effective communication, you’re clear on your position and needs.
While assertive communication skills come naturally for some individuals, these skills can be developed through practice. Effective communication can assist career progression and improve relationships. Relationships are complex and individual and sometimes we may need additional support navigating them. Psychological therapy can be helpful to develop skills in assertiveness in a safe supportive space. If you would like some support with better managing communication and improving the quality of interactions, why not give us a call today? Our team of highly skilled and well-experienced practitioners are here to help.
- American Psychological Association (n.d.a) Assertivness. In APA Discitonary of Psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/assertiveness
- Bishop, S. (2013). Develop your assertiveness. London, UK: Kogan Page Limited.
- Bulantika, S. Z., & Sari, P. (2019). The effectiveness of assertive training techniques and thought-stopping techniques to increase student assertiveness ability. Biblio Couns: Jurnal Kajian Konseling danPendidikan, 2(3), 109–116.
- Millacci, T (2017). Assertiveness in the Workplace: A Quick Guide. https://positivepsychology.com/assertiveness/
- Pipaş, M., & Jaradat, M. (2010). Assertive communication skills. Annales Universitatis Apulensis Series Oeconomica, 12, 649–656.
- Williams, M (2023). What is Assertiveness and why isis important. https://www.lawsonpsychology.com.au/2023/06/30/what-is-assertiveness-and-why-is-it-important/
Our Blog Author
This blog was written by Lana Lubomirska – Psychologist at YMM.
Lana is a warm, friendly and empathic practitioner with experience in working with children, adolescents and adults from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. She is committed to providing a client-centred safe environment for every individual and assisting clients along their journey.
To learn more about Lana, check out the “Our Team” page on our website! https://yourmindmatters.net.au/our-team/