Assertiveness Defined

Assertive young woman with metaphorical strong arms drawn in to highlight her assertiveness and strength.

Why should you care what assertiveness is?

What is assertiveness and why do you even need to consider it in your life?

Assertiveness is one of those things everyone has likely heard about but no-one can easily define. We are often told to be more assertive but what exactly does this mean? What are we supposed to do more of? How assertive are we right now? What are other people doing about it? It matters, so let’s define it here.

Assertiveness matters

Your level of assertiveness and comfort when being assertive can have a big effect on your overall management and leadership style, your ability to influence and your overall effectiveness as a communicator. This stuff is important. It can affect the whole of your life if your assertiveness is too low.

There are many on-line self-evaluation questionnaires available. If you want to find out your current level of assertiveness or your preferred interpersonal or influencing style then feel free to try them out. As with most things in life, there can be good or bad and free or paid for; take your pick.

The four influencing styles

Assertiveness is one of the four main classifications of influencing style. The styles are:

  • Assertive
  • Passive
  • Hostile-aggressive
  • Manipulative-aggressive (aka passive-aggressive)

Passive is a type characterised by an “I must lose and you must win” attitude.

Hostile aggressive is an influencing style characterised by an “I must win and you must lose” mentality.

The last influencing style listed is termed manipulative-aggressive or passive-aggressive. This type is characterised by an “I must lose so you must lose” mindset.

Assertiveness is ideally defined as an I win and you win scenario. At a minimum it is an I win and I do it with no detriment to anyone else.

Influencing styles shown graphically. Assertiveness, hostile aggressiveness, manipulative aggressiveness and passivity.

All of these styles are on a continuum. This means we all exhibit the different traits in different degrees at various times in our lives. Categories are useful but in the real world people are not so easily defined. Over the long-term it is likely we will favour one style over the others. This is known as a preference. Our preferences vary depending on context and can change with time and self-development work (if applied). If you are not sure, ask your trusted colleagues. They will then be able to tell you what style they think you prefer and exhibit most. It may shock you.

What do we normally do?

By and large, most of us choose to adopt the passive stance whenever possible, especially at work. You know the old “anything for a quiet life” and “why rock the boat” approach. Does the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” sound familiar?

If you want to be a more effective manager, influencer or communicator, then you need to be as assertive as possible. You need to know what assertiveness is, so I’ll start by defining it.

Assertiveness defined

Assertiveness means creating completely clarity of meaning. It means openness about how one feels and what one needs. People with high assertiveness know how to achieve these things in a non-dysfunctional manner.

This general and broad definition is workable for our purposes. Assertiveness also requires assertive communication skills, assertive body language and a degree of self-confidence. It requires the ability to communicate calmly, thoughtfully and with a high level of emotional intelligence. It means not attacking or yielding unnecessarily to another person.

Assertive people know they have rights. Because of this, assertive people expect certain things. They expect fair and equitable treatment and interactions in their work and life. These rights and expectations come with a caveat. They come with a responsibility to accord other people the very same rights and expectations. So this idea of assertiveness really does equate to a win-win approach to life. Adopting an “I get what I want and you get what you want” approach then means everyone is happy.

Sounds simple enough, so why are we not all doing more of it?

So what can you do about it?

Well, you certainly should be doing something about it in my opinion.

Learning to be more assertive will help you:

  • Express your thoughts and feelings freely
  • Speak up and defend yourself
  • Know and stand up for your rights
  • Negotiate reasonably & effectively
  • Control your emotions effectively during interpersonal conflict

Dealing with difficult people

Being assertive very much applies when we have to manage difficult people. Assertively managing difficult personality types at work can be something of a nightmare for many line managers and supervisors. Some managers seem to have the amazing knack of effectively and confidently with the difficult personality types they encounter. If they can do it, why can’t you?

Get more assertiveness into your life

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That is all for this one

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In the meantime, you might also like to check out these related articles:

Emotional Intelligence is Vital

Hostile-aggressive people at work

Overly passive people problems

Passive-aggressive people at work

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