Communication is hard. It’s particularly hard when you are caught up in difficult emotions. Often, when we feel hurt, misunderstood, or angry, communication breaks down. This entry will discuss how to offer assertiveness to those in your life, and why it’s important to do so.
What Even is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness, according to the Better Health website is the ability to communicate your thoughts and feelings, verbally and non-verbally, to another, while still showing them respect and not intentionally hurting them or their feelings.
In a nutshell, assertive communication is the behaviour you engage in when you want to be heard, want to stand your ground, and also want to offer respect and support to the other person or people involved. Assertiveness shows up everywhere. We can be assertive at home, in the workplace, at school, and while relaxing with our friends.
Why Bother Being Assertive?
Assertive communication goes hand in hand with setting boundaries. Often, the importance of being assertive becomes apparent when someone crosses one of our boundaries. This generally happens when someone acts in a way that is directly opposed to our core values – stealing, lying, self-centredness to name a few. Sometimes, we can walk away from these situations, but other times we must take action. This is where assertiveness comes in.
The need to be assertive also shows up whenever we go after something we want. You may want a better price on a used car, a re-mark on an assignment you’re sure you did better on, or to ask for a raise. These things all require the use of assertive language and skills. You are standing up for yourself and what you want, in a healthy, non-aggressive way. Just be prepared for a resounding ‘no!’ from time to time!
It can be important to know what assertiveness isn’t as well. Assertive communication doesn’t involve manipulation or aggression: it’s not about getting your own way at any cost. We all have our values and our beliefs and sometimes it’s necessary to let go of something, even after you assertively communicate that you want it.
There are lots of positive benefits to using assertive language. Doing a small amount of research, I found an excellent article (here) that breaks the benefits of assertiveness into 4 groups:
- Improved self-image – you aren’t acting aggressively to force others to do what you want, and you aren’t passively disengaging. And that feels good.
- Improved capacity to understand others – you think about others’ needs and realize that ultimately we are all simply trying to have these needs met. How we go about it is the important part.
- Improved self-awareness and self-confidence – you become more aware of what you really want, and more confident in your ability to go after it. You start to live more in line with your values and share them with the world more readily.
- More time and energy – by not fighting with or constantly giving in to others, you take your power back. That power equates to more free time and energy to focus on doing the things you really want to do in life.
This list is not exhaustive, but it certainly covers the core reason why assertiveness is important.
How to Offer Assertiveness Mindfully
So we know what assertiveness is, and why it’s important. Let’s talk about how to offer assertiveness to others.
Dr. Lara Fielding has written an excellent article explaining the different processes involved with offering assertiveness in a mindful way. She says that mindful assertiveness is a balancing act between two people’s desires, and in order to continue experiencing a fulfilling relationship, we owe it to the other person to listen to what they need while still setting our own boundaries.
The model she uses is called VAR:
- Validate – let the person know you’ve heard them. The trick here is to really listen to what’s currently happening for them. Where are they coming from? Reflect back to them that you understand. “I hear what you’re saying, you’d love it if I….”
- Assert – once you’ve validated their point of view, the next step is to offer your own. Offer your own boundary. What are you willing to do? What aren’t you willing to do? Saying what you want in an even, measured way is a skill, so don’t be afraid to practice it often!
- Reinforce – this is particularly useful for ongoing relationships. It can be very useful to offer feedback and praise when a person engages in the behaviour you assertively asked for from them. They are more likely to do it in future if they know you will appreciate it.
Try it out for yourself – offer assertiveness to those closest to you. Experiment. See what happens. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Do you struggle with assertiveness? Do you find yourself becoming aggressive or passive when someone acts in a certain way? Are you communicating your values?
Even today I still struggle with being assertive in certain situations. If I felt threatened or intimated for example, I would find it much harder to assert my values. I would still try – as I said, assertiveness is a skill and must be practiced. That being said I am sure my assertiveness would come across with a modicum of anxiety!
I hope you find some value in this article, and use some of these skills going forward in your life.
Stephen is a budding counsellor, avid craft beer enthusiast, and part-time Buddhist. He enjoys hiking, connecting with nature, losing himself in deep conversation, and contributing to the Conscious Beginnings blog.