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  • Writer's pictureKathy Miles

The Power of Assertiveness

The Power of Assertiveness

Assertiveness is a great skill to master, especially in the workplace. However, it is something that is often shied away from or used incorrectly.

There is a fine line between assertiveness and aggressiveness so learning how to use assertiveness effectively is the key to success. Sometimes assertiveness is likened to being bossy, annoying, or pushy. This should never be the case.

Assertion is a key communication skill. It means that you are a person who not only expresses yourself effectively, but that you also know how to get your point of view, beliefs and thoughts across confidently without resorting to being disrespectful to the thoughts and beliefs of others.

While being assertive can help you communicate better, it can also have the benefit of helping boost your self-esteem and self-worth, which then encourages others to respect you more.

It may seem that some people seem to be naturally assertive, but don’t worry if you are not one of these people! This is because assertion is a skill that like a lot of other things in life, can be learned, practised and mastered.

Why Assertion Works

Being assertive works as a way of efficient communication because of one simple fact: it is based off of mutual respect.

Assertiveness is about listening, influencing and negotiating so that everyone is happy with the outcome.

This diplomatic, and effective form of communication shows that you not only respect yourself (because you are willing and able to stand up for your own personal beliefs, thoughts and feelings), but that you also respect the rights of other people to have their own set of beliefs, thoughts and feelings. This mutual respect helps open up the lines of communication and works wonders when it comes to resolving conflicts.

The Difference Between Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive

Like all communication, when it comes to being assertive, it is not only about what you say, but how you say it. It is the words, tones, body language and actions used.

Often our message will get lost, we will lose people’s respect and we will find it difficult to gain a suitable outcome, if we end up communicating in a way that is too passive, or too aggressive. Let’s look at the difference between these now:

Passive – Passive people are often shy people who don’t want to rock the boat. They feel that other’s opinions, thoughts and feelings are more important than their own, or they don’t feel confident enough to put voice to their own thoughts and feelings. This means that they usually agree (through not disagreeing) with what is decided by others.

Being shy, or too easy-going may not sound like bad qualities to have, however they can most definitely hinder your ability to properly communicate your message. When you are being passive, you are sending a message to the world that you do not believe that your thoughts, feelings or beliefs are as real, or as important as those of the people around you. While this may not be what you actually feel or think, being too passive gives others the green light to ignore your wants and your needs.

Aggressive – The direct opposite of being passive is being aggressive. These people will push their own agenda, no matter the cost. While there is a time and place for being aggressive, this type of behaviour conflicts with being assertive by disregarding the mutual respect that assertion is meant to create.

Being too aggressive shows others that you are bullish and will disregard their feelings, thoughts and beliefs in order to get your way.

You may find at the beginning that this type of behaviour gets results, but it will eventually come at a high cost in terms of lost respect and a negative workplace culture.

Passive-Aggressive – Passive-aggressiveness is essentially when someone is being aggressive but in a more passive manner (as opposed to be overtly aggressive).

Classic examples are when someone says something critical or mean but covers it up with a joke. Or when someone covers up their true feelings about something (for example madness) but then their behaviour shows their true feelings. For example, they might say they aren’t mad but then refuse to speak to you for days, or they might stubbornly ignore what they have been tasked with so that the idea fails.

Over time, passive-aggressive behaviours wear on relationships as it tends to undercut the base-level of mutual respect needed to properly communicate.

Tips for Being More Assertive

Because assertion is a skill that can be learned, improved and developed, there are certain things that you can do in order to increase your skill level. Here are some tips for bringing more assertion into your life:

  • Practice those Listening Skills – It is important to express your point of view and the outcome you would like to reach, but it is equally as important to listen to how things are from another person’s point of view. Only then can you come up with a win-win outcome.

  • ​Use ‘I’ Statements - Using ‘I’ statements shows others that the ideas you are communicating are your own without sounding accusatory. This helps maintain the level of mutual of respect. Some examples of this are:

  • “I disagree,” rather than “you are wrong.”

  • “I feel we should…” rather than “we need to do this…”

  • "In my opinion….” rather than “this is the way it is…”

  • Learn to Say ‘No’ - If you are the type of person who finds it difficult to turn down a request, try implementing the phrase "No, unfortunately I will be unable to help you with that today." into your lexicon. Often times "no" is enough, and explanations are not needed.

  • Use Appropriate Body Language – When being assertive, appropriate body language is just as important as the words you use. You should ensure that your body language is open, supportive and encouraging. You should look relaxed (not threatening or aggressive), use eye contact and speak in a clear and confident tone.

  • Keep an Emotional Balance - While conflict can be difficult for everybody, giving into strong emotions on either side of the spectrum will take you further away from assertion. Making sure to keep your emotions in check will help with keeping mutual respect, and resolving conflicts quickly, and efficiently.

  • Look for a Win-Win Outcome – A sure fire way to enhance mutual respect is to look for solutions that make everyone happy. Yes, while it is hard to please everyone, there is usually some kind of middle ground that everyone will be happy with. This allows everyone to have had their say and feel like they are walking away with a win.

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