Anyone can learn the art of respectful assertiveness. If you have ever had to express your needs directly to another person, you know it can be hard to do. Our wishes aren’t always aligned with other persons, like when we ask for a refund for something we bought or try to end a conversation with someone who just won’t quit talking.
Asking for what we need is the principle behind assertiveness. The idea is often confused with aggression, as if being assertive means demanding that others give us what we want.
On the contrary, though, being assertive falls between being passive and being aggressive. It can be a fine line to walk but one worth practicing because of the greater benefits that come from greater assertiveness. Some of the many benefits of being assertive include:
LESS ANXIETY: Social anxiety improves with greater assertiveness; as we face our fears of upsetting others and let them know what we want and need, our fears diminish. In the process, we often discover we don’t get the upset reaction from the other person.
LESS DEPRESSION: Asking for what we need can lead to greater need fulfillment, which can lift our spirits. We also enjoy an enhanced sense of self-efficacy, boosting our view of ourselves and raising our mood.
GREATER SELF-ESTEEM: We practice self-respect when we honor our own needs, which can enhance our views of ourselves. We also provide validation for our perspective by asserting our needs to others.
GREATER SENSE OF AGENCY: It’s easy to feel like a powerless pushover when passively swallowing our needs. By exercising our ability to advocate for ourselves, we reclaim control over our lives.
BETTER RELATIONSHIPS: If assertiveness were selfish or aggressive, we would expect it to hurt our relationships. On the contrary, research shows that greater assertiveness actually improves relationships, making them more harmonious and satisfying. Good things happen when people express their needs directly to one another.
Assertiveness can be practiced and here are some principles to follow:
Be honest with yourself. What do you need in a particular situation? Beware of any tendency to discount your wishes.
Be direct and unapologetic as you let the other person know what you need.
Aim to be positive, expecting a positive response from the other person. This can help the interaction get off on the right foot.
Take responsibility for your needs rather than making it about the other person. For example, let your partner know that you enjoy spending more evenings together, rather than criticizing him or her for being unavailable.
Remind yourself that you are perfectly within your rights to have needs and to express them to people in a position to respond.
Keep in mind the balance you’re aiming for -- honoring your wishes and those of the other person. A collaborative approach is always the best when possible.
Tend to your non-verbal behaviors. Only part of assertiveness has to do with the words we speak. Assertive behavior is also about:
Eye Contact - neither avoid their eyes or staring them down.
Facial Expression - one that matches the words we’re saying (e.g., not smiling while describing frustration).
Posture - standing up straight and facing the person standing up straight facing the person directly, rather than “apologizing” with your body language.
Physical Distance - too close signals aggression; too far away passivity.
Gestures - moving in a fluid relaxed way that suggests confidence (Whether we feel it or not).
Vocal Quality - speaking in a clear, firm tone rather than yelling or speaking meekly.
By practicing these principles, you will find that after a short time, assertiveness feels more and more comfortable and eventually become automatic.