Many of us struggle with being assertive in our interactions with others. Oftentimes, we tend more towards either passiveness or aggressiveness when dealing with others. Those who tend toward passivity, are likely to keep quiet and withdraw from conflict and may allow others to make decisions for them rather than speaking up and stating their opinions, wants or needs. Passive people tend to have underlying self-doubt about the validity of their feelings or thoughts and their right to express them. Those who tend towards aggressiveness, are likely to dominate in conflict and ignore the rights of others in the pursuit of having their opinions, wants, and needs heard without regard for the feelings of others. They may be hostile or even physically aggressive in pursuit of their own desires. A third tendency we may have is to behave passive-aggressively by not communicating our wants/needs openly (passiveness) while subtlety sabotaging the person we are in conflict with either through backstabbing behavior, being sarcastic in our interactions, or complaining about him or her to others (aggressiveness).
Some may feel that this is just who they are and these patterns can’t be changed, however, there is a better way to communicate and that is to learn to be more assertive. An assertive person is able to communicate his or her feelings, beliefs, desires, and needs openly and honestly while also understanding and accepting the rights of others to communicate their feelings, beliefs, desires, and needs. Additionally, assertive people take responsibility for themselves and do not blame others for their choices. There are many benefits to communicating in a more assertive manner including:
- Gaining confidence in who you are and your right to express yourself.
- Respecting the rights of others as well as your own.
- Improving communication with others by being more open and honest and, thus, improving your relationships.
- Making it easier to have your own needs and desires met because others are more aware of them.
- Decreasing stress and anxiety in relationships while allowing for more calm, straightforward communication.
For most of us, learning to communicate more assertively will take some time and effort. If you feel this may be an area you need to improve, you will need to honestly evaluate your own natural tendencies in your interactions with others and especially how you tend to deal with conflict. If you tend toward passive behavior, you will need to work to accept yourself and your right to your own feelings, thoughts, and beliefs first. Next, you will need to work to communicate and express yourself clearly and confidently. If you tend toward aggressive behavior, you will need to work to accept the validity of others’ feelings, thoughts, and beliefs and come to an understanding that validating others does not invalidate you or make you powerless. Then, you will need to work to calmly hear others out, especially during times of conflict, while also clearly and calmly expressing yourself.
Working to make changes in your communication style and working towards assertiveness can be difficult. If you find that you would like more help in learning how to make these changes, the many counselors on staff at The Well Counseling Center are here to help. Please give our office a call and we can help you get started on your journey towards more assertive communication and more fulfilling interactions with others.