Standing up for yourself is very important, the degree to which it’s done is equally important. A bit too much can be perceived as being aggressive. So what is assertiveness? It is the ability to express one’s thoughts, feelings and beliefs without violating the rights of others. It is of course the ideal, if we could all communicate assertively we would be able to say exactly what we feel and not offend or disrespect others in the process. However, that is not always possible because we are not naturally assertive. The way we are brought up plays an imperative role in the way we express ourselves. On the one hand for instance, person A may be raised in a more collective culture where the needs of the group are more important than those of the individual. Person A is encouraged to be humble and put others first. People from such backgrounds may find it hard to express their feelings, especially if they feel that these are not shared or common. On the other hand, if person B is from a more individualistic culture, the needs of the self are more important and expressing oneself is encouraged.
There is no wrong or right here. However, when it comes to the language used and the behaviours displayed by each one, person A might appear somewhat passive and person B somewhat aggressive. These are of course not the only possibilities; life experiences and different responses received may reinforce some behaviours and discontinue others. The good news though is that assertiveness, like other behaviours, can be learnt. Language is an essential starting point because words carry so much meaning, moreover different individuals interpret what is being said in different ways. What is not being said or nonverbal communication is equally as important and can drastically change the meaning of spoken words.
There are numerous techniques that can be utilised to enhance assertiveness and with time, like any learnt behaviour these can become ingrained in our communication practices. The benefits of being assertive are many and include among them the ability to build honest interpersonal relationships with co-workers, family and friends; recognising and understanding one’s own feelings; creating win-win situations and gaining self-confidence; and the added bonus of actually getting want you want more often or reaching mutually beneficial compromises.
For more tips on Assertiveness and the IE Group modules, contact us for a complimentary assessment with one of our executive coaches.
Puleng Rathebe, Executive Coach at the IE Group
Michel, F. 2008. Assert yourself! Centre for Clinical Interventions.
Mayo Clinic. 2014. Stress Management. Healthy Lifestyle.