The Basics of Assertive Communication

Assertive behavior is described as standing up for one’s rights without violating the rights of others. The goal of assertion is to find a mutual solution and give straight communication. Behaving with appropriate assertion increases the likelihood of success in human interaction.

Assertive behavior is active, direct, and honest. It communicates an impression of self-respect and respect for others. By being assertive, we view our wants, needs, and rights as equal with those of others. An assertive person works toward “win- win” outcomes by influencing, listening, and negotiating so that others willingly choose to cooperate. This behavior leads to success without retaliation and encourages honest, open relationships.

Assertive Behavior Payoffs

  • Helps build positive self-esteem
  • Fosters fulfilling relationships
  • Reduces fear and anxiety
  • Improves chances of getting desired results
  • Satisfies needs

Assertive Penalties

  • Negative results may occur
  • May get hurt
  • Difficult to alter ingrained habits

Examples of Assertive Behavior

  • Respecting needs, opinions, and feelings, both their own and others’
  • Apologizing when at fault, but allowing others to take responsibility for their own actions as well
  • Respecting one’s own rights and the rights of others
  • Asking for things one needs or wants
  • Dealing with conflict in healthy ways
  • Being mature enough to take responsibility for oneself
  • Approaching conflict from a position of respect and trying to seek out a win/win situation for all involved
  • Establishing a solid set of boundaries for oneself and communicating them clearly
  • Respecting the boundaries of others
  • Being aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and accepting both
  • Not being manipulative
  • Feeling in control of one’s life

Assertion is a choice. A major goal of assertion is to enable people to take charge of their own lives. It helps them break out of ruts and away from stereotyped or compulsive behaviors. At its best, assertion helps people develop the power of choice over their actions. Sometimes it is wise to give in to others, and sometimes it may be necessary to aggressively defend one’s rights. Therefore, the ultimate goal of assertion is to help people choose their behaviors effectively, not have them behave assertively in every situation.

Basic Assertive Guidelines

  • Actively listen
  • Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements
  • Attack the problem, not the person
  • Use factual descriptions instead of judgments or exaggeration
  • Express thoughts, feelings and opinions reflecting ownership
  • Use clear, direct requests or directives when you want others to do something rather than hinting, being indirect, or presuming
  • Stay focused
  • Practice, practice, practice

As discussed in my book, Workplace Savvy, the self-fulfilling prophecy is a well-documented phenomenon. Many people would agree that the common use of the term translates to attitude about events to come. The self-fulfilling prophecy is any positive or negative expectation about circumstances, events, or people that may affect a person’s behavior in a manner that causes the expectation to be fulfilled. For example, a person stating “I’m probably going to have a lousy day” might un- willingly approach every situation that day with a negative attitude and see only problems, thus fulfilling the prediction of a lousy day. Or vice-versa, a person who espouses a self-fulfilling prophecy in a positive way, believing “I’m going to have a great day,” might act in ways that will actually make this prediction true. In most cases, this is a subconscious gesture.

How does this relate to being assertive? Assertive behavior comes more naturally when you believe you can be more assertive. Analyze the messages you are giving yourself. If they are continuously negative, based on “I can’t” statements, you need to reprogram your thinking. It is important that you believe you can and will get the results you want. So practice, practice, practice.

Originally posted on the GovLoop leadership blog by Dianne Floyd Sutton.