Being assertive is one of the most essential features for us to be able to feel well about ourselves and our relationships with others, although, this is also one of the biggest challenges faced by humans as a social being.

The most difficult, and simultaneously the most important thing to keep in mind in order to be assertive is the ability to say “no”, without hurting others. Respecting our will regarding some subject, without disrespecting other people’s feelings is probably the most complex situation in an interpersonal relationship and most of the time, we end up doing what we don’t want to, or being aggressive and unpleasant to the person we are talking to.

Assertiveness is the opposite of aggressiveness, it is trying to understand other people, while defending ourselves and our interests. We do not need to be selfish, neither always put our desires above everything else, but it is important to keep them in mind. Of course, sometimes, we really need to be more condescending, when we have in front of us a person who’s in a complex situation and who is more fragile at the moment, and because of that we need to be more careful or we will end up hurting her even more. However, we should not fall into passiveness. A passive attitude could, without a doubt, avoid conflict, yet you can not forget that this is also a disrespect for yourself and you show a image of weakness that will later become harder to overtake.

But how do we learn to be more assertive? As everything in our lifes, you need to take the first step: find out who you are and what you want. An insecure person isn’t able to act assertively and if you can’t communicate your point of view and establish your own boundaries, you will not be able to feel good about yourself and have a better self-esteem. This is a vicious cycle, which is hard to break and many times, leads us to depressions, excessive anxiety and eventually, it will break your body too, usually through frequent headaches and stomach aches.

None of us like to do something that we don’t want or with which we do not agree, so, we have to learn how to properly defend our point of view. We are not the only ones that have this problem. Just like us, others may have an immeasurable difficulty in being assertive, so, we regularly find someone who, taking advantage of their position of power, will try to inflict on us their beliefs and goals.

That position of power is, usually, due to some kind of dependence we might have regarding that person. The first thing to perceive is the kind of relationship we might be enabling. Is that person one of our parents? Is he or she our boss or team leader? Why is he or she so important to us? What are the possible consequences of our decisions?

Let’s focus on the two situations which we normally have more difficulties to manage: the emotional side (when we have to say “no” to a relative or a friend) and the professional one, in which the fear of being fired is quite important.

In a healthy relationship with a friend, we should be able to say what’s on our mind and easily explain the motive of our “no” if necessary. If you feel it’s not possible, maybe it’s time to think about your relationship, something is wrong in it and you need to fix it, before it comes to a point with no return. On the other hand, if you are talking about family, due to the strong emotional connection and susceptibility of the members involved, it may be necessary getting external help.

In a professional context, it’s only natural that you might have some issues with communication. Picture this situation: your boss asks you to make an extra hour for the third time this week… It’s your right to say no, yet it’s not easy. In the first place, you have to say it calmly, with politeness and confidence. Even if you’re shivering inside, you must say it clearly and in a confident way “No, because…” or “I can’t, because…”.

Many times, the person in front of us is a bit unpleasant, to say the least, and within a hierarchical context we must try to be diplomatic: “I can’t, because…” and give them a really good excuse, or “Today is not possible, maybe I could do it another day…” or even “I would appreciate if you would notify me earlier next time…”

Although, please remember: don’t lie! Fake excuses could be discovered and it will break the confidence between two people in an irremediable way. It’s always better to say the truth, even when you know that the other person will not be very pleased with it. Remember that everything depends on the way you expose the situation.

How can you promote assertive attitudes?

As like anything else in our life, being assertive implies training and persistence. It is a goal to reach, step by step, beginning with an analysis of our habits and attitudes, of our most immediate reactions and recognition of our default behaviour.

In first place, we must try to develop our ability of building and maintaining interpersonal relationships. That’s the true challenge of a social life. Past the initial shyness, it’s easy to make conversation and have a good laugh with someone, but keeping the relationship throughout the months, throughout the years… well, this is really hard and we need to keep working on it all the time.

It isn’t always effortless to determine if some attitude is or is not assertive, sometimes, our emotions interfere and make it more difficult. A way to get over it, is observing other people. Seeing a situation from an outside perspective can help us recognize some attitudes that we had ourselves in a similar position. Watching it from the “outside” makes it easier to identify the most (and the least) assertive moments and then, it’s just a matter of training.

Next time you will answer to a person who upsets you, think about what you had observed before. Identifying and recognizing the different reactions people have is a big help in the path to become more confident and assertive.

Valuing your own rights, the same way you value others’, also aids us to develop assertive answers, since it helps us decrease our anxiety when faced with certain situations and, equally importantly, it helps us develop our self control and perception of personal strength.

Ki Magazine – no.10
March 2014


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