Last night as I was falling to sleep, I heard the words “Assertiveness is awesome” whispered to me in my sleep. I immediately woke up and grabbed my Blackberry and put it on my timeline on Facebook as a Post. I thought….why not look up the term “assertiveness” in the dictionary to make sure of the meaning. What I found was outstanding.
having or showing a confident and forceful personality: patients should be more assertive with their doctors.
a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view.
During the second half of the 20th century, assertiveness was increasingly singled out as a behavioral skill taught by many personal development experts, behavior therapists, and cognitive behavioral therapists. Assertiveness is often linked to self-esteem. The term and concept was popularized to the general public by books such as Your Perfect Right: A Guide to Assertive Behavior (1970) by Robert E. Alberti, andWhen I Say No, I Feel Guilty: How To Cope Using the Skills of Systematic Assertiveness Therapy (1975) by Manuel J. Smith.
The goals of assertiveness training include:
As a communication style and strategy, assertiveness is thus distinguished from both aggression and passivity. How people deal with personal boundaries, their own and those of other people, helps to distinguish between these three concepts. Passive communicators do not defend their own personal boundaries and thus allow aggressive people to abuse or manipulate them through fear. Passive communicators are also typically not likely to risk trying to influence anyone else. Aggressive people do not respect the personal boundaries of others and thus are liable to harm others while trying to influence them. A person communicates assertively by overcoming fear of speaking his or her mind or trying to influence others, but doing so in a way that respects the personal boundaries of others. Assertive people are also willing to defend themselves against aggressive people.
Assertive communication involves respect for the boundaries of oneself and others. It also presumes an interest in the fulfillment of needs and wants through cooperation.
According to the textbook Cognitive Behavior Therapy (2008), “Assertive communication of personal opinions, needs, and boundaries has been … conceptualized as the behavioral middle ground, lying between ineffective passive and aggressive responses”. Such communication “emphasizes expressing feelings forthrightly, but in a way that will not spiral into aggression”.
If others’ actions threaten one’s boundaries, one communicates this to prevent escalation.
In contrast, “aggressive communication” judges, threatens, lies, breaks confidences, stonewalls, and violates others’ boundaries.
At the opposite end of the dialectic is “passive communication”. Victims may passively permit others to violate their boundaries. At a later time, they may come back and attack with a sense of impunity or righteous indignation.
Assertive communication attempts to transcend these extremes by appealing to the shared interest of all parties; it “focuses on the issue, not the person”. Aggressive and/or passive communication, on the other hand, may mark a relationship’s end, and reduce self-respect.
Assertive people tend to have the following characteristics:
Fogging consists of finding some limited truth to agree with in what an antagonist is saying. More specifically, one can agree in part or agree in principle.
Negative inquiry consists of requesting further, more specific criticism.
Negative assertion is agreement with criticism without letting up demand.
I-statements can be used to voice one’s feelings and wishes from a personal position without expressing a judgment about the other person or blaming one’s feelings on them.
Some authors stress that assertiveness is not always practiced in a balanced way, especially by those new to the process: “[One] problem with the concept of assertiveness is that it is both complex and situation-specific. … Behaviors that are assertive in one circumstance may not be so in another”. More particularly, while “unassertiveness courts one set of problems, over-assertiveness creates another.” Assertiveness manuals recognize that “many people, when trying out assertive behaviour for the first time, find that they go too far and become aggressive.”
Also, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the heyday of assertiveness training, sometimes so-called assertiveness training techniques were distorted, and “people were told to do some pretty obnoxious things in the name of assertiveness. Like blankly repeating some request over and over until you got your way”. Divorced from respect for the rights of others, so-called assertiveness techniques could be psychological tools that might be readily abused: The line between repeatedly demanding with sanctions (“broken record”) versus coercive nagging, emotional blackmail, or bullying, could be a fine one, and the caricature of assertiveness training as “training in how to get your own way … or how to become as aggressive as the next person” was perpetuated.