is a trait
taught by many personal development
experts and psychotherapists
and the subject of many popular self-help
books. It is linked to self-esteem
and considered an important communication
As a communication style and strategy, assertiveness is distinguished from 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 harm or otherwise unduly influence them. They 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 not being afraid to speak his or her mind or trying to influence others, but doing so in a way that respects the personal boundaries of others. They are also willing to defend themselves against aggressive incursions.
An assertive style of behavior is to interact with people while standing up for your rights. Being assertive is to one's benefit most of the time but it does not mean that one always gets what he/she wants. The result of being assertive is that 1) you feel good about yourself 2) other people know how to deal with you and there is nothing vague about dealing with you.
Assertive people have the following characteristics:
- They feel free to express their feelings, thoughts, and desires.
- They know their rights.
- They have control over their anger. It does not mean that they repress this feeling. It means that they control it for a moment and then talk about it later in a logical way.
A popular technique advocated by assertiveness experts is the Broken record technique. This consists of simply repeating your requests every time you are met with illegitimate resistance. The term comes from vinyl records, the surface of which when scratched would lead the needle of a record player to loop over the same few seconds of the recording indefinitely. However, a disadvantage with this technique is that when resistance continues, your requests lose power every time you have to repeat them. If the requests are repeated too often it can backfire on the authority of your words. In these cases it is necessary to have some sanctions on hand.
Another technique some suggest is called Fogging, which 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 however, is agreement with criticism without letting up demand.
I statements can be used to voice one's feelings and wishes without expressing a judgment about the other person or blaming one's feelings on them.
Gandhi's struggle for India's independence, along with the communication strategy and actions he used for this, are a good example of assertiveness. He used a people movement which he called "Satyagraha" which used non violent means to achieve his objective. He kept communicating the Indians' right to rule themselves to the British, irrespective of what the British thought about Indians. Gandhi was sent to jail several times and in many cases was asked to pay a fine for opposing British rule. He never agreed to fine, saying that he had the right to say what he thinks is correct. After several decades of this struggle, India became independent.
Several research studies have identified assertiveness training as a useful tool in the prevention of alcohol use disorders.
- Smith, M. J. (1975). When I say no, I feel guilty. New York: Bantam Books.
- Bower, S. A. & Bower, G. H. (1991). Asserting Yourself: A Practical Guide for Positive Change. 2nd ed. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley
- Robert E. Alberti and Michael L. Emmons (1992). Your Perfect Right : A Guide to Assertive Living. 6th ed. San Luis Obispo, CA: Impact Publishers