Assertiveness

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Assertiveness is a direct and appropriate expression of one’s feelings, beliefs and opinions. When an

individual stands up for his or her legitimate rights in such a way that the rights of others are not violated,

he or she is being assertive. Assertiveness involves recognizing one’s right to let others know how their

behavior affects you and asking them to change that behavior. By behaving assertively, you open the way

for honest communication with others and for the possibilities of negotiation and compromise.

Assertiveness is an interpersonal communication skill that can be learned and practiced in an ongoing

way.

How Does Assertive Behavior Differ from Passive Behavior or

Aggressive Behavior?

Passive Behavior

Passive behavior may result in a person's rights being violated. The passivity may consist of hesitant

speech, and avoidance of eye contact. Passive behavior usually reflects the underlying belief that one’s

feelings aren’t important, or that one is too weak (or too afraid of being strong) to act on those feelings.

Aggressive Behavior

Aggressive behavior is interpersonal behavior in which a person stands up for his or her rights but in a

way that violates the rights of others. The aggressive person may appear tense and angry and may connote

an air of superiority. Aggressive behavior typically is experienced by the other person as humiliating,

dominating or controlling. Unfortunately, aggressive behavior blocks the individual from enjoying

supportive relationships with others.

What are the Benefits of Behaving Assertively?

To be assertive, you must first become aware of your own needs. In a situation where your needs are

being violated, you can then express your needs in a direct and non-aggressive way. The other person may have had no intention of violating your needs, and may graciously make a change that makes both of you

feel better. If you appropriately express a wish NOT to do what was requested, the person will adjust their

expectations of you, and will be less likely to make similar requests in the future.

How Do I Become More Assertive

In working on becoming more assertive, it is helpful to have situations in mind that typically create

conflict for you. The following are just two examples of common conflict situations that might arise in

college.

Example:

You are feeling pressured as spontaneous plans are being made to celebrate a friend’s birthday that

evening. You have a major exam in two days and need to study. Your usual tendency would be to try to

accommodate your friends’ schedules, but this time you really have to study for your exam.

Your roommate is looking through your closet. She typically wears your clothes and leaves them dirty in

a heap on the floor. You don’t mind sharing clothes, as long as they are cared for and put back. You can

lose your temper sometimes, and you know you are in danger of exploding after finding your favorite

sweatshirt stained at the bottom of a pile of clothes.

Suggested Guidelines:

Behaving assertively involves both what you say and how you say it. Assertive body language consists

of direct eye contact, and a relaxed, upright body posture. Speech is clear and audible, and polite but

firm. In regard to what is said, there is a simple effective formula you can practice in any conflict

situation:1. An empathy statement in which one recognizes the other person’s needs. This begins the

communication on a positive note.

2. A direct statement of one’s own needs in the situation. This should be brief and clear, and should

indicate to the other person that there is a conflict that exists for you.

3. An action statement, or proposed way to resolve the conflict. (This can be an offer to discuss the

situation further if needed.)

Using the formula above, assertive statements in the above scenarios might be:

“I think it’s a great idea to...
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