Assertiveness gets talked about a lot. In social media, on reality TV, in the classroom, and in life generally. But what is assertiveness? And what isn’t it?
What Is Assertiveness?
Let’s start with a definition.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines assertiveness as:
The quality of being confident and not frightened to say what you want or believe.
What is NOT Assertiveness?
Frequently, aggression is mistaken for assertiveness. Let’s have a look at the definition of aggression, again from the Cambridge Dictionary:
Spoken or physical behaviour that is threatening or involves harm to someone or something.
Differences Between Assertiveness and Aggression
As you can see above, assertiveness and aggression are not the same.
Confidence and Certainty
One of the biggest differences between assertive behaviour and aggressive behaviour is the confidence and certainty the assertive person feels and shows.
An assertive person has no need to question that what they are saying is right. They feel justified in communicating their message, even if the other person doesn’t love what they are saying. They may be firm, but not forceful. There is no sense of heading into battle.
Aggressive communicators tend not to have this same certainty. They may feel unsure if it’s okay to say No (or whatever the message is). The aggression is a result of this lack of certainty – almost as if the hostility will compensate for their lack of confidence. Often they are feeling out of control of their emotional state.
Listening Vs Arguing
The other big difference is that the assertive person gets listened to, rather than argued with!
When we communicate with assertiveness, people tend not to argue – or at least, not argue for long – when it becomes clear we are calmly sticking with our message. And we can only stick with our message when we are sure we are doing the right thing for ourselves.
Self-Awareness of Emotional States
Assertive communicators also tend to be able to remain in a calm emotional state, or only have the conversation when they are calm.
This requires self-awareness about our feelings and understanding that we communicate best when we are calm, rather than reacting when we are emotionally triggered.
How To Be Assertive and Avoid Aggression
Assertiveness is confidently communicating to another person about how you want to be treated.
Assertiveness is NOT being aggressive to another person under the guise of standing up for yourself.
Assertiveness is gently reminding someone of a promise they made.
Assertiveness is NOT berating someone or labelling them because they have not kept a promise.
Assertiveness is kindly asking someone to stop doing a particular behaviour.
Assertiveness is NOT screaming and yelling at someone to stop (okay, if your life or wellbeing are threatened, yell and scream away!)
Becoming More Assertive is a Process
Remember, there are times for assertiveness, and that is most of the time.
Occasionally, when harm is occurring (or is about to occur, such as a baby about to fall off a chair), more urgent (and sometimes even aggressive) communication can occur.
If you are new to communicating assertively, you might find you are sometimes still reactive when something is happening that you don’t like (or when harm is occurring). You may be more aggressive than you want to be.
Try to be patient with yourself as you train in a new behaviour and get to understand your triggers and the things that send you into panic.
Learning to Identify Your Triggers
Becoming more aware of your automatic or unconscious reactions to challenging moments is key to replacing aggressive communication with more assertive communication.
If meditation is not your thing, any regular mindfulness practice will help you develop the capacity to be more self-aware of your emotional state when communicating with others.
Consider yoga, tai chi, qi gong or even a daily mindful walk. Any practice that gets you out of your thinking mind and into your body will help.