Assertive communication is one of the terms that happens to be surprisingly difficult to define, even though we can hear about it almost every day. In fact, it is easier to determine what assertiveness is not, than what it is. Simply put – whenever you leave an interaction with someone feeling frustrated, feeling guilty, or feeling angry, the chances are you were not acting truly assertive. You were probably aggressive, passive, or passive-aggressive, all of which are the opposites of assertiveness. Therefore, assertiveness is an attitude, a communication style and a life philosophy in which a person stands for him or herself, with respect for another person.
We were all born assertive
The truth is – we were all born assertive. We only forgot it along the way. Just watch a young child play for a while. As soon as someone tries to take his toy, you’ll hear a very decisive: “No, that’s mine.” No unnecessary explanations, no apologizing, no arguing, and most certainly no caving-in to the other child’s request simply because of good manners.
What that child knows is he knows how to say NO. He also knows that he has the right not to be likable to everyone. He knows how to set boundaries. And he is even responsible for his own actions and stands by his decision not to give his toy away. Sounds like a wonder-child! But actually, like yourself when you were younger, the child is merely being assertive by nature, without even thinking about it. We adults have mostly lost that skill. So we need to learn it again. And this often proves to be an unexpectedly difficult task!
The right to say NO
This is because communication is an art, and even when we go through trainings and workshops, the habits we attained via nurture creep into our words. It is not an exception that an individual who went through an extensive course on how to act assertively, still slips into their old communication patterns. It takes time and perseverance to regain our decisiveness, and to believe in our assertive rights. We have the right to say NO, to change our minds, to have our own logic, to set our own boundaries, the right not to provide excuses for our decisions, and the right to make mistakes and be wrong. Of course, these assertive rights come with the obligation to respect the same rights of others.
The right time to practice assertiveness
When is the right time to practice assertiveness? Always! There are situations when it is easier to be assertive (asking for a refund when the camera you bought last week simply stopped working), and situations in which it is a true struggle maintaining your composure and being assertive (when your mother is relentlessly interrogating you about your love life, questioning your job choice, or “noticing” the dishes being left in the sink for two whole days!).
We don’t want to make it seem like assertive communication is a magic wand that will make all your problems vanish. But, it will certainly help you express yourself, stand for yourself without being hurtful to another person, and never leave a conversation with that familiar bitter feeling of not saying what you wanted, or not saying it the right way!