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How to Be More Assertive In Your Relationships

Assertiveness isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone.  Some people seem to be very comfortable speaking their mind, while others have a much harder time.  Being assertive, however, isn’t just about speaking your mind; its also about how to speak your mind.

What does it mean to be assertive?

Being assertive means expressing your feelings in such a way that it is still respectful of the other person. Respectful is the key word here since expressing yourself directly can be very hurtful depending on how you do so.  Assertiveness means asking for what you want, while being able to say “no” to what you don’t want.

Why should I be more assertive?

When you are assertive it means that you are being respectful of yourself in addition to the person that you are speaking with.  Mutual respect and honesty are important two elements in sustaining long-term relationships. In addition, failing to be assertive can lead to negative consequences such as shutting down, resentment, emotional withdrawal, and possible loss of relationships.  Before getting into the nuts and bolts of how to be more assertive, lets first consider some other  styles of communication.

What is your communication style?

  • Passive – Being passive, means that you don’t express yourself easily, but rather  you keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself.  People who do so may have a harder time being more direct for a variety of reasons including low self-esteem, fear of conflict or trying to win the approval of others.  There is often a faulty belief operating where the person thinks, “If I say what I feel, then I might get them (the other person) upset (and the consequences of this are too great).” You may be passive if you never argue or if you have been “walked on” by others, or if you have a hard time saying “no”.  Being too passive can lead to an emotional build up, which can lead to aggressive outbursts at times.  This is similar to how water that builds behind a damn.  Sooner or later the water will overflow if it is not released from time to time.
  • Aggressive – Being aggressive involves a tendency to “fly off the handle” or yell and scream to make a point.  Feelings are expressed directly, with a level of intensity that can be overwhelming for the person on the receiving end.  There is also a disregard for the feelings of the other person and blaming and/or name calling can often occur.  Aggressiveness comes out when we don’t feel heard, understood or when we feel entitled or justified in our anger.
  • Passive-Aggressive – Have you ever had someone give you the silent treatment?  Maybe you asked them, “what’s wrong?” and they reply, “nothing” when you know that this is not the case.  If so, you have  experienced passive aggressiveness first hand, or perhaps you were the one giving the silent treatment. This communication style is typically the result of the upset person trying to show you how they feel, rather than just come out and say what’s bothering them.  People who employ this style often feel that this is a way of getting back at the person who upset them, while giving them a sense of control over the situation.

How to be more assertive

  • First, start with trying to clearly identify what you are feeling and thinking.
  • Ask yourself how you would like to handle the situation, which is different from how you feel like handling it.  In other words, consider the best or most ideal way to express yourself without selling yourself short.  That is, you don’t have to necessarily sugar coat your point.  Its OK to say that you are upset, and to explain why.
  • Focus on “I statements” rather than “you statements”.  For example, “I’m upset because I was counting on you” vs. “You are so undependable”.  As a general rule, the more times you say “you” the more defensive the other person will become. You can minimize this by saying “I feel…” or “I think…”
  • Focus on one issue at a time. Don’t overwhelm the other person with multiple issues.
  • Stay in the present, and avoid bringing up the past.
  • Deal with the situation immediately rather than letting the frustration build.  Waiting too long can lead to escalating emotions and a response that is likely to be more heated.
  • Offer a solution when possible.  Say what it is the person did to upset you and tell them what they can do in the future differently.  For example, “I’m upset that you bought this without asking me.  I think we need to discuss things first before making these types of purchases.”
  • Make good eye contact and maintain appropriate, non-threatening body language.

Final Thoughts

Good communication is critical for developing healthy and sustaining relationships.  It is better to say how you feel or what you think than to fail to say it.  Being too passive often leads to resentment and bitterness, which can create problems in relationships.  Good communication is required if you want your relationships to last.  Although arguing is inevitable at times, you don’t have to respond with aggression or stonewalling.  Practice using assertive communication and watch your relationships grow.


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