Assertiveness is an ability to take action in a positive, sincere, respectful, and confident way. It is also an ability to communicate directly using language that is to the point, taking initiative, focusing on solutions, addressing problems, taking ownership of problems, and bringing the problems to a close. Assertiveness can also mean being firm, patient, persistent, pushing someone into action, encouraging, and not compromising on the solution to the problem. Assertiveness requires flexibility tailored to the individual and the situation they are placed in. People usually have three obstacles that keep them from being assertive. They are: poor communication skills, low self-esteem, and a fear of conflict. An assertive response would be: “I have some concerns about whether the idea will work. My concerns include.Please help me to clear up my misunderstandings.”
The assertive person does not focus on winning as such, but rather on negotiating changes to benefit himself or herself and the other parties involved. They are very clear on what they want to accomplish. The communication needs to be planned out in order to sell the idea and not seem as if the assertive person is nagging or dictating.
Assertive speaking is an important communication method that is usually paired with active listening. When someone speaks assertively they are expressing themselves in a confident, direct way both verbally and nonverbally. They are speaking up to make a point but allowing for other’s ideas to be shared as well.
Being assertive does not necessarily mean being aggressive. These two behaviors are quite different in their manners. Someone who is assertive allows the problem to be discussed whereas someone who is aggressive usually participates in a one-sided conversation with little listening to the other side. Someone who is aggressive usually “shoots first” before addressing the problem. An assertive person looks at a problem with solutions in mind. An aggressive person is blunt and feels that their solution is the only solution. An assertive person takes charge yet invites other ideas for solutions. An example of an aggressive response might be: “There’s no way that will work. I don’t like that idea and I don’t know what you were thinking about when you thought of it.”
Aggressiveness normally is associated with anger. Anger is a natural emotion, which should not be avoided. Many times people become aggressive when they feel they have been left out of a decision making process involving a solution that effects them directly. An alternative to the aggressive reaction of an outburst is to not deny the strong emotion but to eloquently change the powerful emotion into an articulate response.
Non-assertiveness does not work either when trying to collaborate on solutions to problems. Being shy, hesitant, wishy-washy, and indirect is useless. When a person is non-assertive the dialogue is weak and the sharing of ideas does not happen. Non-assertive people are likely to blame others for their unhappiness. They are silent martyrs who do not take responsibility for their quality of life. Every time a person acts passively they lose self-respect. A frequent outcome of non-assertiveness is frustration and depression. An example of a nonassertive response would be: ” Well, maybe we can consider that if you want to, but we don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
There are cultural differences in self-assertion. In Asian cultures keeping “face” is extremely important. How others see the person is more important than being assertive. The idea of assertiveness is almost inappropriate. In Hispanic societies a display of masculine strength is the norm to the point of almost being aggressive. North Americans are generally very assertive.

A person can change their behavior by being in control. They can increase the chance of things happening by exchanging undesired behaviors for desired behaviors. By changing behavior the person will become truly assertive and have self-control. When doing something that has a positive outcome the person will increase their self-esteem. To be assertive a person has to be in charge of him or herself.
There are many skills associated with being assertive while on the job. One must think through goals, the steps to achieve them, and how to best use talents to accomplish the goal. Many times there are blocks that inhibit the work situation because the needed skills are not available to achieve the goal. These fears need to be taken under control and not be changed into passivity. Good interpersonal relations with fellow co-workers are also a plus. One must be able to ask for favors, say no when needed, and handle put-downs.
There are many different management styles when it comes to assertiveness. An effective assertive management style though is built on the foundation of good on-the-job relationships, honesty, teamwork, and mutual respect.

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A manager should listen and pay attention to what their employees have to say. They should find out what is needed to complete a job. They should give clear directions on how to do the job and listen to any insight an employee might have. They should praise often and criticize fairly. They should also lead and support their team.
When first starting to practice assertiveness it is a good idea to let others around know what is happening and ask for assistance. One needs to watch for reactions from others and modify the behavior as needed while not losing self-esteem. Pay close attention to body language such as eye contact, posture, facial expressions, voice tone, and hand gestures.
Sometimes the other party may become aggressive. The best approach to this is to express regret about their reactions, but remain strong in one’s own assertion especially if one is to have future contact with this person. By backing down one is only rewarding the other person for their aggressiveness. Sometimes this person may try to seek revenge. If this happens immediately take steps to stop the actions by confronting the person. Usually they will back down and stop the negative behavior.

Sometimes the other party will become overly apologetic. One should let the person know that this is unnecessary. Do not take advantage of this person. One could help them to actually become more assertive themselves.

As long as one knows in their own mind that they can be successful in assertiveness they may decide not to do so. Sometimes one might meet someone that cannot accept assertion. In this situation one might have to just accept the situation and put up with the person. Another time one might choose not to be assertive is when the other person is having difficulty or having a bad day.

When one begins being assertive one might incorrectly interpret a situation. If this happens it is important to be willing to admit being wrong. Also, do not stop being assertive in the future with that person.

Finally, assertiveness should not be used for intimidation or manipulation. It means standing up for beliefs, expressing anger in a tactful eloquent way, reaching out to others, building self-esteem, and learning to be more direct. It is a method to reach goals, feel good about oneself, and to demonstrate respect for others. Most importantly, do not try to be something out of the ordinary and always take other’s needs and respect into account.

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Bower, S. (1991). Asserting Yourself. Updated ed. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Brounstein, M. (2000). Coaching ; Mentoring for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide.
Fensterheim, Ph.D, H., ; Baer, J. (1975). Don’t Say Yes When You Want to Say No. New York: Dell Publishing.
Smith, Ph.D, M. (1975). When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. New York: Dial Press.


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