You Need to be Assertive

What is assertion?

Assertion involves standing up for your rights and tactfully expressing thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a direct, honest way that does not violate the rights of another person. An assertive person feels good about herself. She is capable of expressing both positive and negative feelings and opinions in an appropriate way. Rather than relying on fate or good fortune, the assertive person acts in a way to get her owns needs met while respecting the rights of others.

What do we mean by passive, aggressive, and assertive behavior?

In dealing with situations in our lives, we have three ways to respond - passively, aggressively, or assertively. Let's look at the differences between these response possibilities. When you are passive, you stifle your feelings; you rely on others to guess what you want, and you hope you will get what you want. An aggressive person responds in whatever way works - uses threats, manipulation, sarcasm, and fighting, often causing bad feelings in others. With assertiveness you speak directly and openly, you ask with confidence and without undue anxiety for what you want, and you have respect for yourself and others.

How assertive are you?

Perhaps you think you are already an assertive person. Read the following statements. Take an honest assessment of how many statements you can answer with a "yes."
In class, you are unclear about something your teacher has said. Will you ask for clarification?
A friend has a habit of always finishing your sentences, and this habit is starting to bother you. Can you express your anger constructively without exploding?
Your family is pressuring you to go into a certain career. You have no interest in this field. Are you able to discuss this openly with them?
Your parents have been arguing a great deal. Are you able to express your concern and discomfort to them?
You have been dating someone for about three months and have decided you'd rather not see him anymore. Will you express your feelings to him honestly?

How can you become more assertive?

Increasing your ability to be assertive may involve examining your belief system. If you still hold a belief that you should never upset anyone or never disagree with anyone, you may have difficulty being assertive. Another belief you may hold is that people will not like nor accept you if you express an opinion that is different from theirs. Or you may be saying to yourself, "expressing my feelings is more trouble than it's worth." You may keep such a tight lid on your feelings that you're afraid you will explode if you express how you really feel.

A new more helpful way of thinking may include some of the following beliefs:
My needs are just as important as anyone else's.
It is okay to make reasonable requests of other people.
If I express myself now, I will avoid more problems in the long run.
I am not responsible for how other people feel.
Responding in an assertive manner takes practice. The more you practice the better you will get at expressing your feelings and needs in a calm, controlled way. By being assertive you will get your needs met, allow others the same, and enjoy more satisfying relationships with important people in your life.

Amy Anderson, Counselor
Employee Assistance Program
Los Alamos National Laboratory