Friday, June 18, 2010

Psychotherapy Friday: Assertiveness

Today's Topic: Assertiveness
Most people would prefer to be assertive rather than passive or aggressive. However, these same people often don't act assertively with friends, co-workers, or family. Why this disconnect? Before I explain the inconsistency, let's start with the definition of assertive behavior.

Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings, opinions, beliefs, and needs directly, openly, and honestly, while not violating the personal rights of others.

Why do people not act assertively?
There are many reasons. The main reasons I hear from passive people are fear of not being liked or fear of being too aggressive. As for aggressive people, they believe that if they are not aggressive they won’t achieve their goals or be respected.

So why act assertively?
Why not be passive and avoid confrontation? Why not be aggressive and get your way? Because assertiveness is the only method of communication that values all people equally. Passivity lowers the self in relation to others, and says, "I am not good enough to speak up to others." Aggression inflates the self in relation to others, and says, "I am better than them, so I’ll get what I want!" Assertiveness considers the self equal to others, and says, "I can state my opinions and needs while still respecting others."

How do I act assertively?
One of the most important parts of being assertive is being firm. This is done by the words you choose, the way you say them, and your body language. Let's take an example: Mary's boss is asking her to work unpaid overtime for the third time this week. However, Mary needs rest after a busy week at work. Here are the three different ways that Mary could handle this:

Passive Mary: (Eyes to the ground, slumped shoulders, and soft voice) "I guess I can work the overtime. No, really, it's no problem."

Aggressive Mary: (Glaring at boss, raised voice) "Of course I can't work the overtime! Why would you ask me that? I can't believe this place!"

Assertive Mary: (Maintaining eye contact, firm voice, squared shoulders) "I'm sorry but I can't work overtime again. If it were paid I would consider it, but I need to go home tonight."

Take the time to learn how to act assertively. Ask a friend or family member if you can practice with them, or simply practice in front of the mirror. Start slowly—after all, it takes time for those around you to learn how to respond to your newfound assertiveness!

Additional Resources
The Mayo Clinic
The State University of New York at Buffalo
Mental Help


Paul said...

I'm really glad you posted this. I often times have trouble being assertive around my friends because they tend to come down on me if my wants are not in alignment with theirs, or if they perceive my wants as "stupid", e.g. "Why do you have to be home before midnight? Don't be a wuss, stay and hang out."

I'm at a crossroads, because I feel I either need to find new friends that will respect me for who I am and the choices that I make, or deal with the old friends and their razzing everytime I make a responsible choice, even if I do communicate it assertively.

-Paul P.

Jocelyn said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post! As for your friends, I think the test will be how they respond when you act assertively. You'll have to decide just how much you want to put up with. Good luck!

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