Assertiveness is a communication strategy that allows us to defend our rights and express our opinion freely and clearly from the respect for ourselves and others. Now then… what exactly is it useful for us in our day-to-day life?

Learning to say “no”

The assertive person knows how to say “no” and is able to show his opinions and positions clearly (for example, by expressing a reasoning in order to justify an idea, a feeling or a request). The assertive person expresses understanding towards the visions, feelings and demands of others. He or she knows his or her own rights and defends them by trying not to “win” but to reach an agreement.

His speech is fluent and confident. He maintains direct eye contact (without being defiant) and a relaxed body position. He also has the ability to disagree openly, shaping his own tastes and interests, asking for clarification and saying “no” when necessary. The feelings that are often associated with the assertive person respond to good self-esteem, a sense of emotional control, and high satisfaction in personal relationships.

What characterizes the passive communication style?

The passive person shows little ambition, few desires and principles. He defends others but does not defend his personal interests . The behaviour we usually observe is characterized by a low tone of voice, poor speech and avoidance of eye contact.

The submissive person denotes an important insecurity about his/her own speech (“what he/she can say is not important”) and his/her figure in relation to the others (“I don’t participate so as not to disturb”), at the same time that he/she manifests frequent complaints to third parties (“this person doesn’t understand me”). The most recurrent feelings of the passive person are related to helplessness, guilt, frustration, and low self-esteem.

And what characterizes the aggressive communicative style?

The aggressive person defends his or her personal rights and interests excessively without taking into account those of others (sometimes he or she does not take them into account, sometimes he or she lacks the skills to deal with certain situations). The behaviour that we often observe from this communicative style is a high tone of voice, sharp speech, a fast and hurried pace of conversation, challenging eye contact, and a clear tendency to counterattack.

Some of the thoughts that the aggressive person may present are: “what you think doesn’t interest me, only I matter”, “I don’t make mistakes”, “people should be like me”, etc. Growing anxiety, loneliness, guilt, feelings of lack of control, frustration and low self-esteem are all feelings that are closely linked.

What could be the reason for the lack of assertiveness?

There are four main causes why a person may have assertiveness problems :

The first cause is observed when the person has not learned to be assertive or has done so in an inadequate manner. The behaviours or skills to be assertive are learned; are habits or patterns of behaviour . There is no such thing as an innate assertive or non-assertive personality.

Assertive behavior is learned by imitation and reinforcement (parents, grandparents, guardians and friends are some models). In the learning of a non-assertive person, there may have been a systematic punishment of the assertive behaviours , a lack of reinforcement to them, or that the reinforcement towards the passive or aggressive behaviours has been greater (for example in the case of a passive person who, thanks to the fragility, has received extra attention).

The second cause appears when the person knows the appropriate behavior but anxiety prevents him/her from carrying it out . In this case there is an association with a highly unpleasant and traumatic experience/s that may have limited or blocked the assertive response.

The third cause is that in which the person does not know or rejects his rights (for example, as a result of an education that has made that individual submissive).

And finally the fourth cause we see when the person has irrational thought patterns (concrete mental schemes and associated beliefs) that prevent him from acting assertively.

Is it related to self-esteem?

Being assertive helps us to be treated with respect and dignity, to express our own feelings and opinions, to be listened to, to know how to say no without feeling guilty, to make requests, to be independent, to enjoy and be entertained, to feel relaxed and to make time for ourselves.

Unassertive communication can lead to interpersonal conflict, frustration, guilt, low self-esteem, tension, loneliness, and loss of control. With an assertive communication style one solves problems more easily, feels more relaxed, more at ease with oneself, satisfied, and thus more easily obtains what one wants without generating conflict.

Can we train this habit?

Of course. Let’s remember that we are not born assertive people, assertive behavior is learned . A good way to start being assertive is to use the following phrases when starting a conversation:

  • I think…
  • My opinion is…
  • I’d like to…

The aim is to elaborate a speech and to offer it a space when interacting with others in order to allow and be heard.

The benefits of assertiveness

Being an assertive person has a number of benefits. They are as follows:

  • Assertiveness allows us to have a greater sense of control over the environment and over ourselves .
  • Having control over one’s self and setting limits improves self-esteem.
  • Assertiveness does not seek conflict, but is based on efficient communication and therefore empowers the person.
  • It improves well-being and life satisfaction and helps to live more rewarding situations and experiences.
  • It improves communication between the actors in a relationship.
  • It causes an improvement in interpersonal relations that is the result of better communication, honesty and sincerity.
  • Improves self-knowledge and emotional management.
  • It allows for the resolution of conflicts and prevents problems from being magnified as a result of the non-expression of one’s needs and emotions.