There are few words that I hear misused more than the word ďassertive.Ē Everyone has an idea about what they think it means, but I have seen that many people actually know only half of the definition. And that missing half makes a huge difference.
Pause for a moment here and think about what ďassertiveĒ means to you. Come up with your own definition.
Did your definition describe standing up for yourself? Speaking your mind? Telling people how you feel or what you think? If so, you got it mostly right. This is the aspect of assertiveness which most people think of as the definition.
Now letís talk about the other half. In some ways, itís the most important aspect of assertiveness. Itís the second half of speaking up for yourself. So, enough build-up, hereís the true, full definition:
Assertiveness: Speaking up for yourself--in a way that the other person can hear.
These two aspects of assertiveness, and how they work together, are what make assertiveness a skill which must be learned, rather than a natural ability. The huge majority of people have a hard time with the first half or the second half, or both. And our ability to be assertive also varies with the situation, the people involved, and the amount of emotion that we are feeling at the time.
Being truly assertive requires five skills / steps, all working together:
1. Knowing what you feel, even in the middle of a difficult situation
2. Trusting that your feelings and ideas are valid and worthy of expression
3. Managing your feelings and putting them into words
4. Understanding the other person or people involved, how they feel and why
5. Taking into account the situation and setting
When you put these five skills together, you are able to say what you need to say in a way that is appropriate to the setting, situation, and people involved (not too strongly or weakly), so that the recipients can process your message without their defenses being ignited. Keep in mind that talking to a defensive person is like talking to an inanimate object. Your message will not get through.
You can see from these steps why assertiveness requires not just skill, but a constellation of skills. This is why if itís hard for you, you are not alone.
Most people err in one of two primary ways when they try to be assertive: they come across too weakly, making it too easy for the other party to discount their message; or they come across too strongly, so that the other party becomes defensive. Once the recipientís defenses rise, your message will be lost.
The good news is that it is entirely possible to build your assertiveness skills. If you keep all five skills in mind, you can work on building them.