Written by Karl Perera, MA, DipLC
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Assertiveness can mean different things to many different people. Sometimes it can even be taken the wrong way, seen as aggressive or too forward. The truth is that assertiveness is an essential skill for everyone to have a grasp of. It can allow us to voice our opinions and feelings, go out for the job promotion we want, maybe even approach that person we are attracted to, and ask for a phone number or a date.
Assertiveness training helps teach you how to express your thoughts and feelings more confidently and clearly. It improves communication skills which will help you improve your self esteem and gain the respect of others.
If you’ve heard of this type of training and the importance of being assertive but don’t quite know where to start, you are in the right place. Below, we will discuss assertiveness and its significance. We will also discuss a few different types of assertiveness training. By the end, you should have a good grip on it as a concept and may have decided on the best form or forms for you.
What is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness is a social skill that requires effective communication while also respecting the thoughts and wishes of those you are communicating with in your daily life.
Assertiveness (Assertion) is typically defined in terms of the legitimate and honest expression of one’s personal rights, feelings, beliefs and interest without violating or denying the rights of others (Delamater, 1986).
Those who are assertive clearly and respectfully can communicate their wants, needs, positions, and boundaries to others while maintaining relationships. Individuals who are highly skilled in assertiveness will not shy away from defending their goals or points of view. Being effectively assertive means you are open to both compliments and constructive criticism. Because assertiveness is a skill, it can be learned and improved through practical exercises and experience.
Being assertive is something you may normally consider confident people do naturally. But not everybody is this way, so if you have problems being assertive, you’ll find lots of help on this page, so make sure you read on…
Why is assertiveness important?
According to the Mayo Clinic, assertiveness is important because it can reduce your stress and enable you to communicate much better. They also describe how this can improve your self esteem and help you to become more respected by others.
Did you know that, according to this study, assertiveness helps improve mental health? If you are trying to improve your confidence, then assertiveness training could really help you. I’d like to explain how.
The ability to be assertive has several benefits. It can affect both our mental and physical well-being. Some of these benefits include:
- Less anxiety
- Reduced likelihood of depression
- Better relationships
- Higher self-esteem
- More confidence
Being assertive changes the way you think, feel and act which helps you achieve your goals more easily (Rich and Schroeder, 1976). The reason for this is that when you are assertive, you can communicate your thoughts and wishes clearly and confidently to others which is helpful in personal and business life.
Expressing your feelings and being able to ask what you want means you will be happier in your relationships and this is more likely to make for a happier partner.
Those who are passive at work are often undervalued and ignored for promotion. It is those who put themselves forward and ask for the responsibility that are given it. Being more assertive will bring you better opportunities and more job satisfaction. For example, when giving a presentation a certain level of confidence is needed but if you are passive and avoid opportunities to speak in public, you will be overlooked or ignored.
There appears to be a clear link between assertiveness and improved mental health, (according to Rathus and Ruppert, 1973). Being able to express yourself and ask for what you want from others is a skill that surely must lead to greater opportunity and self-esteem. Another study, published in the Iran Red Crescent Medical Journal in 2016, shows how assertiveness training can benefit students in high school by reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
It is important to compromise whether you are a son, daughter or parent but it is also important to be assertive in decisions where you need to state what you want. Women are especially in need of being more assertive or the demands on them can be unbearable.
Assertiveness is a very helpful social skill (Rich and Shroeder, 1976). It can be very useful to develop relationships and friendships. Any friendship should be on an equal footing. When one person starts to demand too much of the other it is time to reassess that friendship. Being assertive and telling your friend honestly what you think is very important and being passive can make you very unhappy.
Success and Ambition
If you set yourself any goal you will need to be assertive with others who may try to dissuade you or stand in your way. Again, being assertive just means expressing your intentions, feelings, and wishes and claiming your right to be what you want to be. true assertiveness, though, is direct but also considerate of others’ feelings.
If you are passive and feel that you have not spoken up for yourself in any situation, not only may you lose out but you will feel terrible inside. This feeling may cause you to lose confidence.
An assertive person stands up and speaks confidently, and is not afraid to give an opinion. Also, assertiveness is asking for what you want or speaking up when you feel strongly and you have something to say.
If you want to conquer shyness or become more effective socially you need to be more assertive. Confidence is necessary because being assertive requires some level of courage and also because assertive people get noticed.
By learning to be assertive effectively, you can understand and recognize your feelings, earn respect from others and gain more satisfaction in relationships at home and work. Setting boundaries and standing up for yourself positively and without aggression or passivity can allow you to live a life free from fear of being walked over or not receiving the respect or validation all people need. When you can communicate healthier through being assertive but not aggressive, everybody wins!
Assertiveness is a positive quality! Beware though, many believe that being assertive is a negative quality. Not so. As long as your assertiveness does not hurt anyone, and as long as you state your wishes calmly and honestly, you are not acting selfishly. You have a right to be yourself and to do what you feel is right for you. Selfishness is when you don’t care about others, and focus only on yourself. Assertiveness builds self-respect and this will also reflect outwards as you begin to respect others as having equal rights as you.
So now we’ve understood what the major benefits of being assertive are, let’s take a look at the kind of training that can help you to become more assertive.
What Does Assertiveness Training Teach You?
To understand what you might learn in a course to teach assertiveness, we need to look at what skills an assertive person uses.
Being assertive involves both spoken communication and body language, being able to intervene and help solve problems between people, self-control and self-encouragement (Lange and Jakubouski,1977). These skills can be practiced and developed.
According to this article, published in the Counseling Psychologist in 1975, there are four major steps in assertiveness training:
- Forming beliefs which will help you socially and professionally.
- Being able to recognize the difference between assertive, passive and aggressive behaviour.
- Understanding and working on factors that can prevent assertive behaviour.
- Using strategies to change one’s behaviour.
One of the most important milestones in becoming more assertive is to learn to say no. People are often misguided into thinking that saying no may be selfish or rude. There are certain situations in which it is not only okay to say no, but it is necessary. Sometimes, you have to stand your ground and make the boundaries clear, the skill is in how you get your message across. It can be as simple as saying something like “I’m sorry but I won’t be able to join you, I’ve had a really long day and I need some time to recharge”.
Being assertive can be challenging, particularly if you are the type of person who likes to please others. I refer to this as the guilt factor, which I believe is the main difference between the more assertive among us and those who are not assertive.
When being assertive or saying no, those who face the guilt factor may think to themselves things like “I’m such a bad friend” or “I’m so lazy, I really should get out”. Those who have overcome the guilt factor, on the other hand, are able to say, confidently, that what they are doing is justified for their own well-being, for instance, “I deserve to have a bit of alone time for self-reflection”. See the difference?
What kinds of assertiveness training are there, and which is best?
Assertiveness training is a form of therapy that has been used widely since the 1970s. It is widely used to help people better communicate their wants and needs, so they do not feel taken advantage of in life situations. These can include in personal relationships, work, or even simple interactions in public at stores, events, and other situations. Deficits in assertiveness are typically associated with many problems, including low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Because of this, there is not a one size fits all approach to this. The best and most effective kind of training will be person-specific and often decided upon with a psychologist an individual may be working with. You can also focus on training through self-help resources easily found online. Below are some of the most common kinds of assertiveness training.
- Assertive Response Training – Best done with a partner, this training is done through a controlled dialogue in which the trainee is guided through responding assertively to aggressive statements or individuals. The goal is to help a person learn to be assertive, feel safer, and less anxious when interacting with dominant personalities.
- Avoidance Hierarchy – Done individually, this training has individuals identify situations in which they feel most anxious or uncomfortable in being assertive. After identifying, this allows a trainee to learn and practice how to approach each case from the least uncomfortable to the most. It is highly effective as it will enable them to tackle minor confrontations or situations, so they feel confident moving up the ladder.
- Fair Fighting Training – Many people feel they cannot be assertive because it is seen as aggressive, and damaging to their relationships. Fair fighting training teaches individuals the rules to be able to disagree while communicating effectively and rationally. After learning the rules of fair fighting and detecting their own behavioral patterns, an individual can work with a partner in mock situations to proactively express emotions and needs while working proactively to problem solve.
- Self-Critical Thought Challenging Training – Because a lack of assertiveness can be rooted in self-esteem issues, this training allows an individual to break down the emotions that come with specific situations. They can detail situations, the emotional or physical response they feel, and the self-critical thoughts accompanying them. After identification, this training has the individual work through alternative perspectives and outcomes. If they believe speaking up in a situation will make them less liked, they can identify that emotional need and then see the possible alternative of being respected more for communicating their opinion.
These are just a few of the many types of cognitive and behavioral training that can work on assertiveness. Everyone is different and has unique underlying conditions to their lack of assertiveness, so the best training will vary from person to person.
Assertiveness and the ability to express yourself clearly and firmly can profoundly positively affect your mental and physical health and the relationships around you. If you feel you lack this skill, do not worry, the above techniques and many others available online can put you on the right track to feeling confident. Training can work wonders!
By replacing negative thoughts based around guilt with positive self-talk which acknowledges your self-worth and your own needs as well as others, you can create a more balanced and assertive lifestyle rather than one which is based on pleasing everyone else but yourself.
Recommended resources and further reading
My top recommendation for you is to sign up for my weekly self-esteem tips. Get a FREE chapter of my book “Self Esteem Secrets” – join now!
There are some excellent resources out there that can help you become more assertive and really take control of your life. If you are interested in becoming more assertive and reaping the benefits that you will find as a result then I highly suggest that you get this excellent self-hypnosis program that will transform your life for the better:
- Delamater, R. J., & Mcnamara, J. R. (1986). The Social Impact of Assertiveness: Research Findings and Clinical Implications. Behavior Modification, 10(2), 139–158. https://doi.org/10.1177/01454455860102001
- Eslami, A. A., Rabiei, L., Afzali, S. M., Hamidizadeh, S., & Masoudi, R. (2016). The Effectiveness of Assertiveness Training on the Levels of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression of High School Students. Iranian Red Crescent medical journal, 18(1), e21096. https://doi.org/10.5812/ircmj.21096
- Lange, A. J., Rimm, D. C., & Loxley, J. (1975). Cognitive-Behavioral Assertion Training Procedures. The Counseling Psychologist, 5(4), 37–41. https://doi.org/10.1177/001100007500500406
- Lange, A., & Jakubouski, P. (1977). A cognitive-behavioral approach to assertiveness training.
- Mayo Clinic. (2020). Healthy Lifestyle: Stress management. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/assertive/art-20044644
- Pourjali, F., & Zarnaghash, M. (2010). Relationships between assertiveness and the power of saying no with mental health among undergraduate student. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 9, 137-141.
- Psychology Today Staff. Assertiveness. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/assertiveness
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, May 29). Being assertive: Reduce stress, communicate better. Mayo Clinic – Healthy Lifestyle – Stress Management. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/assertive/art-20044644
- Psych Company Team. (2020, May 30). What is Assertiveness Training? Psych Company – Assertiveness, Communication, Psychotherapy. https://www.psychcompany.com/2020/what-is-assertiveness-training
- Psychology Tools. Assertiveness Training Worksheets. https://www.psychologytools.com/professional/problems/assertiveness/
- Rathus, S. A., & Ruppert, C. A. (1973). Assertion training in the secondary school and the college. Adolescence, 8(30), 257–264.
- Rich, A. R., & Schroeder, H. E. (1976). Research issues in assertiveness training. Psychological Bulletin, 83(6), 1081.
Website Author and Your Guide
Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA), and author of the book Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.