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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. But before we get into how assertiveness training can help, let us define what it is.
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.
Being assertive is something you may normally consider confident people do naturally. 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.
Definition of assertiveness
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).
Some mistakenly think that being assertive means being pushy or selfish in order to get your own way but, as can be seen in the definition above by Delamater, assertive behaviour is positive. Not being assertive is one way to cultivate low confidence, self esteem and worse.
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.
Why is being assertive important to you?
- 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.
- Relationships – 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.
- Career – those who are passive at work are often undervalued and ignored for promotion. It is those who put themselves forward and ask for 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.
- Mental health – 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.
- Family – 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.
- Friendships – Assertiveness is a very helpful social skill (Rich and Shroeder, 1976). It can be very useful to develop relationships and friendship. 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 ambitions – 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.
- Self esteem – 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.
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.
Assertiveness Training – What does it Involve?
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.
- 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.
The article also outlines issues that may be included in assertiveness training which include building self esteem, reducing anxiety, anger management, gaining a sense of the rights of oneself and of others, reducing negative self talk and improving communication skills.
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?
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
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There are some excellent books and courses 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 which 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.
- 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.