Assertiveness is an essential skill for women. As part of my Equality Ascension Model, I believe change begins with individuals changing what they can control. The more assertive you are, the more influence you have to create change. If we change ourselves by becoming more assertive, we can have a more positive impact on our immediate family, work colleagues and local community. The more women who are pushing for change, the more local communities are affected, then towns, then cities, then every countries and the world. It all beings with you.

Assertiveness receives a lot of publicity, some good, some bad, and some downright misleading, so many people have very mixed feelings about it. However, your ability to assert yourself affects everything else you do and don’t do, from day-to-day activities right through to major life decisions. So it’s important to understand what it is and what you want to do with it.

By behaving assertively:

  • your self-confidence increases
  • you are properly understood
  • other people know exactly where they are with
  • you you are more open to receiving feedback
  • your relationships are based on reality rather than illusion
  • you stand a better chance of getting what you want
  • you feel better for expressing your feelings
  • you have fewer situations that are unresolved
  • even if you do not resolve a situation, you feel better for having tried

People often confuse aggressive and assertive behaviour. So when they think of developing assertiveness skills they worry about being seen as aggressive.

It is important to define what I mean, especially aggressive and passive behaviour – as these are the ones that most of us seem to experience day-to-day – and then go on to clarify assertive behaviour.

Aggressive behaviour is:

  • getting your own way, no matter what
  • getting your own point across at other people’s expense
  • getting people to do things they don’t want to do
  • being loud and violent
  • interrupting others
  • winning at all costs

There is aggressive behaviour, not aggressive people – we are all capable of being aggressive, passive and assertive.

Most people have a tendency towards one form of behaviour rather than another, and vary their behaviour depending on the situation and their feelings at the time.

Aggressive behaviour doesn’t come from being confident – quite the reverse; it comes from lack of confidence and fear. Underneath the blustery bully is a coward. It may be difficult to believe, but the more senior person who’s having a go at you is a real person underneath, who’s feeling just as scared or threatened as a person behaving passively.

Assertiveness is about respecting other people.

Passive behaviour is:

  • keeping quiet for fear of upsetting people
  • avoiding conflict
  • saying yes when you want to say no
  • always putting other people’s needs first
  • not expressing your feelings
  • going along with things you don’t like or agree with
  • apologising excessively
  • inwardly burning with anger and frustration
  • being vague about your ideas and what you want
  • justifying your actions to other people
  • appearing indecisive

Ever found yourself doing any of this? Most women find themselves using passive behaviour quite a lot. If so, you may have reached the point where you don’t know what your views or feelings on a topic are, but somehow you have a vague feeling of dissatisfaction at being taken for granted, or not taken seriously.

Passive behaviour stems form lack of confidence. Turning passive behaviour into assertive behaviour will gradually build your confidence. Assertiveness is about building your own self-respect.

Assertiveness behaviour is:

  • being open and honest with yourself and other people
  • listening to other people’s points of view
  • showing understanding of other people’s situations
  • expressing your ideas clearly, but not at the expense of others
  • being able to reach workable solutions to difficulties
  • making decisions – even if your decision is not to make a decision!
  • being clear about your point and not being sidetracked
  • dealing with conflict
  • having self-respect and respect for other people
  • being equal with others and retaining your uniqueness
  • expressing feelings honestly and with care

Most people find they can be assertive in some types of situations but tend to be aggressive or passive in others. Sometimes people are docile at work and bad tempered at home, or doormats at home and downright bossy at work. Most people swing between aggressiveness and passiveness.

The flight/flight syndrome can explain your response to difficult situations. Our bodies have evolved to help us deal with physical danger when we are faced with a difficult situation. They instinctively respond by putting us into a physically alert state (ie heart pounding, adrenaline flowing) which enables us to either fight the danger or run away. Despite changes in society our instinctive response to difficult situations is still either to fight (aggressive behaviour) or run away (passive behaviour).

While fights or running away might have been good tactics in the Stone Age they aren’t necessarily the most effective way to deal with situations in the 21st century! However, it does explain why people don’t seem to need courses on aggressive or passive behaviour! It just comes naturally.

It’s also worth remembering that the root cause of aggressive and passive behaviour is fear or lack of self-confidence. So most of us are capable of swinging dramatically from one end of the scale to the other, for seemingly trivial reasons.

Assertiveness is the form of behaviour which demonstrates your self-respect and respect for others. Assertiveness is also concerned with dealing with your own feelings about yourself and other people, as much as with the end result. Does assertiveness always work? It depends on your objectives. It doesn’t guarantee a particular outcome but if the process is followed it usually makes you feel that speaking up for yourself and expressing your feelings was worthwhile.