Assertiveness

by Andrew Lawless, John Quinn, Sue Wilcox

Introduction

What this power is, I cannot say. All I know is that it exists... and it becomes available only when you are in a state of mind in which you know EXACTLY what you want... and are fully determined not to quit until you get it.

Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)

An assertive style of behaviour is one in which you express your own feelings in an honest and respectful way that does not insult people. It is about standing up for your rights while knowing that what you say may not be the only valid truth.

Being assertive is to your own benefit most of the time, but it does not mean that you always get what you want. The result of being assertive is that

  • You feel good about yourself
  • Other people know how to deal with you as there is nothing vague about the process.

Assertiveness is to admit to who you are and stand by it. The assertive person may not always be liked, but they are often admired by those around them. To be assertive is to have self respect. ‘I know what I know and I know what I don’t!’ Assertive people will generally know what they want and are more than capable of asking for it or going to get it.

Assertiveness is a frame of mind whereby an individual can choose how to deal with a situation; they may decide to take it on or even walk away, but they will always aim to get a win/win resolution, if possible.

There is a fine line at times between aggressive and assertive behaviour, and that may be a question of perspective, as some will see the actions or words of an assertive person as being aggressive. A truly assertive person will therefore strive to recognise the impact they may have on others and will seek to mitigate any negative side effects.

At some level and at different times, we are all assertive. But the level of assertiveness can vary according to the social situation. For example, a man could be very assertive with his colleagues at work, but not at home, with his wife and children.

The ability to present your point of view without offending others is critical if you want to make an impact in an organisation. People who lack assertiveness skills are often overlooked. This can lead to ideas being lost and contributions going unnoticed.