What is assertiveness

What is assertiveness?

To put it simply - assertiveness is a form of behaving in a mature way in a difficult situation. It is being able to stand up for yourself, and it is a way of communicating how we feel about the situation, and what we want to happen.

by Elia Strange

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In order to do this we have to be clear-minded.

We have to know how we feel and know what we want to happen.

We have to give other people a chance to say what they feel and what they would like to happen.

We have to tell other people that whilst we understand their position we still know what we want to happen.

We need to make sure that our opinions and feelings are considered and that we won't let other people get their way.

By being clear about where we stand, we are more able to discuss the issue and reach a joint agreement.


Even if we are very confident, we still can find some life situations that are difficult to deal with.

For example, dealing with a neighbor, complaining in a shop or a restaurant, reacting to angry people, - all of these situations require certain behaviour. And most of the time, after the event happened, we tend to regret the way we reacted (whether it is too little or too much!).

Why do we keep quiet in some of these situations (and later regret it)? It happens because we were too scared to speak up, sometimes it’s because we were confused, at times it’s because we didn't feel confident, or perhaps it happened because we didn't want others to disapprove of our behaviour (and dislike us in the future).

Whatever the reason was, if we haven’t said what we thought and felt, then we will continue to feel angry and upset with ourselves, and we will dread to find ourselves in a similar situation in the future.

Of course, we don’t all act in the same way.

Not everyone is intimidated or finds it difficult to speak out. Perhaps you are the sort of person who does speak your mind very easily.

Perhaps you don’t suffer from people’s opinions and you raise your voice if the things aren’t done the way you like it. You probably appear very confident and even a bit intimidating to some people.

Maybe you don’t care if you are liked or disliked, but sometimes you might regret it if you were being too harsh, too critical or too sarcastic. In situations like this, being assertive will give you the confidence to behave in new ways and establish more equal relationships with people.

Where does assertiveness come from?

As we grow up, we learn to adapt our behaviour to different situations that happen again and again. You can probably remember being told as a child to ‘behave yourself’.

It was probably because you weren’t getting what you wanted and were having a tantrum, fighting or sulking. At other times you would be encouraged to behave in a more positive, independent and assertive way ‘Don’t be shy, speak up’.

Even when we are adults, our childish behaviour still lurks beneath the surface. We shout, have rows (aggressive behaviour) or we quietly sulk or simmer with resentment if things don’t go our way (passive behaviour).

Sometimes we use emotional blackmail to get what we want, or we use our possessions or financial power to our advantage (manipulative behaviour). You can watch how children use all of these negative forms of behaviour to get what they want.

If, whilst we were growing up, our self-confidence was undermined, then in our adult lives we may be more likely to react passively or aggressively in similar situations (rather than 'rationally' and 'assertively').

The assertive way is behaving like an 'adult', not a 'child', and when behaving assertively, you need to remember that you have certain rights. Read here if you like to learn more about how to be more assertive.

Other articles you might be interested in:

What to do when you are stressed

What is social rejection

How to solve a problem quickly

Common irrational beliefs

Are you always right? (Quiz)

Are you independent? (Quiz)

Why do we find some people attractive

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'What is Assertiveness' Article Reference: Walmsley, C. (1991). Assertiveness: The right to be you. London: BBC Books.

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