Have you always wanted to become more assertive - to speak up for yourself, express your feelings freely, say no when you want to and stop being a people-pleaser? If so, what has prevented you from doing so?

One obstacle many people have to behaving assertively is their beliefs about the acceptable ways to interact with other people. These thoughts become habitual and are strengthened by repeated patterns of thinking and the impact of past experiences. We tend to assume these beliefs are accurate, seldom stopping to question their validity.

When you develop positive beliefs about being assertive, you are more likely to engage in assertive behavior and to continue acting assertively in the face of criticism and resistance from others. You are less likely to feel guilty after you have expressed your feelings and opinions or asked for your needs to be met.

The key difference between assertive communication and other styles of communication is that assertive communication is direct (clear, concise and to the point), while the others are indirect (hinting, mixed messages and avoiding the point). Assertive behavior helps communication, while aggressive, passive and passive-aggressive behavior hinders it.

Being assertive means expressing our feelings, thoughts and needs without hinting, playing games, blaming, shaming, or hoping the other person reads our mind. We ask for what we want. We state it clearly and concisely. We say it in a respectful way. We know we can deal with the consequences of our statements, whatever they may turn out to be.

We learn our style of communication from the people around us and how they interacted with each other. If we had an assertive parent then we are more likely to communicate assertively ourselves because we know what that type of behavior looks like. If a passive parent or an aggressive parent raised us, those are the styles that are most familiar to us and that we are most likely to duplicate. So, just as we learned how to be aggressive, passive or passive-aggressive in the past, we can learn to communicate assertively now.

There are many scenarios that encouraged someone to be non-assertive. Some of us were punished when we spoke out so we learned to be passive and quiet. Other people were given messages about expressing themselves, such as “children are to be seen and not heard”, “don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about” or “don’t be silly, there’s nothing to be scared of”. As a result they concluded that others did not want to hear what they had to say or how they felt. Still others were taught that it was conceited or arrogant to put themselves first, so they learned to be people-pleasers.

On the other end of the continuum other people were taught that the only way to get their needs met or to get attention was to compete and be “better” than the other person. They learned how to be aggressive and to win.

It is important to identify what our blocks are to being assertive, so that in addition to learning practical skills on how to communicate assertively, we can also work at clearing away any obstacles to initiating and maintaining these new behaviors.

Take a moment to reflect. How did you personally learn to be non-assertive? What were some of your life experiences which emphasized your passivity, aggression or other non-assertive behavior?

Do any of these beliefs about communicating assertively sound familiar?
• It’s selfish
• Others will think I am arrogant and conceited
• I will hurt the other person’s feelings
• The other person will get angry
• I need to appear stronger than them
• Others will think I am a bitch
• Other’s needs come first
• It’s rude
• I will get in trouble

Take a moment to consider - what are three negative beliefs you personally have about being assertive and that keep you non-assertive?

One very common belief that is an obstacle to behaving assertively is that others will think that we are being selfish. Is this one of your beliefs?

Taking care of our own needs and expressing ourselves does not mean that we are being selfish. For many people the word “selfish” has a very negative connotation. I like to say we are being “self-full”. Our needs and other people’s needs do not have to be mutually exclusive. Just because we make choices for ourselves does not mean that we will always choose to ignore others and not do anything for them. But when we do consider others, we will do it from a place of choice rather than a place of “have to” or fear.

Also, when we make choices for others we may be taking away the opportunity for them to make choices for themselves. So instead of thinking of being assertive as being selfish, think of it as respecting our rights and the rights of others to make personal choices for ourselves.

Others may be surprised and comment negatively on our assertiveness, but that does not mean we acted inappropriately. Sometimes people don’t like other people who are assertive. They may think an assertive woman is a bitch or that the person is “full of themselves” and doesn’t care about other people. This can often be because the recipient of the assertive behavior is not getting what they want. They can’t manipulate the other person. The assertive person is standing up to them and that doesn’t work for them.

How someone responds to our assertiveness is his or her choice. It is up to them to accept it, reject it or be offended by it. We are not responsible for someone else’s feelings, actions or decisions. How they respond is completely their choice.

If they do not like your behavior it is up to them to be assertive with us as well and let us know. Or they need to find some other way to get their needs met. Assertiveness allows flexibility and space for negotiation.

Self-esteem and assertiveness are directly related. If we don’t feel good about ourselves and believe in ourselves, we are more likely to look externally for answers and motivation. If we don’t trust ourselves, we are less likely to be assertive and express our feelings, needs and wants. We are more likely to try to manipulate and control the situation so that the outcome is predictable and something we can cope with. We are less likely to take risks where we don’t know the outcome, because we won’t trust that we can handle it.

Therefore, improving your self-esteem will help you to be more assertive. Similarly, the positive outcomes from taking the risk to act assertively will help to boost your belief in yourself and boost your self-esteem.

Overall, thinking positively about being assertive makes it easier to actually be assertive. We can increase our ability to communicate in an assertive manner by replacing our non-assertive messages (self-talk) with messages that support assertive behavior, such as:
• I have the right to be assertive
• I deserve to make choices that support me
• All my feelings are valid
• I have the right to say No
• I do no have to offer excuses for my choices or behaviors
• I have the right to ask to have my needs met

What are three positive beliefs that would support you being assertive? Look back at the three negative beliefs you listed above for ideas. Try changing them into positive statements.

It takes time and practice to change our communication style and become more assertive. By recognizing which of our old beliefs keep us non-assertive, challenging them and then replacing them with new beliefs that support us being assertive, we can increase the likelihood of us initiating and maintaining a new assertive and confident style of communication.

Author's Bio: 

Barbara Small has a Masters degree in Counselling Psychology and is also trained as a Life Coach. She worked with clients in private practice for over a decade and has been a workshop facilitator, trainer and public speaker since 1993. Barbara is the author of three self-help books entitled: “What About Me, What Do I Want? Becoming Assertive”, “Blah, blah, blah… Changing Your Negative Self-Talk” and “If I Could Just Get Out of My Own Head: A No-Nonsense Guide to Communicating Effectively”. Using humour and real life examples from both her personal and professional lives, Barbara focuses on practical, no-nonsense skills and techniques that are applicable to anyone in any situation. Her books have sold nationally as well as internationally. http://www.barbsmallcoaching.com

Barbara is a communication, assertiveness and self-talk expert on www.selfgrowth.com
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