p    e 

South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

Assertive behavior

Prev Contents Next

Many people think that being assertive is about being stroppy. It isn't.

People's behaviour fits four basic models; passive, aggressive, indirectly aggressive, or assertive.

Passive behaviour is very common in girls and women, because this is how females are taught to behave. You are being passive when you allow others to be in control and make decisions for you, you don't express your opinions or feelings, and you let your own needs be overlooked. If you tend to simply smile sweetly and say nothing, your behaviour can be described as passive.

Aggressive behaviour is open and sometimes physical. It includes yelling, physical violence and overt anger. Men are more likely to be aggressive than passive, because male socialisation encourages aggression and competitiveness.

Indirect aggression occurs when a person is angry or upset, but doesn't express this openly or talk about the problem directly. This is a very common way for men and women to behave. It's an expression of powerlessness, an inability to deal constructively with strong feelings. For example, a girl who is upset with her friend might refuse to look at her or speak to her. This is indirect aggression. So is running out of the room in the middle of a conversation and slamming the door. A boy who is upset about not getting into the right footy team and withdraws in a huff is being indirectly aggressive. 'Gossip' is a form of indirect aggression. For example, you might be annoyed with somebody and instead of sorting it out with him, you go and tell all your friends about it. It's a very destructive and unfair way to behave.

Assertive behaviour is clear and direct communication. Anger and other strong feelings are expressed in a straightforward manner that takes into account the feelings and views of others. Acting in an assertive way builds on a person's self-esteem, and the self-esteem of others. It improves people's ability to take charge in their own lives. Assertiveness is about being responsible for yourself, and making your life work for you, instead of being a victim of circumstances. Most people have to learn how to be assertive by doing assertiveness training, because being assertive is not usually part of our social upbringing, for girls or boys.

Even when we know how to be assertive, there are lots of blocks we need to overcome to put what we have learned into practice in our lives. Lack of self-confidence is one such block. It's also sometimes very hard to change patterns of relating that we have used for most of our lives. These are some of the things you have to learn to become more assertive.

Use "I" language

That means, instead of talking about "you" or "we", when you're talking about your own ideas and feelings, say "I". You'll notice when you start listening that a lot of people say "you" when they mean "I". This is the kind of sentence used "You think you know everything, and then someone comes along and you realise you're pretty ignorant when you hear her talking..."

At first it might feel a bit strange using "I". But changing your speech like this can make a big difference to the way you speak. It can be very powerful, because suddenly you are the one who is in control.

DON'T BLAME or judge the other person. Just give your own views and express your feelings when it's appropriate.

STOP APOLOGISING You don't have to say "I'm sorry" every time anything goes wrong. Of course if it is your responsibility, there's nothing wrong with apologising when something goes wrong. Girls and women especially tend to put themselves down by saying things like "I'm only a housewife" or "I'm just on work experience". There's no need to apologise to others for doing what might seem unimportant. Everything you do has an importance of its own.

MAKE GOOD EYE CONTACT In Western societies, maintaining eye contact means you are serious and direct. If your head is bowed or eyes averted, you convey the impression of being unimportant. In effect, you are saying "I'm serious, but don't take me seriously. (In some other cultures, for example in Samoa, eye contact can be interpreted as aggressive.)

FACIAL EXPRESSION Your expression should be consistent with what you are saying. There's no point expressing your annoyance about something you don't like if you're smiling in an attempt to soften the blow.

BODY LANGUAGE Keep your body language consistent with the message. Your body language should be relaxed and you should be standing or sitting on the same level as the other person. Pointing, standing over the other person and having your hands on your hips are aggressive. It helps if you feel good about your body.

VOICE Keep your voice low and clear. High-pitched tones don't convey that you are serious.

ACKNOWLEDGE compliments and criticism. You don't have to get embarrassed when somebody tells you something nice about yourself. All you have to do is say "Thank you." Likewise, when you receive criticism, there's no need to make it mean that the person hates you. It only means that you have had some criticism. This gives you the opportunity to grow. Criticism is like a different kind of compliment it means the other person considers you important enough to give you some feedback. It's easier to deal with criticism as you get more assertive.

SAY NO when you mean no. Learn how to say "no" when that's what you want. And if somebody says "no" to you, it doesn't have to be the end of the world. Respect that person's right to be honest with you.

LEARN HOW TO express your anger assertively. This means learning to recognise when you are angry, owning your anger rather than denying to yourself that you are angry.

Once you recognise that you are angry, you can learn to control it instead of letting it control you. Deciding how or whether to express it is the hard part. If you're committed to being honest with the other person, he or she will probably benefit from hearing what you have to say.

It's better to express your feelings directly than to pretend there's nothing wrong and just withdraw from her. But you have to be careful expressing anger to others, because it can be very threatening.

Give yourself positive messages

Once you have identified that never ending tape in your head, you will be able to see that you are constantly giving yourself messages about yourself. A lot of these will be negative, and they are called negative self-messages.

For example, you might say to yourself when you make a mistake "I'm so stupid, I'll never learn, I'll always be an idiot."

The first step in becoming more assertive is to catch yourself when you are giving yourself a negative self-message, and change it to a positive one.

This one could become "I've made a mistake, I won't make that one again, because I've learned from that mistake."

Prev Contents Next

Return to top