Assertiveness is a social skill that helps us defend our rights.
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Assertiveness allows us to express our thoughts, desires, and concerns in a sincere, direct, open, well-mannered, and appropriate way. Assertiveness is neither passive nor aggressive, but is the third way between both extremes.
Assertiveness has to have these elements: prudent in choosing the “how” and “when,” and balanced, with a high degree of emotional intelligence at play.
That is, we have to know what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and above all, we have to take care of how we express it: watch your words, tone of voice, body language, and have very sensitive antennae to pick up the right moment to talk.
How to be assertive
- Use the “more, less, more” formula
This formula is key when we want someone to listen to us, when we want to tell someone what we think, or when we want to express something that’s bothering us in an assertive way.
First praise the person or say something positive (more). Then share the thing that is bothering you (less), and finish off with another positive thought (more).
For example: You need to talk to your mother-in-law because you feel that she’s too indulgent and permissive with your children. When they come back home from visiting her, the kids act as if they were still at their grandmother’s house.
Using the “more, less, more” formula, you could say something like this: “Dear mother-in-law, I truly love to see how my children love you and how happy they are when they’re with you (more). Please, I want to ask you to help me with something: if I don’t allow them certain behaviors in my house, such as eating in bed, please don’t let them do it at your house because they get confused (less). I am truly happy to have the best mother-in-law in the world and so pleased that my kids have such a loving grandmother (more).”
- Distinguish between passive, aggressive, and assertive behavior
As an exercise in self-awareness, take a notebook and write down some events or experiences in your life and think about them, as in the following illustration. You’re at a restaurant and you ask for the check. When they bring it, you realize that they charged you for a dish that you had returned, and that the waiter had agreed not to charge you for. You can react in any one of these three ways:
Passive behavior: You keep quiet, although you are annoyed. You pay, even though you know it was unfair.
Aggressive behavior: You call the manager, not the waiter, and you tell him that the service was terrible, that they are trying to cheat you, and that there is nothing they can say. You accuse the waiter of being dishonest.
Assertive behavior: You call the waiter over and, looking him in the eyes, smiling and kind, you begin by thanking him for his wonderful service. Then you show him that there was a mistake on the check, and you respectfully ask him to correct it. You end by telling him you will be back soon and that you will ask for him.
- Breathe before answering
Many times, our first impulse toward something that bothers us is to defend ourselves, and not in the best way. So it’s important to take a few deep breaths and let our emotional intelligence — and not our reptilian brain — guide our actions.
- Learn more about communication styles
Learn more about verbal and non-verbal assertive communication. Above all, it should communicate respect, frankness, honorableness, and solidity: that is, what you say “is.” These characteristics can include speaking in a firm, and yet calm and appropriate tone of voice for the situation, with authority but without appearing authoritarian. Always look the other person in the eyes, with your arms loose (not crossed over your chest but not waving them around either), inviting the other person to dialogue, with a cooperative attitude that is open to finding solutions with them.
- Passive, aggressive, and assertive people
You’ll need to know the differences between these three types of people so that you’ll know how to act in an appropriate — assertive — way when the occasion arises.
- Think positive before answering
Everything has a positive side and that’s what we have to focus on so that we can get the best out of every situation. You can think something like this: “The other person has the right to think differently” or “If the other person attacks me, I’ll defend myself … but always in a well-mannered way.”
Always remember that assertiveness will leave you with a sensation of relief, peace, and agreement because it comes from love and justice, from having done the right thing.
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This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia and has been translated and/or adapted here for English speaking readers.