How To Be Assertive: 4 Experts Reveal Secrets To Being Assertive Without Being Rude, Mean or Aggressive
“To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.”
― Edith Eva Eger
A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on how to be assertive without being mean, rude or aggressive.
Sometimes it is necessary to rock the boat and say the things that need to be said that have been lingering for a while.
In many cases, unfortunately, people tend to try to bring their point across in a way that is rather aggressive and divisive, which is not conducive in creating successful relationships.
I’m going to be honest, I can be quite opinionated. I have no problem stating what I think.
In fact, at one point someone introduced me to her friends with the words: “Hey [insert other person’s name], this is my friend Isabel. She is German and very honest and direct.”
I was slightly taken aback by her words, because no one is particularly dying to want to be friends with someone who will call them out on the things they don’t exactly want to hear.
My first thought went straight to, “Oh no, people don’t like me. I have to change,” but the more I thought about it and evaluated how I respond to people the more I realized that some people will always be “triggered” no matter what I say. Their initial reaction to us is not our responsibility. However, our level of awareness and our skill level of communicating our stance on a specific topic in a positive way IS our responsibility.
Awareness is the key to becoming an assertive individual.
Awareness is also closely related to your level of emotional maturity. That means assertive individuals are, in almost all cases, completely aware of their own emotional experiences and know how to interpret and reflect on what they are feeling. And they use that understanding for the greater good rather than as a point of destruction.
Imagine yourself in a situation where people discuss a hot topic that you are very passionate about– whether it’s on social media or during a face-to-face interaction, it doesn’t matter. You listen to everyone’s opinion and you can feel your blood start to boil. You want to take a stand, but you are responding from a place of anger, hurt, disbelief, and disappointment.
Instead of reflecting on your emotional response first, you lash out. You try to bring your point across by convincing others that you are certainly right and everyone else is wrong.
Now, you may have a point, but does it support resolving the issue?
Does it support your case and help others to understand where you are coming from? Most likely not. All you do is play tug of war and your opinion no longer matters. It becomes all about being right, which often leads to division, misunderstanding, and conflict.
For our message to impact others positively, we must understand that we all have our own experience of life. Each and every one of us is on our own journey, which means that everyone has specific lessons to learn that we’re in no place to judge in any way.
Assertive communication is about communicating your own needs and boundaries and not about projecting onto others what you think they should change about them so you can feel better about yourself.
That would also be considered a “victim mindset” and the success of your request is at the mercy of the other person’s reaction.
Anyone who responds from a place of victimhood responds from a place of powerlessness.
People who are emotionally mature and deeply aware are often clearer about their needs and wants. Clarity, in most cases, leads to confidence. A confident person is more likely to not take things personally in general and is able to communicate respectfully and responsibly.
Assertive communication is about understanding that your state of being does not depend on anyone else.
You choose how someone can make you feel and how you want to react in certain situations. Depending on the outcome of the conversation you have the power to decide on what is next for you while respecting and being a stand for your own needs and wants while taking into consideration the needs and wants of those around you. It is never just a one-way discussion but more a heart-felt conversation that considers all aspects of the equation.
People who are more emotionally aware and mindful generally take responsibility for what they feel, and they express themselves in a calm, non-threatening manner.
Now, let’s go back to the scenario mentioned above.
Once again, you find yourself in a situation where you feel the need to take a stand on the subject that is important to you. Instead of trying to be right, take a minute to reflect on why you feel so passionate about it and why it matters to you. What is it in particular that is triggering you? Why do you feel the way you do? How can you convey your opinion so that it still respects other people even if you don’t agree with them? Now this time you start your argument with “I feel…” or “This has me feeling like…”
Always make sure that others know that this is about your experience and not about them.
Don’t start blaming people. Instead, take responsibility by stating clearly what it is you feel troubled with and how you see the situation and then make reasonable requests that can potentially benefit all parties or in which a compromise can be found at the very least.
[Insert: When a situation is emotionally charged, I personally take a few minutes to say to myself, “I am filling every cell of my body with unconditional love so that I may respond from a place of love instead of hurt.” You may find this helpful, too. Try it next time.]
Many people fear being assertive.
They might be scared it will drive people away or they will be viewed as rude or mean to others. Often, they are confusing assertiveness with aggression. While both imply the person is tough, there are a number of differences. Being aggressive means someone is a winner, and therefore someone is a loser.
People who are aggressive are looking out only for themselves, do not consider the consequences of their actions, and don’t listen to other’s ideas or feelings.
On the other hand, assertiveness means standing up for oneself while respecting others at the same time.
In order to be assertive without being mean or rude, you must first view yourself as equal to others, and others as equal to you.
Both of you have thoughts, feelings, and needs which are valid. Neither one should take priority. You are a human being, you are worthy, and you have needs, just like everyone else. Being assertive starts with changing the way you view yourself. If you see yourself as worthy, as on the same playing field as others, you develop the confidence to be assertive and ask for what you need.
Secondly, be fair.
People who are aggressive tend to look out for only their needs and desires. They want to win. Someone who is assertive is asking for their needs to be met, but not at the expense of another. They will be considerate of others’ feelings and will come to a fair compromise. Mostly importantly though, they will be fair to themselves. They will speak up for what they want and stand firm where its necessary to do so. They will not allow either one to benefit at the expense or detriment of another.
Thirdly, be honest.
Honest with yourself about what you really want and need, your intentions or reasoning for wanting/needing it, and honest with others. Too often, those who are not assertive will tell themselves they don’t really need something. That its okay to go without in order to preserve the peace or not upset someone else. As a result, they hurt themselves and struggle going without. Everyone has needs, and being assertive means being honest with yourself on what you need and expressing that need to others.
The previous three aspects of assertiveness are all expressed through communication.
To speak assertively without seeming mean or rude use “I statements” such as “I feel hurt when being called...” or “I think this is unfair, here’s why…” “I Statements” convey thoughts and feelings without placing blame on another or making accusations. They invite others into a discussion. It may be helpful to practice what you want to say using these statements before having a conversation.
In addition, manage your emotions while being assertive. Stay calm and steady when expressing yourself. If you’re someone who has not traditionally been assertive, others may react negatively to you.
Stand your ground and do not be drawn into their emotional dysregulation.
Do not get caught up in an argument. Do so by deep breathing, focusing on what you want to say, continue with what you rehearsed, or inform them if the conversation continues in a negative way you will remove yourself from it and leave if necessary.
Finally, remember, even if you are being assertive without being mean or rude, someone may perceive you as being mean anyways.
You are not responsible for their perspective or emotions. That is up to them. You cannot control how they think of you, but their reactions do not erase your needs.
Being assertive means being considerate of others while standing up for yourself in a clam and firm manner.
Assertiveness does not strip you of who you are. It does not take away your kindness or considerate heart. Instead, it contributes to an even more authentic you and contributes to healthy boundaries and relationships with others.
Heather Gillam, BA, MS, NCC - www.sisulumicounseling.com
Assertiveness can be challenging. We do not want to hurt others and we do not want to hurt ourselves. Often we see this as a black and white issue - I'm either too mean or I'm too nice.
Assertiveness falls on a continuum, with passiveness on one end and aggressiveness on the other.
In the middle is assertiveness; expressing one's views in a confident and straight forward manner.
Let's look at some ways to incorporate a more assertive approach.
1. Value Yourself.
When we believe we have value, we place value on our voice and our opinions. We are less likely to use a passive or aggressive style of communication if we believe what we are saying or expressing has worth.
2. Less is More.
Words can cloud what we are truly trying to express. Words can apologize or intimidate and muddle the message we are trying to send. When thinking about communicating in a assertive way, pause and think of the message you want the other person to hear and state it clearly.
Assertiveness gets stronger with repetition. We fall into patterns of communication and it takes time, patience, and consistency to make a change. Watch for opportunities to practice clear, confident communication.
Assertiveness is possible. Practicing assertive communication helps our confidence and strengthens our relationships. It can feel uncomfortable to make a change in one's communication style. Practice kindness to yourself as you work on this change. The ability to be assertive is a gift to yourself and others around you.
Carmen Garrison Counselor, MS, LPC - www.rcgcounseling.com
Many of us have a hard time assertive ourselves, or expressing our needs and wants to others.
Whether it’s with a significant other, a parent, a family member, a friend, a colleague, or even a stranger, setting a boundary can be really hard to do. Often times, we avoid asserting ourselves because we want to avoid coming across as mean, rude, or selfish.
Some of us avoid expressing our needs, because we fear conflict that could disrupt or even end relationships.
Therefore, we try to demonstrate ourselves as nice or polite, and often ‘go along’ with others, as a way to maintain relationship. However, when we censor ourselves, it almost always comes at a cost.
Being nice is all well and fine, but when you are always trying to be nice in relationship with others, you will likely feel inauthentic and unfulfilled.
This is tricky, because many of us have a really hard time connecting with our authenticity, or even knowing at all what that truly means for us as individuals. But one thing is for sure, whether you are aware of it or not, when you engage in behaviors that are inauthentic, you can feel it; its uncomfortable and unsettling.
Being nice to the point of passivity may lead you to feel that a part of yourself is lost, as your neglect your uniqueness and forgo your desires.
In abusive relationships, niceness and passivity can lead certain individuals to respect you less, and even take advantage of your kindness through manipulation. Your passivity may come across as submissiveness, which can be very harmful when dealing with a person who seeks to use you.
Worse yet, when you are unable to ask for what you need and want, you demonstrate low self-worth.
The hallmark of a healthy relationship is the ability to speak openly and clearly to the other. Using assertive communication allows partners to create a meaningful relationship that is based on mutual respect, honesty, and trust. Those in healthy relationships value each other’s individuals needs and wants, while at the same time honoring limitations, differences, and natural conflict that can arise.
And hey, there is nothing mean about that.
Our desire for relationship is always appropriate, not to mention extremely important in living a full life. In addition to this, emotions, feelings, and underlying needs are always valid.
To put it simply, being assertive is not mean or rude. It is in your best interest to challenge any negative beliefs you have about being assertive, because, well, they probably just are not true.
Asserting yourself to set boundaries and express your needs, may in fact be the kindest thing you can do for yourself and for others.
Boundaries are not meant to upset others, they are not meant to be punitive, and they are not meant to be unkind or insulting. We do not set boundaries for others, we set boundaries for ourselves. Boundaries are meant to keep you safe in relationships.
The other person doesn’t have to agree with your boundaries and they don’t even have to like your boundaries.
Also, you don’t have to offer an explanation for your boundaries. A simple “No” will do just fine. The only thing that needs to happen afterwards, is that you simply follow through with your decision. And in doing so, you validate your emotions, you re-affirm confidence and your self-worth, and you maintain authenticity, which undeniably feels good all around.
Lastly, the people in your life who respect and honor your boundaries are those with good intentions and care for you.
Those who are unable or unwilling to respect your boundaries are likely individuals with poor intentions and a lack of respect. This can be a very difficult realization, but one that you will thank yourself for later.
Dezryelle Arcieri, M.A., LMFT - www.dezryellearcieri.com