Self-Transformation Series:
Issue No. 16

Developing Assertiveness

Table of Contents

  1. Why Important
  2. Aggressiveness, Timidity and Assertiveness
  3. Applications of Assertiveness
  4. How to be Assertive
  5. How To Teach Children to be Assertive

I. Why Important

Assertiveness is a very important skill that contributes to harmonious relationship and self-confidence. It prevents and removes anxieties involving people. It is the wholesome substitute to aggressiveness or timidity.

II. Aggressiveness, Timidity and Assertiveness

An aggressive statement or action tends to injure or violate the rights of the others. It creates hostility or resentment on the part of the person harmed. A timid person on the other hand usually does not dare to say or do things that he has a right to do, for fear of being humiliated or rejected. It results in his or her own unhappiness, suppressed feelings, and ineffectiveness in his relationships with people.

An assertive person can say or do things that need to be said or done without necessarily offending others or violating their rights. An assertive statement can be firm but kind, and it can foster better communication, openness and understanding, and hence can bridge gaps in interpersonal relationships.

Example: Suppose there is a long queue at the main entrance of the airport, and Mr. Rey is almost late in checking into his flight and has to rush. What does he do?

Aggressive: Mr. Rey barges into the front of the line and appears tough and ignores the offended feelings of those who have been waiting in the line.

Timid: Mr. Rey does not dare to go to the front of the line and just lines up at the very end for his turn, knowing that he will surely be late for his flight, and at the same time feeling very bad inside.

Assertive: Mr. Rey approaches the persons in front of the line and explains his situation courteously by showing his ticket, and kindly requesting them to allow him to go in first so that he will not be late for his flight.

III. Applications of Assertiveness

Proper assertiveness is absolutely necessary for harmonious interpersonal relationships in all areas of life: between husband and wife, among friends and co-workers, during meetings or conferences, in public places, etc.

Example: A wife feels resentful that her husband came home very late. If aggressive, she may start accusing the husband with unfaithfulness or other things. If timid, she may keep quiet but will manifest her resentment in other ways, such as cold or hostile attitude, which the husband may not be able to understand. If assertive, she will discuss the matter with the husband at an appropriate time, state her feelings about his being late, and seek better ways of preventing such relationship problems in the future.

IV. How to be Assertive

  1. State your reactions rather than accuse the other person.

    Example: You told a friend about a private problem. Then your friend told it to someone else, which you felt was embarrassing to you.

    Aggressive: "You are not to be trusted with private information. You are a disloyal person!"

    Assertive: "I feel hurt that you told her without asking me. I feel embarrassed that other people should know about the problem when it was only meant to be known by you."

  2. Use an "I" statement rather than a "You" statement.

    An "I" statement describes your feelings and reactions, while a statement that begins with a "You" is usually aggressive and critical and will be met with hostility.

  3. Be calm in your tone of voice or use appropriate tone

    A non-aggressive statement that is said in a loud, hostile or threatening tone will be perceived as aggressive. It reveals the emotional attitude behind the words. People would tend to react negatively or defensively.

  4. Use D.E.S.C. steps

    Here are four steps suggested by the book Asserting Yourself:

    1. Describe the unwanted behavior of the other person.
    2. Express the way you feel toward the unwanted behavior.
    3. Specify what behavioral changes can you agree on.
    4. What rewarding Consequences will the other person obtain for sticking to the agreed change?

  5. Take advantage of opportunities to express yourself

It can be a simple greeting or smile. It can be to compliment a pianist in a restaurant before you leave, or thanking a taxi driver, or striking up a conversation with a fellow passenger, etc. Each opportunity will strengthen you courage to be assertive.

V. How To Teach Children to be Assertive

  1. Encourage children to make inquiries
    In a store, let children themselves ask about what he or she wishes to buy. Encourage them to inquire about directions from sales clerks. They will find that it is safe to do so and will get used to have more courage to deal with people.
  2. Discuss with them about the difference between assertiveness and non-assertiveness.
  3. Encourage them to discuss difficulties in relationships without being accusative or condemnatory.
  4. Be watchful of your own aggressive statements towards your children or younger people.
    Children easily pick up the way of their elders, especially attitudes and mannerisms. This includes aggressive communication, tendency to swear or shout, etc.

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Copyright 1995. Permission to reprint is granted provided acknowledgment is made to:
Peace Center
Theosophical Society in the Philippines, 1 Iba St., Quezon City, Philippines

"If five percent of the people work for peace, there will be peace."