Donna Phillips, MSW RSW
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What Does Assertiveness Look Like?


Here are some common scenarios, with examples of each style of behavior:

Scenario A: Someone cuts in front of you at the supermarket.

An aggressive response would be to assume they did it on purpose and angrily say, "Hey, jackass, no cuts!"

A passive response would be to just let the person stay in front of you.

An assertive response would be to assume that they may not have seen you in line, and politely say, "Excuse me, but I was in line."

Scenario B: Your friend, who can be quite verbose, calls to vent about her bad day. Unfortunately, you have a lot of work to do and don't have time to talk.

An aggressive response would be to become angry that she obviously doesn't respect your time, cut her off, and sarcastically say, "Oh, get over it! I have my own problems!"

A passive response would be to let her talk for as long as she needs, and figure that your deadline can suffer; she needs your help.

An assertive response would be to listen for a minute or two, then compassionately say, "Wow, it sounds like you're having a tough day! I'd love to talk to you about it, but I don't have the time right now. Can we talk later tonight?"

Get the idea?

What Are the Benefits of Assertiveness?:

Assertiveness affects many areas of life. Assertive people tend to have fewer conflicts in their dealings with others, which translates into much less stress in their lives. They get their needs met (which also means less stressing over unmet needs), and help others get their needs met, too. Having stronger, more supportive relationships virtually guarantees that, in a bind, they have people they can count on, which also helps with stress management, and even leads to a healthier body.

Contrasting with this, aggressiveness tends to alienate others and create unnecessary stress. Those on the receiving end of aggressive behavior tend to feel their needs are not addressed, they feel attacked and often avoid the aggressive individual, understandably. Over time, people who behave aggressively tend to have a string of failed relationships and little social support, and they don't always understand that this is related to their own behavior. Ironically, they often feel like victims, too.

Passive people aim to avoid conflict by avoiding communication about their needs and feelings, but this behavior damages relationships in the long run. They may feel like victims, but continue to avoid confrontation, becoming increasingly angry until, when they finally do say something, it comes out aggressively. The other party doesn't even know there's a problem until the formerly passive individual virtually explodes! This leads to hard feelings, weaker relationships, and more passivity.

How Does One Become More Assertive?:

The first step in becoming more assertive is to take an honest look at yourself and your responses, to see where you currently stand. The answers to the following questions will help clue you in:

  • Do you have difficulty accepting constructive criticism?
  • Do you find yourself saying ‘yes' to requests that you should really say ‘no' to, just to avoid disappointing people?
  • Do you have trouble voicing a difference of opinion with others?
  • Do people tend to feel alienated by your communication style when you do disagree with them?
  • Do you feel attacked when someone has an opinion different from your own?