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Mastering Assertiveness: Learnable Life Skill for Healthy Communication & Conflict Resolution

Your behavior reflects your self-perception. How you behave is aligned with what you think about yourself.

Understanding Assertiveness from a Cognitive Perspective

Assertiveness has long been recognized as an effective form of self-expression. It empowers individuals to act in harmony with their own interests, providing the confidence to advocate for themselves without feeling self-conscious or awkward. Assertiveness encourages the open expression of genuine thoughts and emotions while respecting the rights of others. Each of us possesses unique thought patterns, referred to as schemas, that influence how we perceive and interpret social cues such as body language and tone of voice. Our interpretation of these cues, in turn, affects our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Engaging in assertive behaviour significantly influences how others respond to us. This interaction can either reinforce our existing thought patterns or stimulate adjustments, thereby shaping our future assertive behaviour. To improve our assertiveness, we can refine both our thought processes and actions. Essentially, our internal thoughts are reflected in our external actions. By enhancing our inner mindset, we can bolster our ability to be assertive. And vice versa. As we actively engage in more assertive actions, we not only develop the assertiveness muscle but also reshape our inner narrative, self-perception and how others view us, ultimately leading to more assertive behaviour.

"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 you are enough." ― Edith Eva Eger
Assertiveness is a communication style that strikes a balance between the extremes of aggression and passivity. It empowers individuals to express their needs, desires, and boundaries while respecting the rights and boundaries of others. Assertiveness is a valuable life skill that enhances communication, fosters healthier relationships, boosts self-esteem, and empowers individuals to lead more fulfilling lives.
In our society, mixed messages about assertiveness prevail. Individuals are bombarded with conflicting advice on whether to ask for what they want, wait till it is offered, or take it. This contradictory guidance can create a mental battle, leaving individuals uncertain about when they should assert themselves.

Assertiveness in Numbers
Statistics shed light on the profound impact of assertiveness on our lives. Surprisingly, only 1 in 5 people (19%) consider themselves naturally assertive, irrespective of their gender. This implies that a significant 81% of individuals may find room for improvement in this empowering skill. Notably, 57% of respondents reported a natural increase in assertiveness with age and experience, while 43% actively worked on developing this quality. For the younger generation, the significance of assertiveness in professional growth is evident. About 80% of young people (under 35s) say they've missed out on work opportunities due to not being assertive enough. Interestingly, a high percentage (97%) of men believe in their assertiveness at work, although the dynamics in real workplaces often reveal a mix of assertive, career-focused individuals, passive bystanders, and those genuinely embracing assertiveness. This percentage may slightly overstate the reality, sparking questions about the alignment between self-perception and actual assertiveness levels.
Nurturing Well-being, Work Success, and Relationships
Assertive behaviour
Genuine self-expression, embodied by assertiveness, serves as a guiding star on our journey to well-being, workplace triumph, and satisfying relationships. It bolsters self-esteem, diminishing stress and anxiety, fostering emotional equilibrium. Assertiveness aids in boundary-setting, nurturing tranquility, and reducing friction in our interactions. It empowers us with the grace to navigate conflicts and illuminates the path to mental well-being. In professional settings, assertiveness becomes the secret ingredient for effective communication, the heartbeat of productive teamwork, and the catalyst for innovation.
Given these remarkable benefits, it's natural to wonder why assertiveness can sometimes feel so difficult and elusive.

Mental Walls - Our Personal Barriers to Assertive Behavior
Many of us, despite understanding the importance of assertiveness, find ourselves at times unable to express our desires or stand up for what we believe. The barriers that hold us back from being assertive are as diverse as our personalities, but they often share common threads.
  • Uncertainty About Your Desires: This uncertainty often stems from not fully understanding our own wants and needs, making the path to assertiveness unclear.

  • Emotional Disconnection: Being out of touch with our emotions or confusing all emotions with a single one, such as anger, can weaken our assertiveness. Emotions are the compass of our desires and boundaries, losing touch obscures our direction.

  • Dealing with Stress: Stress can turn our minds into a chaotic whirlwind, making it challenging to communicate effectively. In the midst of stress, our assertiveness often falls victim to the turmoil.

  • Disregarding Your Needs: A belief that our desires don't matter or should be placed last in the grand scheme of things.

  • Insecurity and Vulnerability: It leads us to shy away from asserting ourselves. The fear of being challenged or saying the wrong thing can paralyze our assertiveness.

  • Fear of Not Being Accepted, Liked, or Respected: This deep-seated fear drives us to seek approval at all costs, often at the expense of our authentic selves.

  • Fear of What People Will Think: The fear of others' judgment can cast a long shadow over assertiveness. We worry about how our words and actions will be perceived, and this concern can shackle our assertive voice.

While these barriers may sometimes seem insurmountable, recognizing and addressing them can lead us toward a path of assertiveness. By understanding why we hesitate, we open the door to empowerment and healthier communication.

A Learnable Skill
Assertiveness is not a fixed trait but a learnable skill that improves through practice and self-reflection. With each repetition, you'll become more adept and self-assured in articulating your needs and boundaries effectively. Clearing the path to assertiveness often starts with fostering self-esteem and cultivating a sense of serene confidence. While this journey is unique to each person, it frequently involves addressing similar facets of the self. This self-improvement process can be undertaken independently or with the guidance of a psychology counselor or psychologist. Moreover, developing self-esteem and confidence is an ongoing journey, and there are tactics that can be implemented whenever you need to assert yourself.

Learning assertiveness
QuickTip1: A useful approach is to begin by neutrally stating the facts of a situation, describing how the other person's actions affect you, and concluding by explaining your emotional response. For instance, when addressing someone who consistently interrupts you during calls, you can say, "When you interrupt me during calls, I cannot effectively communicate my ideas, and it leaves me feeling overlooked and frustrated." Similarly, in the context of personal relationships, if someone frequently cancels plans at the last minute, you could express, "When you repeatedly cancel our plans at the last minute, it leaves me feeling disappointed and undervalued. I had eagerly anticipated our time together, and it's disheartening when our plans are frequently disrupted."

Effective Conflict Resolution with Assertiveness In the world of conflict resolution, the right attitude can make all the difference. While assertiveness is like a guiding light, pointing the way to effective resolution, aggression and passivity often lead to counterproductive results. Assertiveness finds the sweet spot between these extremes. It encourages individuals to express their needs, thoughts, and feelings openly, while also valuing the input of others. Assertive communicators establish clear boundaries, demonstrating a willingness to work collaboratively on solutions. This approach fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect, defusing potential escalations and enhancing the foundations of the relationship. QuickTip2: Strategies for Assertive Conflict Resolution
  • Stay Calm: Keep your composure and emotional stability. Reacting impulsively can escalate conflicts.

  • Choose the Right Time and Place: Find an appropriate setting for the conversation. Avoid discussing issues in public or when either party is highly emotional.

  • Active Listening: Pay close attention to what the other person is saying. Show your genuine interest in understanding their perspective through eye contact and nods.

  • Use "I" Statements: Express your thoughts and feelings using phrases like "I feel" or "I think." This personalizes your statements and reduces defensiveness.

  • Stick to the Facts: Be specific about the issue at hand, avoiding generalizations or judgments.

  • Avoid Blame: Focus on the problem, not on accusing the other person. Use non-blaming language to discuss their actions or the situation.

  • Seek Feedback: Encourage the other person to express their feelings and thoughts. Ensure they feel heard. Stay Open to Feedback: Be open to receiving constructive criticism and making necessary adjustments.

  • Respect Boundaries: Ensure that your behavior and words respect personal boundaries. Avoid belittling or insulting the other person.

  • Body Language: Be mindful of your body language. Maintain an open posture and use appropriate gestures to express your feelings.

  • Conflict Resolution Training: Consider seeking training or attending workshops on assertive communication and conflict resolution.

Assertive conflict resolution is a skill that improves with practice. While it may not always lead to a complete resolution, it encourages open communication and preserves the dignity and respect of all parties involved. Discovering the Path to a More Fulfilling Life
Consider assertiveness as a key to unlocking a more fulfilling life, with benefits for your relationships, professional development, and overall mental well-being. If you encounter challenges in embracing assertiveness, remember you're not alone. Our assertiveness training program is here to support you, offering guidance to overcome personal obstacles, nurture calm confidence and genuine self-esteem, and equip you with effective communication techniques. Take the first step by reaching out to us for a consultation. Together, we can work toward a happier, more gratifying life enriched with enhanced relationships and professional success. The power of assertiveness is a valuable asset, and we look forward to helping you unlock its full potential.


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§ A Proposal for Evaluating Cognition in Assertiveness, September 2010, Psychological Assessment 22(3):657-65

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