Are you someone who always avoids conflict, always doing whatever you can to keep the peace, often to your own detriment? Do you find yourself always saying yes when you should be saying no? Or are your children labelled as ‘shy’ or often victims of bullying, unable to communicate their needs to the world outside the family home?
Whatever our personality type, and however confident we are in certain situations, there will always be times when we could benefit from challenging our own assertiveness skills.
What is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness refers to the way we communicate our needs with others. It is a trained pattern of behaviour that allows us to convey our feelings and emotions without violating the rights of others or having our own rights violated. It is that middle ground between being labelled aggressive or passive. Being assertive means we can ask for what we want, need or desire. We can say no when we need to and we can express emotion and feelings without being self conscious.
Why is it important to be assertive?
Self-Esteem– Assertive people tend to have greater confidence in themselves, a greater sense of their own identity, and subsequently a much higher self-esteem. By being able to state more clearly what our needs are, we are far more likely to have these needs met. If we have these needs met we are able to be more confident, if we are more confident we are more assertive, and the ripple effect continues.
Better Relationships– Assertive people tend to be happier in their relationships. Whilst aggressive people tend to alienate others, and passive people tend to shy away from conflict, both behaviours lead to long term relationship damage. Those able to comfortably communicate with others in an assertive manner therefore, are far more likely to maintain stronger, more supportive relationships.
Increased Happiness– When we are assertive we have a sense of ‘this is who I am, what I feel and how I think’. Without that sense of identity we lose our sense of purpose and we suffer from a lack of control which in turn may lead to symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
So whilst we know that it is important and something we should be striving for, being more assertive is not always an easy change to make, particularly when current behaviours have been instilled from an early age.
When we were babies, we had no fear of expressing ourselves. My own newborn doesn’t seem to care who is around and listening and shows no signs of self consciousness when he is demanding to be fed. Likewise the 2 year old has no trouble getting his desires heard when demanding asking for a lollipop, milkshake or another biscuit. But as we get older we begin to adapt our behaviours to the responses or lack thereof that we are faced with. Behaviour is subtly changed by models we are exposed to, and by encouragement from parents, family, friends, and school. We have all learned these behaviours, therefore it is possible to relearn and thus behave differently.
To determine whether we may need to challenge our own assertiveness, it can be helpful to ask ourselves how confident we are in different situations such as
- complaining about a meal in a restaurant
- initiating conversation with a stranger
- discussing another persons criticism of you with them
- telling a friend that something they do really bothers you
- asking for and accepting constructive criticism
- approaching another parent about their child’s behaviour
If improving your skills in any of these areas is something you think you could work on, stay tuned for further strategies to help develop greater assertiveness for both yourself and you children.
Have you been in any situations lately that you wished you had handled with greater assertiveness?