12 Aspects of assertive behaviour
Assertiveness is a key communication skill. It allows you to pursue your own objectives and stand up for your own rights, values and beliefs; all while respecting the rights, values and beliefs of others. Assertive behaviour is the ultimate win-win behaviour. It is not always possible for both parties to get what they want from every situation but adopting assertive behaviour allows you to seek the best possible result for both parties. Where it is not possible to reach a suitable compromise, adopting assertive behaviour will help you to maintain a positive and friendly relationship.
There are times in life when assertive behaviour is not the best course of action; however, in the vast majority of cases, it will produce the best results. If you want to improve your assertiveness, it pays to have a clear idea of what assertive behaviour looks like. When you have a clear idea, you can identify which areas need the greatest work. Pick one area at a time, focus on improving that area, then move on to the next. It takes time and effort to become more assertive but with each small step forward, you will see great improvements in the quality of your relationships. Becoming more assertive will also allow you to improve your time management and reduce your stress.
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12 Aspects of assertive behaviour
There are many aspects of assertive behaviour but the 12 below are some of the most important. If you master these 12 aspects, you will see massive improvements in the quality of your relationships.
1. Take responsibility
Your feelings are a result of how you choose to view a situation. Nobody can make you feel any particular way. If you feel angry, upset etc., it is important to remember that the other person did not choose for you to feel that way. They chose their behaviour, you chose your response. If you blame others for your feelings, it comes across as an attack and they go on the defensive. This closes down the channels of communication. Rather than blame, take ownership of your feelings, e.g.:
‘When you show up late for our meetings, I feel disrespected’
It is critically important, in all areas of life, that you understand the relationship between your thoughts and your feelings. It is your thoughts about something which dictate how you feel about it. The more negative your thoughts, the stronger your negative feelings will be. Conversely, the more positive your thinking, the stronger your positive feelings will be. I witnessed an example of this earlier today.
This morning, I walked to my parents’ house. A neighbour with whom my family don’t have a great relationship was taking his car out of his garage. At that moment, a stranger stopped in front of the garage to ask me for directions. As I gave directions, the neighbour became irate and started screaming that he was trying to get his car out of the garage.
The stranger lowered his window and calmly explained to the neighbour that he hadn’t seen him and, that he was just seeking directions. I don’t know exactly what the neighbour had been thinking but as soon as he realised there was no deliberate intent to block him in, he calmed down and apologised to the stranger.
Whatever way you are feeling about a situation, you are feeling that way because of the way you are thinking about it. By taking responsibility for your thoughts and feelings, you can seek another viewpoint. In the process, you don’t put the other person on the defensive which makes it easier to have a conversation.
Accepting responsibility is a fundamental part of assertive behaviour. Learn more about responsibility by reading How being responsible can change your life.
2. Use descriptive language
Avoid assumptions, judgements and opinions where possible. To do this, accurately describe what happened. When you do this, both parties have a point of agreement to start from. To elaborate from the last example:
‘You have been late for our last 3 meetings. When you show up late for our meetings, I feel disrespected.’
Of course, you don’t just assume that your description is accurate. If it is a genuine, recurring problem, you should have been keeping an accurate record. If it is a one-off incident or, if you haven’t been keeping an accurate record; invite them to correct your understanding. Assertive behaviour means that you always consider the possibility that you could be wrong.
Descriptive language also helps you to focus on what you are trying to achieve. You are not trying to change the other person. If you are; you need to stop that behaviour because it is not possible and; you have no right to force other people to change who they are.
What you are trying to change is the behaviour e.g. if somebody fails to do what they promised to do for you; their personality is not the problem, nor is their character. The problem is they are not taking the actions they have agreed to take. That is what needs to change and using descriptive language helps you to focus on that.
Descriptive language and, focusing on behaviour reduces the likelihood of the other person feeling attacked and, increases the chances of cooperation.
Use language which states exactly what happened and what you want to see change. The descriptive language you use should make the message clear enough for anybody to understand exactly what you are talking about. This type of assertive behaviour helps to foster the idea that you want cooperation; not control.
For more tips to help you avoid conflict in these situations, read this article.
3. State opinions and interpretations as such
In order to explain your point of view, you may need to express an opinion or explain your interpretation of events. Where this is necessary, make sure that you state it as an opinion or interpretation. Do not try and present your point of view as fact as it tells the other person that their view is irrelevant to you. Use language such as:
- ‘In my opinion ....’
- ‘As I see it ....’
- ‘My thoughts are ...’
If done right, offering your opinion can be very helpful in an assertive conversation. Once you explain that it is just your opinion, you can invite the other person to state their opinion. You then know where each person currently stands, and you can work to bridge the gap between your different views. As mentioned earlier, assertive behaviour always leaves room for the possibility that you are wrong.
The invitation for the other person to correct your opinion is a critical component of assertive behaviour. It shows that you are open minded. This helps to build trust. Just as important are that you thank them for expressing their opinion, once it is expressed in a respectful manner and; that you admit when you are wrong.
Trust and respect go hand in hand with assertive behaviour. Stating opinions as opinions shows the other person that you are open to the idea that you are wrong and; you are willing to listen to their point of view.
For an example of how things can go wrong when you don’t state your opinions as such, read Burning bridges – how not to make a complaint.
4. Seek alternative views
If you are offering your view, it is imperative that you allow the other person to express theirs. Do not just assume that they will, actively seek their view, e.g.
- ‘How do you see it?’
- ‘Am I interpreting this correctly?’
- ‘What are your thoughts?’
Asking for feedback and opinions demonstrates that you respect their opinion and you want to reach a common understanding.
Inviting the other person to give their opinion can feel uncomfortable, especially if the situation is heated. You might be worried that they will go overboard and become nasty or abusive. Nobody has the right to be abusive and, you should not tolerate it. However, in most cases the person is just being a little aggressive with their opinion.
Receiving feedback is part of assertive behaviour and sometimes you must do a little work to turn the other person’s comments into feedback. When you do so in a calm and assertive manner, it really helps to move the conversation forward. You demonstrate your real desire to understand their point of view and move things forwards.
Assertive behaviour promotes two-way conversation. You can’t be the only one to speak and, your opinion is not the only one that matters. The idea is to foster cooperation and collaboration, not domination.
For more advice on receiving opinions and feedback, read Making the most of feedback
5. Use constructive feedback
It is often necessary to offer negative feedback and express disappointment. Constructive feedback allows you to adopt assertive behaviour, and express your views in a constructive manner, which encourages improvement by seeking an effective solution which works for both parties. Focus on the solution rather than the problem.
Nobody likes to hear negative news. Nobody likes to be informed that they have dropped the ball or, let the side down. It can feel like a personal attack which can result in a defensive mentality. As mentioned already, the purpose of assertive behaviour is not to change the person. It is to change behaviour which is not working and/or promoting behaviour which is working.
The constructive feedback model helps you to deliver feedback in a manner which focuses on the behaviour rather than the person. When delivered correctly, it is easier for the person receiving the feedback to see that you are not attacking them; you are only trying to change the behaviour.
Negative feedback is not always nice to deliver or to receive. It can be made much easier when you use the right approach – an approach which respects the dignity of the person on the receiving end.
For more on feedback and effective communication strategies, check out How to Talk So Others Listen.
6. Invite suggestions / solutions
Rather than impose your own will on others, you can invite suggestions and solutions from them. Even if you cannot implement their ideas, you allow them to feel valued by seeking, and considering, their ideas.
If you remember your childhood, you will remember how in the early days, your parents made every decision for you. They told you what you did wrong and what you needed to do to get it right. Whenever an important decision needed to be made, they jumped in and treated you as though you were a child, incapable of making the best decision for yourself. Of course, you were a child, so their attitude was understandable.
As you got older, you started to resent and rebel against that attitude. You were becoming your own person and you were capable of deciding what was best for you. You didn’t want to be treated like a child because you were no longer a child.
If you must point out a problem to somebody. Include them in the attempt to find a solution. Assertive behaviour requires you to be a respectful so, you shouldn’t treat an adult as though they were a child. Involve them in the attempt to find a solution by inviting their views. Even if you can’t implement their solution, they will feel respected because you cared enough to hear their thoughts.
Considering all view points rather than impose your own, demonstrates that you trust the other person. It also helps the other person to trust you.
For more on building trust, read 13 Simple strategies for building trust
7. Use a warm, welcoming tone
Tone of voice is incredibly important in communication. It is far more important than the actual words you use. When you have a warm tone of voice, it tells others that you welcome their views and are happy to engage in conversation with them.
The warmth of your tone of voice can be incredibly disarming. Have you ever met somebody for the first time and, as soon as they spoke, you felt comfortable in their presence? That is the effect of the tone of voice and why it is so important in assertive behaviour. Warmth in your tone of voice demonstrates that you are open and friendly; that you have nothing to hide. Think of the best chat show hosts. Their guests just sit down and start talking because they feel like they are in the presence of a friend.
Research has repeatedly shown that tone of voice is far more important than words in communicating effectively. And, assertive behaviour is communicating effectively. Rather than get too focused on the tone of voice, adopt the right attitude and your tone of voice will take care of itself. Approach difficult conversations with a passion to resolve the issue in the best manner and, expect an amicable conversation. If you can manage that, you will naturally have a warm, friendly tone of voice.
Assertive behaviour starts with your attitude and one of the best ways to notice this is your tone of voice.
8. Use the appropriate volume
Your volume communicates a great deal about you too. If you are too loud, you come across as aggressive. If you are too quiet, you come across as timid and lacking in confidence. Where possible, you should select an appropriate location for your communication. Where this is not possible, it is essential that you adjust your volume to suit the location.
When communication is important, it is a good idea to practice it first. That way you are more confident in what you have to say. One place this shows up is with the volume you use. If you lack confidence in your message or, your ability to deliver the message, you are likely to err on the quiet side. Low volume suggests to others that you don’t really believe what you are saying, so they don’t tend to pay any attention.
Alternatively, you might speak louder than necessary as you try to force the other person to accept your point. In this instance, you come across as aggressive and people become defensive or switch off. Whereas with assertive behaviour and the right volume, people are far more receptive.
The best way to regulate your volume is to ensure that you are confident in your message and, your ability to deliver that message. It will also help with your tone of voice and the speed of your speech.
The volume of your speech indicates your confidence in what you are saying, and it influences the other persons reaction.
9. Speak fluently
When you are using assertive behaviour, you are calm and confident. One clear sign of this is that you speak fluently. Fluent speaking is a sign that you have confidence in your message and you are calm about the situation. To ensure fluent speaking, listen attentively and take sufficient time to process what the other person has said and to formulate your response, before you reply.
Fluent speaking doesn’t mean that you should speak rapidly or continuously. You also don’t have to have an answer for every point that the other person raises. In fact, admitting when you don’t know something is a powerful element of assertive behaviour because it is the type of honesty which earns the respect and trust of others.
Fluent speaking simply means that when you have a point to make, you make it clearly and succinctly. You don’t need to constantly trip over your words as you try to work out what you are trying to say. You just need to have a well thought out response, delivered with confidence. Some tips to help you, include:
- Remain calm and be patient
- Give your full attention to the other person when they speak so that you listen properly
- Consider your thoughts and formulate your response
- Respond only when you have formulated your response
Again, remember that assertive behaviour requires two-way conversation so, you need to give your full attention to listening when the other person speaks and, thinking through your response when it is your turn to talk.
10. Maintain eye contact
Appropriate eye contact signals attentiveness, confidence and trustworthiness. Maintain consistent eye contact but keep it gentle and inviting. Avoid staring or excessive looking away.
It has been shown many times that people don’t trust others who won’t make eye contact. They think that if somebody doesn’t look them in the eye; they have something to hide or, they are ashamed of something they have said or done.
The struggle to maintain eye contact is often a sign of low self-esteem. Being able to look others in the eye is one way of saying that you recognise them as your equal and, you believe yourself to be there equal. If you are someone who struggles to make eye contact, you may want to examine the reasons why, because fixing this one issue will help you build trust, make stronger connections and improve your assertive behaviour.
Making eye contact, as small a detail as it may seem to be, is critical in helping others to trust you. Struggling to make eye contact may be a sign of self-esteem issues.
If you feel that you may have self-esteem issues, read 11 Benefits of high self-esteem.
Assertiveness Tactics Report
There are many effecitve assertiveness tactics which help make difficult conversations easier. Learn some of the best tactics with my FREE Report.
11. Use congruent facial expressions
Your facial expressions should be consistent with the message you’re delivering. This consistency communicates honesty and sincerity. You would be suspicious of someone who smiles when they deliver bad news or who frowns when delivering good news. You might be trying to put spin on a message but your facial expressions are likely to communicate how you really feel.
I find that incongruent facial expressions tend to happen for two main reasons:
- You have a predetermined outcome
- You haven’t composed yourself before delivering the message
If you have already determined what outcome you want, your facial expressions will match the outcome you are aiming for rather than the message you are delivering. For example, if you are delivering bad news to somebody but you have decided that you don’t want them to be upset, you might end up adopting positive, upbeat facial expressions as you try to point out the positives of the situation before they have processed the negatives. You end up looking uncaring and inconsiderate.
I already mentioned the need to compose yourself and formulate your response before you speak. If you don’t do so, you might not understand the gravity of what you are saying; leading to a mismatch between your words and facial expressions. When you do compose yourself, you understand the message you are trying to deliver and, your facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and words all match.
The wrong facial expressions will quickly undo all the great work your words have done, if they are not congruent. Avoid entering important discussions with a closed mind and, compose yourself before you speak. These simple actions will help to ensure your expressions support your message.
12. Use open body language
Open body language is one of the clearest signs of assertive behaviour. Next time you are in a cafe or pub, observe 2 people who are in deep conversation. Notice how their body language is open. They look relaxed and their movements are natural and fluid. They are not putting any barriers (e.g. folded arms) between them.
I live in a small town with several small shops. There are no shops which open 24 hours. The shops in this town don’t have their opening hours on display. While the locals know the hours of each shop, people who are not from the town don’t. But that is not a problem because, when the businesses are open, they have their front doors open and the lights are on. It is easy to see that you can go about your business. If the lights are off and, the door closed, you know that there is no point in walking up to the shop as it is closed for business. That is easy to understand.
But do you understand that your body language signals whether you are open for business i.e. you are approachable and prepared to talk? Because, if you are using closed body language, you are like the shops who have their lights off and door closed – you are telling everybody that you are closed for business. Closed body language, when you are talking to someone, tells them that that you don’t agree and you are closed to their view point.
Open body language is an invitation to others to join in conversation or, that you are listening to what they have to say and giving it consideration. Closed body language does the opposite.
Assertive behaviour is easier when you are crystal clear about your values. Values Based Living can help you achieve this.
Adopting assertive behaviour is one of the best choices you can make in your life. It improves your relationships, your time management and your health. Assertiveness is not a quick fix solution. It is a long-term commitment to pursuing your objectives in a manner which respects your rights, values and beliefs; while respecting the rights, values and beliefs of others. It takes time and commitment to become more assertive but each little improvement will lead to large improvements in multiple areas of your life. Familiarise yourself with the 12 aspects of assertive behaviour, highlighted above, and pick one aspect to focus on. It won’t take long for you to notice the difference in your quality of life. When you have mastered that aspect, move on to the next one.
Image credit: Wilmarie Groenewald