1. Aggressive—Assertive—Passive: People tend to fall on a spectrum of aggressive to passive in their style of communication and how they engage with others. An aggressive person is someone who believes they are entitled to take what they want. They are direct, have little regard for the feelings of others and don’t mind sharing their feelings. They don’t equivocate when addressing a problem or giving feedback. Typically, the aggressive person creates resentment in others. On the other end of the spectrum is the passive person, which is someone who ignores their needs, is indirect, is uncomfortable giving feedback, shies away from addressing problems. This style results in the passive person building resentment towards others since their needs never are met or addressed. Neither the aggressive or passive style promotes healthy relationships. When I work with clients, I recommend the assertive style, which is a person who can be direct and straightforward in addressing problems. They don’t shy away from giving feedback, advocating for their needs. And they do all these things in a manner that is diplomatic and respectful, but doesn’t deny or dismiss truth. The assertive person can communicate wants and desires without attacking others. Assertiveness promotes health in individuals and in relationships.
2. Balance of Needs: Simply because someone has a need different than yours, that does not give you license to dismiss them, nor does it mean you are to dismiss your own needs. It’s okay for people to have different needs. However, it doesn’t mean you are always obligated to meet the demands, needs and wants of others. Sometimes you will need to say no, be flexible, or say yes. But you will make that determination based on fairness, and not from a place that you must always say “yes” to others and “no” to yourself.
3. Deliver Your Message without Attacking: Being assertive means you are able to have difficult conversations, give challenging feedback and address problems, but without attacking others. Speak with respect and empathy, but at the same time do not back off from sharing the truth with others.
4. It’s Not Mean to Be Assertive: There is difference between self-interest and selfishness. Self-interest is a healthy and natural prioritization of your own needs and desires. Selfishness is an exaggerated prioritization of your own needs and desires over and above the needs and desires of others. Selfishness is getting what you want at the cost of others. Assertive people have self-interest. They are able to advocate for their own needs. Be direct with what they want. And enforce boundaries to protect themselves and others. This is not mean or selfish, this is self-interest.
5. Assertiveness is a Preservative for Relationships: Assertiveness is essential in any healthy relationship. It allows partners, friends, family members and co-workers to address issues that lead to resolution. Aggressive communication leads to defensiveness and combativeness. Passive communication doesn’t address problems at all. Assertive communication, on the other hand, provides the means for difficult subjects to be addressed in a meaningful way. Because people the conversation is done with respect, people are more likely to listen, even if they disagree. And you increase the chances that the other person will be more receptive to what you have to say.
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