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Assertiveness is the art of being vigorously self-assured. It is being able to tactfully express your opinions, feelings and rights without hesitation in a way that does not offend others. However, a thin line separates assertiveness from aggressiveness. Being assertive comes from a sense of self-worth and confidence, hence reflects strength, while being aggressive comes with the need to defend it, it conveys hostility.

Unassertive Behavior

While growing up the world teachers us the art of 'fitting in' or 'blending into the background'. Which means that even though our opinions and desires would differ from those around us, we are taught not to voice them because that bring unnecessary concern towards us and the probability of it being negative is high. So we walk through life accepting situations that are internationally unacceptable by us. This is highly dangerous because it leads to 'escapist behavior'. We escape situations that require a response by simply letting others take the lead and make critical decisions on our behalf. Following a leader is not necessarily wrong, but keeping quiet when the output is impermissible is a mark of unassertiveness.

Advantages of Being Assertive

An assertive approach allows effective, honest and solution-oriented communication. It allows positive control over a situation and an attitude of fairness towards both parties.

Since most of us are used to being unassertive and docile, adopting an assertive style may be challenging initially. Small risks have to be taken in daily conversations. This way an assertive approach can be adopted gradually and with minimum risk.

Being assertive, however, does not mean being disrespectful. An important thing to keep in mind while learning how to practice assertiveness is to remember that the other person is entitled to their opinions and rights too. Your task is not to prove them wrong but to glorify your own point. The tone and volume in which you speak is a key factor that differentiates assertiveness from aggressiveness.

"Assertiveness is your ability to act in harmony with your self-esteem without hurting others."

Different Communication Styles

The four different styles of communication are passive, aggressive, manipulative and assertive.

  • Passive:
A passive style is okay with others dictating the flow even when it is unacceptable for them. It is avoiding conflict at all times by keeping quiet and playing safe.

  • Aggressive:
An aggressive style wants to win at all costs and is focused on providing the other party wrong.

  • Manipulative:
A promotional style is quiet but sly and hostile at the same time. It manipulates the situation without being in the focus.

  • Assertive:
An assertive style is empathetic and looks for a win-win solution for both the parties.

Each of these communication styles is used by us in varying degrees and at different times. Our communication style changes depending on the people we are communicating with. For example, owing to a strong comfort level, a person could be assertive with his family but passive in a professional background due to lack of confidence.

Pursuing an Assertive Style

A common mistake most people make while trying to be assertive is that they simply raise their voice and become more demanding. This increases hostility and the desired outcome is rarely achieved. Being assertive requires the tactful use of both language and behavior.

To communicate assertively you need to keep in mind two key elements- how and what? How you communicate refer to your tone and volume, while what you communicate is about the script you use. The script includes the language you chose and how well you are putting across your message. The best way to implement this is to frame a draft in advance and rehearse it a few times in different tones in front of the mirror. This way you can edit and choose the most appropriate words and tone.

Preparing an Assertive Script

• Focus on the message you'd like to communicate. Do not include too many different messages since that creates confusion and the real aim is lost. Pick a point that is most important to you and emphasize on it.

• Use positive language. Your choice of words should be such that it communicates your message without proving the other party wrong.

For example, your boss is suggesting that you conduct a meeting in a particular fashion. Instead of outwardly turning it down and declaring his suggestion, put forth your saying by saying, "That is a lovely suggestion but how about we try a new approach this time, and I think this is the right time to try it! " This way you have shown appreciation for his suggestion while also speaking about what you'd like to do.

• Be flexible with regard to the output you desire. Being assertive does not mean you have to win. Sticking to a pre-defined exit fans the air of conflict. Rather channel your energy towards creating a win-win situation. And this can only be done by showing the other party that you truly have the best interests in mind for them.

"Being assertive and somewhat really firm has to be backed up with being fair." - Gordon Ramsay