Is it difficult to become more assertive?

by Bob Walsh

A lot of people really wonder about how difficult it is to become more assertive. But many people actually do not know the meaning of the word assertiveness, so let’s look at what the dictionaries say:

Assertiveness is a behavioral skill taught by many personal development experts and behavior therapists as well as cogntive behavior therapists. It is linked to self-esteem and considered an important communication skill. It was orginally explored by Joseph Wolpe in his book on treating neurosis. It is commonly employed as an intervention in behavior therapy.  The belief was that a person could not be both assertive and anxious at the same time and thus being assertive would inhibit anxiety.

As a communication style and strategy, assertiveness is distinguished from aggression and passivity. How people deal with personal boundaries, their own and those of other people, helps to distinguish between these three concepts. Passive communicators do not defend their own personal boundaries and thus allow aggressive people to abuse or manipulate them. Passive communicators are also typically not likely to risk trying to influence anyone else. Aggressive people do not respect the personal boundaries of others and thus are liable to harm others while trying to influence them. A person communicates assertively by overcoming fear to speak his or her mind or trying to influence others, but doing so in a way that respects the personal boundaries of others. Assertive people are also willing to defend themselves against aggressive incursions.

– Wikipedia

I think the most important point here is that assertive people do not allow other people to abuse or manipulate them. Aggressive people on the other hand do actively abuse and manipulate others, and often cause them harm. Both of these are negative forms of behavior, because they are out of balance – whereas assertiveness is the natural state of balance, where you are in a position to stand up for yourself, without standing on another person’s shoes.

When we think of assertiveness, we often think of Wall-Street CEOs and ruthless politicians. But one of the best examples of assertiveness was Ghandi – he communicated and acted in a way that made him achieve his objectives in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Ghandi was an exceptional man, but there are many styles of being assertive. Take for example Richard Branson, the self-made multi-billionaire. He is not a very good speaker, he doesn’t come accross as pushy or aggressive, yet, he managed to build one of the worlds greatest business empires from scratch – and credits it to his “people skills”.

There is an interesting article in LiveStrong about assertive behavior. One statement I want to quote here:

Direct, upfront–not defensive or manipulative–behavior. Those using assertive behavior confront problems, disagreement, or personal discomforts head-on, and their intent is unmistakable to others.

Being comfortable with conflict and confrontation is one of the most important character traits of successful people. By successful I mean successful according to your own definition, as a person who is able to reach their goals and fulfill their dreams, whether they be material, psychological, physical, spiritual or of other nature.

Unfortunately, most people are not comfortable with conflict and confrontation and try to avoid it, and if it is there, they often prefer to end the conflict quickly, even if it means losing something that they wouldn’t have to lose and giving in to unreasonable demands.

It is important to learn how to stand up for yourself.