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Assertiveness

Confidence; communication; relationship; conflict; youth; negotiate; aggression; cigarettes; smoking;

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Assertiveness is a helpful way let others know what you think, feel, want and dream about. You might not get more of what you want. but it does mean you will feel good about the relationships you have, will have more control of your life and will feel more relaxed, content and confident about yourself. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Read on for more about what it is, how to do it and the difference it can make to your life!

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a kind of confidence. It is a way of behaving that helps people clearly communicate their needs, wants and feelings without hurting anyone else. Assertiveness is a way to communicate that:

  • assertivenessis honest without being rude or hurtful
  • is about what you really want
  • allows others to feel safe and get what they want too
  • is respectful of yourself and of others
  • does not intentionally hurt people.

Assertiveness could be seen as the balance between two other kinds of behaviour - passive and aggressive.

Passive

When you act passively, you might:

  • put yourself down - "I never know what to do"
  • put other peoples' needs first - "You need it more than me"
  • say "It doesn't really matter" when it does
  • not say what you really want - "I don't know", "I don't care" (while thinking "I do")
  • let others choose for you - "No, no, you decide".

Passive behaviour can lead to feeling hurt, upset, nervous or angry. Your needs are not met and you can feel out of control, dependent and helpless.

Aggressive

When you act aggressively you might:

  • meet your own needs at the expense of others - "You better watch out if you don't…"
  • tell people (sometimes everyone) what you feel and hurt others in the process - "You're a stupid idiot “
  • make choices for other people - "You will… or I will bash your head in"
  • hurt other people to get what you want - punch, hit, kick, put-downs, throw chairs, smash stuff etc.

Aggressive behaviour can hurt people and does not respect the rights of others. If you try to control others, you may lose them.

Passive and aggressive behaviours are not just about what you say. It can also be what you do. Slamming doors, giving someone 'the silent treatment' or 'dirty looks' may satisfy you at the time, but they don't let others know what you are feeling.

How to be assertive

Assertiveness takes time, patience and guts. It doesn't 'just happen'. There are two important things you need before you do anything:

  • to choose to be assertive
  • willingness to check out, try and do new things.
    assertiveness

Here are some tips:

  • Value yourself and others around you.
  • Think about what you want, and think about whether it is fair and respectful.
  • Discuss your needs and feelings clearly, openly and honestly.
  • Stay calm, cool and collected while talking about them.
  • Be open to new ways of thinking about yourself, others and situations.
  • Give compliments to people and take them when you get them back.
  • Be open to fair criticism and not be afraid to make fair criticism yourself.
  • Acknowledge your and others rights.
  • Negotiate and make compromises.
  • Problem-solve and collaborate with others to do this.

The key to assertiveness is clear, open and honest discussion that does not blame, ridicule or put other people down. A way of saying things in an assertive way is to use the following formula:

  1. I feel…. hurt, embarrassed, angry, etc. (this must be what you feel (a feeling) - not what you think)
  2. when you... don't do the dishes, kick my dog, call me fatso, etc.
  3. because... I am only human and make mistakes, it seems like you take advantage of me, I don't know what is going on, etc.
  4. I would like... to talk about this, it if you didn't keep treating me this way, to be supported in my decisions, etc.
  5. What do you think? How can we resolve this?

Think of a difficult situation you have recently been in. How might you respond in a passive way? How might you respond in an aggressive way? How might you respond in an assertive way?

For example, if you are at a party and your friends are smoking, you may feel you have to smoke, but you really don't want to. You have the right to say no to a cigarette without upsetting your friends. You could say "I feel uncomfortable when you ask me to smoke because I'm not into smoking. I'd like your support, so please don't offer me any smokes thanks!" You could practice ahead how you would handle this situation and what you would say.

Body language

Body language is something we don't often think about. It's the messages you give with your body - such as where you look, what your hands are doing, what your facial expression says, and lots of other subtle messages given off by the way you use your body.

  • Aggressive body language could be standing over someone, gritting your teeth, or making fists.
  • Passive body language could be not looking someone in the eyes, slouching or hiding behind your hands.
  • Assertive body language could be looking someone in the eyes, sitting down next to them so you are at the same eye level, or smiling.

Activity: Get a friend and try to do the three different body language styles when asking this question: "Have you got that CD I lent you?" Ask your friend how they felt each time.

Why bother?

Assertiveness helps people to leave situations with a good feeling about themselves. It means you have compromised or negotiated an outcome. It is not always exactly what you want. Some people find this frustrating because they hope assertiveness will help them get more of what they want. Assertiveness is more a way of living that is respectful of yourself and your own rights and respectful of others and their rights.

People who use assertiveness regularly report these advantages:

  • feeling more confident, relaxed and happy to be themselves.
  • being more aware of who they are (including their strengths and weaknesses).
  • spending less time comparing themselves with others and therefore feeling "not good enough".
  • making more realistic decisions and choices for themselves.
  • choosing more successful relationships, by accepting that not everyone in the world will or can be caring towards you!
  • feeling they can regain control in their life and live it to the fullest!

What are some of the advantages you can see assertiveness might have in your life? How do you view your future with these advantages in your life?

Assertiveness helps good communication. This doesn't mean you have to start making speeches for the Prime Minister, but what it does mean is that you can:

  • listen well - that means really listen to what someone has to say, not just wait for a pause to say your stuff
  • be aware of body language
  • speak clearly and easily - say what you really mean, think or feel
  • start and keep conversations going
  • be able to stay calm and relaxed.

How might this type of communication change your relationships? How might this benefit you in your life? What difficulties might you have with this type of communication? How might you overcome these difficulties?

Katrina, a 20 year old woman who is sorting out why she uses dope, talks about why she wanted assertiveness to become a part of her life.

I have a few things about myself that I don't like so I'm trying to change them, they are holding me back I think, so I feel I need to change…. I keep running. I keep blocking myself, blocking the real me, who I am. It is easier to be a non-responsive git who keeps running, hiding, losing friends, starting over. Not any more this time! I'm staying. I'm settled. I'm here and that's that..…I'm staying here and dealing with the issues at hand and I'm going to better myself and reap the benefits of my assertiveness.
Katrina

Coping with others

So you invite assertiveness into your life. All is going well until someone comes along and all of a sudden you are faced with… Put down! Criticism! Disagreements! How do you stop people treating you this way? Well the answer is - you can't! You can't change someone else.

Here are some tips to protect and look after yourself.

Coping with put-downs

  • Remember that just because someone says something, you don't have to believe it.
  • Put a stop to the put-down as soon as possible.
  • Choose to leave the situation.

This might take persistence, being open to negotiation or compromise and having the ability to ask for and accept constructive criticism.

Criticism

Usually people react to criticism by avoiding it, taking it to heart or reacting aggressively to it. Criticism can be helpful if it is specific, acknowledges positives, is calm and to the point, doesn't stereotype or label people. and is focussed on a person's behaviour rather than an attack on the whole person.

Here are some tips to use criticism assertively.

  • Face and listen to criticism rather than avoid it.
  • Don't take it to heart - taking it to heart can effect how you view yourself.
  • React calmly and respect others rights - attacking the person can lead to hurt.
  • Be brave and not be frightened of constructive criticism.
  • Be prepared for constructive criticism.
  • See constructive criticism as useful to everyone concerned.

Being open to constructive criticism can be a scary thing at first. Remember, you too can make constructive criticism. This does not include blaming, put-downs or attempting to hurt someone to get what you want.

Disagreements

  • Negotiate - listen, understand, put yourself in others' shoes and ask for clarification.
  • Keep calm - deep breaths, take your time, and allow others to express their feelings.
  • Be prepared - stick to facts.
  • Compromise - try and find a 'win-win' solution.

The art of negotiation, listening and respecting others, as well as your own needs, are the key points in attempting to cope with disagreements.

Check out the topic Conflict and negotiation for some more ideas.

Resources

South Australia

  • The Second Story Youth Health Service (TSS)
    - Central: 57 Hyde St, Adelaide
    - South: 50a Beach Rd, Christies Beach
    - North: 6 Gillingham Rd, Elizabeth
    - West: 51 Bower St, Woodville
  • Youth Healthline 
    Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm  1300 13 17 19,
    or for mobile phone callers (08) 8303 1691 - normal rates apply.
  • Kids Helpline Ph: 1800 55 1800.
  • Your local Community Health Centre.
  • Your school counsellor.
  • Your local library may have further reading.

General

  • MoodGYM is a way for you to find out about depression and anxiety, and work through some of the symptoms.
    http://moodgym.anu.edu.au/

References

Friedman, B (1996). 'Boys Talk - A program for young men about masculinity, non-violence and relationships', Men Against Sexual Assault South Australia.

Lindenfield, G (1986). 'Assert Yyourself', Thornsons, Great Britain.

Tkach C and Lyumbomirsky S. 'How do people pursue happiness? Relating personality, happiness-increasing strategies, and well-being'. Journal of Happiness Studies, 2006; 7:183-225. Online (cited 28/8/06):
 http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~sonja/papers/TL2006.pdf

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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