Assertiveness training is a form of cognitive restructuring designed to help people stand up for themselves—to empower themselves, in more contemporary terms. Assertiveness is a response that seeks to maintain an appropriate balance between passivity and aggression. Assertive responses promote fairness and equality in human interactions, based on a positive sense of respect for self and others. Assertiveness training has a decades-long history in mental health and personal growth groups, going back to the women’s movement of the 1970s.The approach was introduced to encourage women to stand up for themselves appropriately in their interactions with others, particularly as they moved into graduate education and the workplace in greater numbers. The original association of assertiveness training with the women’s movement in the United States grew out of the discovery of many women in the movement that they were hampered by their inability to be assertive.Today, assertiveness training is used as part of communication training in settings as diverse as schools, corporate boardrooms, and psychiatric hospitals, for programs as varied as substance abuse treatment, social skills training,vocational programs, and responding to harassment. The purpose of assertiveness training is to teach persons appropriate strategies for identifying and acting on their desires, needs, and opinions while remaining respectful of others. This form of training is tailored to the needs of specific participants and the situations they find particularly challenging. Assertiveness training is a broad approach that can be applied to many different personal, academic, health care, and work situations. Learning to communicate in a clear and honest fashion usually improves relationships within one’s life. Women in particular have often been taught to hide their real feelings and preferences, and to try to get their way by manipulation or other indirect means.Men, being taught to suppress their feelings, tend to be more aggressive and controlling. Specific areas of intervention and change in assertiveness training include communication, conflict resolution, realistic goal-setting, anger management, stress management and emotional intelligence facilitation. In addition to the emotional and psychological benefits, taking a more active approach to self-determination has been shown to have positive outcomes in many personal choices related to health, including being assertive in risky sexual situations; abstaining from using drugs or alcohol; and assuming responsibility for self-care if one has a chronic illness like diabetes or cancer.
It’s not always easy to identify truly assertive behavior. This is because there is a fine line between assertiveness and aggression. So, some definitions are helpful when trying to separate the two:
- Assertiveness is based on balance – it requires being forthright about your wants and needs while still considering the rights, needs, and wants of others. When you are assertive, you ask for what you want but you don’t necessarily get it.
- Aggressive behavior is based on winning – it requires that you do what is in your own best interest without regard for the rights, needs, feelings or desires of others. When you are aggressive, you take what you want regardless, and you don’t usually ask.
Assertiveness is not necessarily easy, but it is a skill that can be learned. Developing your assertiveness starts with a good understanding of who you are and a belief in the value you bring. When you have that, you have the basis of self-confidence. Assertiveness helps to build on that self-confidence and provides many other benefits for improving your relationships at work and in other areas of your life as well. In general, assertive people:
- Get to “win-win” more easily – they see the value in their opponent and in his/her position, and can quickly find common ground.
- Are better problem solvers – they feel empowered to do whatever it takes to find the best solution.
- Are less stressed – they know they have personal power and they don’t feel threatened or victimized when things don’t go as planned or expected.
- Are doers – they get things done because they know they can.
When you act assertively you act fairly and with empathy. The power you use comes from your self-assurance and not from intimidation or bullying. When you treat others with such fairness and respect, you get that same treatment in return. You are well liked and people see you as a leader and someone they want to work with.
Anger Solutions Atlanta delivers a curriculum of assertiveness training using the tools associated with anger management, stress management, communication and emotional intelligence. While some people are naturally more assertive than others, if your disposition tends more towards being either passive or aggressive, you need to work on the following skills to develop your assertiveness as taught by Anger Solutions Atlanta:
Value yourself and your rights:
- Understand that your rights, thoughts, feelings, needs and desires are just as important as everyone else’s.
- But remember they are not more important than anyone else’s, either.
- Recognise your rights and protect them.
- Believe you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity at all times.
- Stop apologizing for everything.
Identify your needs and wants, and ask for them to be satisfied:
- Don’t wait for someone to recognize what you need (you might wait forever!)
- Understand that to perform to your full potential, your needs must be met.
- Find ways to get your needs met without sacrificing others’ needs in the process.
Acknowledge that people are responsible for their own behavior:
- Don’t make the mistake of accepting responsibility for the how people react to your assertive statements (e.g. anger, resentment). You can only control yourself.
- As long as you are not violating someone else’s needs, then you have the right to say or do what you want.
Express negative thoughts and feelings in a healthy and positive manner:
- Allow yourself to be angry, but always be respectful.
- Do say what’s on your mind, but do it in a way that protects the other person’s feelings.
- Control your emotions.
- Stand up for yourself and confront people who challenge you and/or your rights.
Receive criticism and compliments positively:
- Accept compliments graciously.
- Allow yourself to make mistakes and ask for help.
- Accept feedback positively – be prepared to say you don’t agree but do not get defensive or angry.
Learn to say “No” when you need to. This is the granddaddy of assertiveness!
- Know your limits and what will cause you to feel taken advantage of.
- Know that you can’t do everything or please everyone and learn to be OK with that.
- Go with what is right for you.
- Suggest an alternative for a win-win solution.
Being assertive means knowing where the fine line is between assertion and aggression and balancing on it. It means having a strong sense of yourself and acknowledging that you deserve to get what you want. And it means standing up for yourself even in the most difficult situations. Assertiveness training is not just for passive-acting people; it is also of great use to people who are habitually aggressive towards others, as a component of a larger program of Anger Management. Passive & passive-aggressive oriented people generally feel badly about their passive position and passive-aggressive ideas & ideals; they are motivated to make changes and happy when they realize that they have a right to do so. In contrast, angry or bossy aggression-oriented people tend to be happy with their dominant position in relationships, even if they are not happy people in general. Aggressive and dominating tactics work for them (or so they think) and they are seldom motivated to change on their own. Assertiveness training makes intuitive (if frightening) sense to passive-oriented people; it seems to have little to offer to aggressive types. Therefore, assertiveness training must be supplemented with other interventions (and often serious consequences) if it is to get through to the aggressive person.
Assertiveness can be learned and developed, and although it won’t happen overnight, by practicing the techniques presented here you will slowly become more confident in expressing your needs and wants. As your assertiveness improves, so will your productivity and efficiency. Start today and begin to see how being assertive allows you to work with people to accomplish tasks, solve problems, and reach solutions.
Assertiveness training is all about helping people to know that there really are situations where they have a perfect right to defend themselves from bullying attempts made by others. Once people realize that it is okay, and even proper for them to stand up for themselves; to allow themselves to feel angry when they are taken advantage of, they tend to find that actually defending themselves is not so hard. Assertive behavior basically consists of the following steps:
- realizing that you have been dominated, or taken advantage of
- feeling the angry feelings (directed towards the dominating partner, and/or to yourself for allowing yourself to be dominated)
- deciding to act to put a stop to the domination
- acting on your conviction (which involves finding a way to demand your rights be respected, while also being polite and civil about it so as not to become aggressive yourself)
- waiting for your dominating relationship partner to escalate his or her bad behavior, so as to put you back in line and force you to submit again and then
- resisting the urge to submit again in the face of escalation.
So, if you have a desire to change the way in which you communicate…or would like to change the ways in which you act… please contact Anger Solutions Atlanta today to discuss your needs and to schedule an appointment.
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