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The skill of assertiveness

Updated on August 22, 2015

Assertiveness is a personality trait found in people, who stand up for their right to be treated fairly. People possessing this trait have an ability to express their opinions, needs, and feelings, without ignoring or hurting the opinions, needs, and feelings of others. Generally, since people like to be thought of as nice by others, they keep their opinions to themselves, especially if those opinions are in conflict with others. Sometimes, this leads to being taken advantage of by many people.

So, the trait of assertiveness allows a person to handle a situation tactfully, while at the same time expressing one’s opinion forcefully. Being assertive will keep a person from being cheated out of what one wants and deserves in life.

The assertive people have:

  • An ability to express both positive and negative emotions
  • An ability to handle issues and situations that bother them
  • An ability to be firm so that others respect their rights
  • An ability to ask friends for favors without feeling guilty
  • An ability to start and end conversation with confidence
  • An ability to express their opinion, feelings and needs
  • An ability to question things that do not seem right to them
  • An ability to say No
  • An ability to leave the past behind and to live in the present with a hope to a better future

Assertive communication that is an integral part of the skill of assertiveness recognizes the boundaries of courtesy and politeness of others. It also implies the fulfillment of needs and wants through co-operation. If other’s action threatens the boundaries of courtesy and politeness of an assertive person, he or she communicates this calmly to prevent escalation. Assertive communication attempts to focus on the issue, not the person.

Aggressiveness -

On the contrary, aggressiveness violates personal and social norms. Aggressive behavior results from an inability to control behavior; it also stems from a misunderstanding of what behaviors are appropriate. Basically, aggressive behavior can be reactive, or in retaliation. It can also be proactive, as an attempt to provoke a victim. It can be either overt or secretive. Whatever the type of aggressive behavior is, it is always damaging to all concerned – those, who are responsible for it and those, against whom it is perpetuated.

Passive aggressive behavior -

Passive aggressive behavior such as sulking, emotional withdrawal and indirect communication are the signs of immature and uncontrolled emotional expression. A person can indulge in a passive aggression to get back at someone without the other recognizing the underlying anger. For example, an employee, who feels overworked and under-acknowledged at office, calls out sick on a couple of consecutive days, missing a key deadline that sabotages an important assignment. This ultimately reflects poorly on the boss, due to which the boss is overlooked for a promotion.

Passive aggressive behavior is convenient. People use it often to avoid confrontation. And it generally requires less skill than assertiveness. The passive aggressive individuals act out their hidden anger for others through intentional inefficiency, procrastination, or allowing problems to escalate. This makes them feel powerful by controlling someone’s emotional response. Nonetheless, passive aggressive behavior can equally be damaging to the person, who is using it as well as the person, against whom it is used.

Difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness -

The following table highlights the difference between assertive and aggressive behaviors -

Assertive behavior
Aggressive behavior
One speaks openly and listens without interrupting others.
One interrupts others when they are speaking.
One keeps eye contact and maintains it.
One stares at others or somewhere.
One stand in a relaxed posture.
One stands very rigid during conversation.
One speaks at a proper tone of voice.
One speaks louder than others.
One values others as well as him or herself.
One values him or herself more than others.
One speaks on the issue.
One speaks only about him or herself than the issue.
One tries to be fair and not hurt others.
One hurts others.
One sets and reaches goals without being unfair to others.
One hurts others in the process of reaching goals.
One doesn’t dominate the conversation.
One takes control of the conversation.
One communicates needs in an unemotional, clear and direct way.
One becomes emotional while communications one’s needs.
One stands up for one’s beliefs but maintains respects for others.
One stands for one’s beliefs only but doesn’t respect those of others.
One doesn’t use confrontational words but is direct, open and honest.
One uses the language of confrontation.

Developing the skill of assertiveness -

Psychologically speaking, assertiveness is a learnable skill and mode of communication. Assertiveness is the antidote to fear, shyness, passivity, and even anger, so there is an astonishingly wide range of situations, in which the skill of assertiveness is useful. Winston Churchill once said – “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”. So, assertiveness is an attitude, the development of which keeps one in one’s full control. The following tips will help one develop the skill of assertiveness:

  • You have to give yourself value you deserve. And then you have to develop an attitude that you have right to have your needs and wants fulfilled.
  • If someone asks you something that you find uncomfortable, don’t have time for it or don’t agree with, simply say No without any fear.
  • Feel free to express your opinion, feelings, ideas, needs and thoughts to others with due respect to them.
  • Be unbiased to the opinions and arguments of others. Be willing to compromise, if you are sure that your needs and wants will be met.
  • Respect and value the rights of others as you want them to respect and value yours.
  • Always communicate with confidence and self-control.
  • Learn to deal with situations immediately that may seem difficult at the time instead of waiting for a more suitable time to deal with them. The procrastination will definitely change a situation into a crisis. So, avoid it.
  • Maintain eye contact to demonstrate respect and interest on your part on what is being said. Looking around while holding a conversation shows that you are disinterested in what the other person has to say. Also, looking down while holding a conversation gives out the impression of being shy, withdrawn or even deceitful.
  • The distance that is kept between you and the person, you are speaking to, has an impact on the other person. If you stand too far from the person, you are likely to be considered standoffish. And if you stand too near the person, you are more likely to be taken as pushy or aggressive. If you lean away from the person you are having conversation, you are likely to be taken as unfriendly or distant. On the other hand, if you lean toward the person you are conversing with, you are likely to be seen as a friendly person. Thus, your body language also plays a significant role in conveying assertiveness while conversing with others.
  • Proper posture also conveys much unspoken information about you. Don’t cross your arms as it may convey that you are not interested in listening what the other person wants to say or you have a defensive attitude. Position your feet flat on the ground and shoulders apart.
  • Cultivate to give a firm handshake that is not too tight. Trying to squeeze the other’s hand too tight gives an impression that you want to have an upper hand. Conversely, a dead fish handshake conveys an impression that you are shy, passive or intimidated.

How to cultivate the skill of assertiveness? –

Once we develop the skill of assertiveness, confidence begins to reflect in our very demeanor, which is seen in our personal, professional and social life situations. We can deal better with all real life situations. Below are some ways to cultivate the skill of assertiveness –

  • The foremost requirement for the cultivation of this skill is to stop justifying that you cannot develop it. Start every day with a resolution that you will be assertive today to the best of your capacity. There will be days, when you will fall back into your old habit but don’t get disheartened. On the contrary, resolve to be assertive again. Always remember that if you get up after falling down, you get back onto the road to progress. This is also a success in itself.
  • Like the development of any new skill, you are also likely to have a fear of the unknown that may bemuse you: How the others will perceive you or whether they will accept the new you. This shouldn’t deter you from trying to better yourself.
  • Leave the past behind, live in the present and look forward to a better tomorrow.
  • Visualize yourself to be an assertive person a few times a day. Visualizing success in attaining your goal, whatever it may be, encourages one to make necessary tangible changes required for the attainment of the goal.
  • Use affirmations that are positively structured in a simple language a few times a day such as: I am strong enough to become an assertive person; I am a positive and assertive person and so on.
  • Apart from practicing in real life, practice assertive attitude at home in front of a mirror; practice assertive body language such as holding your head high and facial expression such as keeping eye contact.

The bottom line –

The wonderful skill of assertiveness is a learnable behavior; we will realize it’s worth, when we use it successfully in our personal, professional and social relations, and find how effectively it can transform such relations into better ones.


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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your nice comments. I agree with you that there exists a thin line between assertive and aggressive behavior, which most us are not aware of. That is why we face many problems in our relationships, which we cannot handle.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 

      3 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      There is definitely a difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. It's a thin line that many people cross when they don't know how to control their emotions.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your valuable comments. I need your encouragement.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      This is very helpful information. Assertiveness can help us avoid conflict as well as develop high quality relationships with others. We would all do well to develop this important quality.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks thumbi7 for appreciating my hub.

      Thanks CrisSp for appreciating my hub. Of course, the cultivable skill of assertiveness is very important for those working in airlines.

    • CrisSp profile image


      3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      As a Flight Attendant, we learned and were trained to differentiate between assertiveness and aggressiveness and the importance of knowing. Of course, both can be developed and further enhanced.

      Well done hub. Clear, precise and great presentation specially on the table highlighting its difference.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 

      3 years ago from India

      Assertiveness is often misunderstood as aggressiveness especially in professional relationships

      You have explained the concept clearly and also explained ways to develop and cultivate assertiveness skills

      Thanks for sharing


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