Imagine a situation where you have an assignment to complete and your friend calls you to talk about her personal problem. What do you do in this situation?
If you are an aggressive person you will probably say you have enough problems to attend to and tell your friend not to bother you. If you are a passive person you may choose to listen to your friend and end up not completing your assignment. But if you are an assertive person you are likely to say you’re halfway through something and that you’ll call her yourself, say, an hour or two later.
As an assertive person, you convey your thoughts firmly and without hurting the sentiments and rights of other people. In other words, you are open and straightforward in expressing your feelings and thoughts. Not everyone is assertive by nature. However, it is a skill that anyone can acquire and hone. Sometimes people confuse assertion with aggression. When you are aggressive you are insolent, manipulative, undignified and rude. You do not trust the other person and doubt their motives, which often results in a conflict.
If you are assertive in your communication, you will be firm and polite at the same time. It does not mean that you are passive.
If you are passive, you let other people control your actions and you end up feeling stressed. For instance, imagine an office situation where a project leader calls for a meeting, discusses a project and at the end, fixes a date for completing it. But you are sure that it is not possible. If you say ‘yes’ (though you do not want to) just because your leader says so then you are not assertive. The fact that your team leader has called for a meeting indicates that the person wants to hear from you. So it is necessary that you give your opinion on this with logical reasons. This is what an assertive person would do.
If you think that an assertive person is refusing to follow his duties or is being insubordinate, you are wrong. An assertive person will avoid stressing himself out and not feel bad for not completing the project as scheduled.
Says Joyce Marter, a psychotherapist, “Assertive behaviour that involves advocating for oneself in a way that is respectful of others is not wrong — it is healthy self care.”
It is said that an assertive person does not use ‘you’ as often as he uses ‘I’.
For example, instead of saying, “You always force me to do all the work… you are very selfish,” an assertive person would say, “I would like it if you could share the work with me… that will reduce my burden.”
In the second statement you may find that you are openly stating what you expect from the other person and how it will help you. But in the former statement, you are not only blaming the other person but also using the word ‘selfish’. This is a clear indication of rudeness and aggression.
“The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behaviour affect the rights and well-being of other people,” says Sharon Anthony Bower, author of Asserting Yourself: A Practical Guide for Positive Change.
At the same time you should ensure that you are not over-assertive. You need to evaluate the circumstances you are in and who you are conversing with. You need to fine-tune the way in which you communicate according to the state of affairs. If you go too far, you may end up a violent person without adequate rational abilities of modification and someone who does not value the rights of other people. The line that separates assertion and aggression is very thin. Be sure not to cross it.