I Am… Assertive!

Define Assertive –

What does it mean to be assertive?  By definition the word assertive means to affirm with confidence and assurance one’s position in defense or in order to move oneself forward boldly.  This definition as listed in the dictionary explains a form of assertiveness that leans more towards aggressive, which does not accurately describe the meaning of what I am attempting to explain as a true assertive response style.  So then what is true or “pure” assertiveness and how can I develop it is the question. Now, for the answers.

ASSERTIVE = “I accept that I am angry,” and “I accept that you did something to anger me”

The Assertive Type

The assertive response style as listed in the above description claims a dual-acceptance of self and others.  This is the critical point of “pure” assertiveness.  True assertive people accept or acknowledge anger within them, and all of the underlying hurt and/or fear that takes place along with it.  In addition, an assertive person will honor another human being as having significance as well at the point of conflict, and will affirm their own position of defense not with hostility or disrespect, but with direction, care, and understanding of boundaries.  This means that a person can in fact state their position without injuring or disrespecting others.  Please note, the purpose of assertiveness is not to be a doormat, nor is it to be used to overpower another. 

Primary Purpose

The primary purpose of being assertive is to state one’s needs with honor and validation of another human being’s needs without assimilation or rejection.  In other words, sometimes we must “agree to disagree” and can remain honorable in the process without bullying or being bullied.

Examples

A colleague is given extra work that was in effect dumped on her by another colleague’s lack of responsibility in addressing this work. In response to this action, she addresses the colleague by informing her that she does not have time to add this work into her own workload, and then gives her the opportunity to engage in questions to gain helpful information. If this is not effective in getting her point across, she  then informs their supervisor that she is being treated in an unfair manner without guilt or irrational fear.

A student who is having difficulty understanding the material being taught to him in class due to another student’s disruptive behavior. He then addresses the professor after class to ask for help in obtaining the information better through further explanation without any attempt at manipulation, while also stating his ground as being allowed to address the class as a whole without fear of intimidation or retribution.

 Assertiveness Breeds Confidence

By and large, assertiveness is a developed process in which a person either becomes more vocal in responding to anger and less aggressive in getting their point across.  An assertive person is open to solution-based suggestions and negotiations, and will validate another person without ever feeling “beaten,” and thus, has a high level of self-esteem and good communication skills in interpersonal relationships.

 Be on the lookout for more Assertive Awareness topics and discussion in upcoming blog posts, and please note that any input, questions, comments, or concerns are welcome and encouraged!

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Passive-Aggressive…A Closer Look

Response: “Pole-Jumping”

Over the past two posts, I reviewed both the aggressive and the passive style of relating to others, and by definition, it would seem that a person would follow either one or the other type of response style.  However, people generally do not fit so easily into two opposing categories, thus, the majority of people would fall somewhere along the spectrum of the middle area between the two opposite poles of passive and aggressive types of responses, which is called simply enough, Passive-Aggressive.

 PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE TYPE

So how can it be that a person can be passive and aggressive at the same time?  Well, generally one follows the other.  As outlined in my initial blog post (four different types of attitudes), passive-aggressive people do not accept anger within themselves nor from someone else’s behavior.  Where the aggressive person is okay with his/her anger and the passive person is okay with someone else’s behavior, the passive-aggressive person is not okay with the expression of either.  A passive-aggressive person at the point of conflict will react in a passive manner initially, and then follow up in a “side-ways” aggressive style to get his/her point across.  This is caused by an effort to control themselves and the surrounding environment rather than accepting the actual flow of feelings and behaviors and responding to them appropriately as they arise.  The results of not accepting anger as a natural emotion (passive type), and not accepting that someone can at times do something to anger or hurt them (aggressive type), are that the passive-aggressive person ends up living with resentments, prejudices, anxiety, stress, tension, and a hyper-vigilance in relating to those around him/her.

 The Mind-Set

An example of passive-aggressive responses is an employee arrives at work to find another car parked in his parking spot and he becomes furious wanting to inflict harm on this person’s car. However, he does not say anything directly to the employee parked in his space, but rather goes on a smear campaign against this employee to other co-workers. Another example is a student becomes angry at her teacher from whom she received an average grade on a project that she worked on, and then does not exert as much effort in her work and shuts-down subtly, although she continues to attempt to act as if the average grade she received was actually no big deal.

 Intervention Strategies

In dealing with a passive-aggressive personality type it is important to understand that when they are angry they will express themselves with complaints and frustrations, however, they usually are not open to solution-based suggestions until they feel they are listened to and validated.  If you do not validate a passive-aggressive person when they feel angry or slighted, they may then include your suggestions and/or actions as part of the problem and most often will not inform you of this as they walk away from you.  A little validation and understanding can go a long way in helping a passive-aggressive person follow through with an assertive technique to help them feel relieved of their anger and move through their frustrations.

 Coming next… the assertive personality type, and how to become one.

The Passive Type Response

Not In Your Face!

In the last post I discussed the aggressive style of communicating with others, and in reality, the aggressive person is hard to ignore.  This is for good reason – they are in your face!  However, on the opposite end of the spectrum is the passive type, and this style of relating can be more difficult to spot or even see as a problem.  In our relations with each other, a passive person is often ignored, possibly disrespected, and can develop an isolating depression.

 PASSIVE TYPE

Is it negative to be passive?  Well, in effect yes.  It is the inactive pole (-) the receiving end to the active pole (+) the releasing end of the aggressive style.  The passive person is trying to create a constant state of homeostasis to maintain a sense of manageability even at their own detriment.  This passivity I am explaining is not to be confused with peaceful social activists that have changed the world through nonviolence such as Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others.  Just by using the word activist, cancels the inaction of passivity, and though the action is peaceful it is not passive but rather a “controlled assertiveness.” 

The Mind-Set

 The passive mind-set accepts feelings of anger from someone else, but does not accept their own natural flow of emotional anger.  Since anger is a secondary emotion, following either hurt or fear or both, the passive person will not tolerate these feelings as well.  By not owning their anger, nor the hurt or fear underneath, the passive person believes “I shouldn’t be angry.”  For instance, the student who under-achieves and does not respond to your motivational support, but rather “yesses” you nicely and appears to be listening is one example.  Another example is a co-worker who does not stand up after being talked-down to, feels their own beliefs are not important, and accept whatever comes their way without response to keep a sense of control.

 Intervention Strategies

The most important idea to be aware of in dealing with a passive personality type is to give them a safe space to talk about themselves.  In doing this you may find that they avoid describing “bad” feelings such as anger or sadness, however, some hints that they may be feeling this are turning their eyes down or half-hearted smiling while expressing their thoughts to you.  This can be a sign of depression that is common in this personality type.

 Coming next… The passive-aggressive personality type, who they are, and what they do.

The Aggressive Type Response

Someone You Know?

Is there someone you know who is a little too direct and possibly downright hurtful?  Somebody who does not think about yours or other people’s feelings consistently?  If so, you most likely often find yourself feeling uncomfortable in having to deal with their behaviors or achieving productive communication with them.

The Four Styles

In the last blog post I outlined the four different types of attitudes that people communicate with including Aggressive, Passive, Passive-Aggressive, and Assertive. Beginning with this post, I will discuss each type in more detail.

AGGRESSIVE TYPE

What does it mean to be aggressive?  Is it a positive or a negative trait?  Well, that depends on the context.  For instance, a person who is engaging in a competitive environment such as sports or business is often celebrated for their aggressiveness.  Although, this competitive behavior may be more of an “intense assertiveness,” since the idea of respecting the opponent is inherent in the competition.  In our normal interactions with each other an aggressive person is usually avoided or embroiled in some controversy of one type or another, and is normally not appreciated for their insensitive actions or words with others.

The Mind-Set 

The aggressive mind-set accepts feelings of anger, but does not accept that somebody has done something to anger him or her.  This “acceptance” of anger, however, is out of proportion because the aggressive person will feel self-righteous in their “right to be angry.” This combined with a developed belief that if somebody does something to anger him or her, then the target of their anger does not have rights and beliefs to be respected since that other person “started it.”  This results in a black-and-white outlook on life and leads to difficulties in communication.  Aggressive people stand out at times for their public displays of trying to control someone or disrupting an environment that they are not comfortable in.  For instance, the student who yells and curses at the teacher, or the co-worker who tries to humiliate another co-worker through condescending language at a staff meeting.  These people may feel that their behaviors are justified to achieve their means of being in control of their environment.

 Intervention Strategies

The most efficient strategy in handling this attitude is to act quickly, firmly, and with respect for you and the aggressive person.  The difficulty with this is that because of the inappropriateness of the aggressive person’s behavior, the subject of their anger can become shocked, surprised, or unable to control their own anger.  This results in the aggressive person achieving their goal of conflict or surrender (black-and-white thinking).  The ideal response is to tell the aggressive person that their behavior is inappropriate and that you are not a target, but rather a person who deserves respect.  If this is not enough to defuse their actions, then respectful reinforcement of peers to support your position at that moment is important.

 Coming next… The passive personality type and how to better communicate with them.

What Is Assertive Awareness?

He Said, She Said

“He made me do that to him,” “She makes me feel bad,” “I can’t stand people who…” Sound familiar?  This may be what you hear in your classroom, work area, or in your home from students, co-workers, family members, or even from you.  These types of attitudes are responses to conditions that are not suitable to our own comfort or well-being, and therefore, create a behavior pattern that we learn to protect ourselves with.  Unfortunately, the behaviors we learn (and then subsequently choose) as a response to an uncomfortable condition can lead to difficulty communicating with others and cause problems at school, work, and at home.
 
The Four Styles

There are four styles of attitudes that result in how we communicate with other people.  These are Aggressive, Passive, Passive-Aggressive, and Assertive.  All four of these mind-sets are developed by the way in which we view or accept our own feelings in combination with how we view or accept other people’s feelings and behaviors towards us.  In other words, how we deal with anger.  A way to identify your own response style or the way in which others respond is by using one of these four simple formulas:

Agressive = “I accept that I am angry,” but “I do not accept that you did something to anger me”  

Passive = “I do not accept that I am angry,” but “I accept that you did something to anger me”

Passive-Aggressive = “I do not accept that I am angry,” and “I do not accept that you did something to anger me”  

ASSERTIVE = “I accept that I am angry,” and “I accept that you did something to anger me”

What Does It Mean?

What does it mean to accept that I am angry or that someone has done something to anger me?  Here is how I define this “acceptance” or “non-acceptance:”
 
“I accept that I am angry,” says that I understand that anger is an emotion that is just one part of a wide range of emotions that I experience as a human being.  It is natural, instinctive, and can be useful.
 
“I do not accept that I am angry,” suggests that I am not satisfied with my own basic feelings and instincts of protection, and therefore reject the natural flow of my emotions to gain control or possibly manipulate others.
 
“I accept that you did something to anger me,” implies that I feel confident in setting safe boundaries and protecting myself from feeling hurt.  I accept that I cannot control other people, and I realize that I am not responsible for their thoughts, feelings, and actions.
 
“I do not accept that you did something to anger me,” suggests that I do not feel safe with my capacity to set safe, firm, emotional boundaries with people, and therefore feel the instinctive need to overprotect myself.

How your child, student, co-worker, family member, or significant other acts and reacts in the world depends on which combination of two of the four definitions they choose in their lives.
 
Over the next few posts, I will give examples and break down each of the four styles of reaction to help you identify and communicate more effectively using assertive awareness techniques as the model.