Your Right to Be Assertive

The first step in any effort to be more assertive is an inner step -- recognizing your own needs and desires. This is obvious when stated, but often overlooked in real life. Getting in the habit of checking, really checking, your honest thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs is essential in effective assertive behavior. It is very easy to get in the habit of acting today as you acted on previous occasions, yet you might choose a different action if you ask yourself, What do I really want right now? If you can be honest with yourself, you are ready to be honest with others.

To be actively assertive, you must make a clear and direct statement of your needs or desires or anything beyond what feels safe. A clear and direct statement that opens a conversation is enough. Assertiveness requires interaction with others; it is not simply a monologue of demands. Your initial statement, and all the statements that make up a conversation, need to be honest, direct, and straightforward.

Of course, stating your needs or desires is not a guarantee that they will be fulfilled. So besides learning how to state your needs and desires to others, it is just as important to learn that you do not have to go along with others when they state their needs or desires. Learning to say no means learning what you really want as well as being willing to take a stand. And since you are not alone in this world, you need to learn to balance your own needs with the needs of others.

So the essence of assertiveness is learning who and what you are and, at the same time, expressing who and what you are. You need both to become fully assertive.

One of the primary characteristics of assertive behavior is awareness of others' needs. People like to be listened to. More than that, they need to be listened to. When others know that you listen to them, they are more likely to listen to you. An essential strategy of being assertive is to communicate your understanding of the other person’s point of view through such techniques as parroting, paraphrasing, and interpreting. Another useful assertiveness technique is the "endless tape." To use it, you simply state your specific, reasonable demands or desires repeatedly to overcome the other person’s multiple excuses and refusals. As you experiment with these techniques, you gain a deeper understanding of the individual you are talking with at the moment as well as enhancing your understanding of human nature in general.

Your body language is extremely important in your attempt to be assertive. An assertive voice is clear and strong. An assertive posture is erect but not rigid: head up, back straight, body relaxed and poised. Make eye contact, and maintain a friendly expression. Keep your hands relatively still. Breath naturally.

A set of basic human rights is the basis for assertiveness training. While these may not be as well known as the rights expressed in the Constitution, they are as fundamental. You may find it helpful to call one or more of these to mind as you struggle with being assertive in a particular situation.

  • You have the right to be treated with respect and to maintain your dignity in every situation.
  • You have the right to want or to do anything you please, as long as you are not hurting anyone or violating anyone else’s basic human rights.
  • You have the right to state your desires and opinions in any situation (without expecting that others must satisfy them).
  • You have the right to be yourself all the time.
  • You have the right to discuss situations with others involved.
  • You have the right to make your own decisions how and when you want, free from interference and oppression imposed by others.
  • You have the right to give up any of these rights for whatever period of time you want, without penalty or loss of future rights. And remember, everyone else is entitles to this same set of basic human rights. Your rights need to coexist with the rights of others.

Excerpted from Assertiveness for Career and Personal Success by Jeanie Marshall. © 1993, American Management Association Inc. To find out more about this self-study, click here.

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