Life is a Revelation…be encouraged

Virtue #4–Assertiveness

The University of Illinois’ Counseling Center has an excellent paper on being assertive, it is entitled “Being Assertive in a Diverse World.” Excellent title and insightful content, weighing the difference between being able to express your opinions (e.g., hold your own) and going too far into aggressive behavior. Their definition of assertiveness, I believe, strikes the right balance:

“Assertiveness is the ability to express yourself openly and honestly while also reflecting a genuine concern for others. It is about having the confidence to speak your values and beliefs, and to be courageous enough to speak up when needed.”

I like that. It is succinct and to the point. Ambiguity is left for those who like to split hairs; attorneys and those elected officials who suddenly find they wished they had voted a different way on a contentious bill.

My wife, Susie, and I are polar opposites. I tend to be too far into the aggressor mode and she hates to walk on grass because she is breaking their little stems as they stretch out to the sun. She comes from a home life where the father was a raging alcoholic and a single peep could be reason enough to go in and destroy all the furniture in your bedroom. In my house, you won the argument by screaming longer and louder than everyone else. I found these debating techniques to be especially beneficial in my early days as drug dealer and as a result honed them to a fine edge.

We have learned after nearly eighteen year of marriage there is wisdom in compromise. The trick is to strike the right balance. We have found this balance originates in the heart. What are your motives? Is compassion driving your words or just the desire to be proven right? What is it you are trying to accomplish?

There is an unbelievable need in our culture for compassionate assertive behavior. Assertiveness falls in between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  Be too passive and you feel inhibited and anxious, unable to convey how you truly feel. Going too far the other way can cause a lack of respect from those you are communicating with.  The compassionate assertive person will take into account the feelings and beliefs of those they are interacting with, carefully choosing the correct words so as not to offend. They will know what to say and how to say it.

True compassionate assertiveness takes time and practice. I’ve had to radically alter my methods of communication when expressing my beliefs on a subject, more so when those I am in discussion with may not share the same feelings and thoughts. I have also failed more times than is comfortable for me to admit. Susie, as well, has learned to give voice to her feelings and emotions. She has mastered the ability to discuss nearly any situation with others and remain firm, yet gentle, in expressing her ideas. This combination has gone a long way in bring peace and harmony into our marriage.

Learning we have the right to be assertive is difficult. Developing the concept that you have the right to be heard can be extremely troublesome for some. Of course, there are varying reasons for these issues. Some may feel they cannot be themselves because of a lack of self-esteem. Others may not feel safe to “rock the boat,” so to speak, in a corporate setting. Then there is always the societal misperception that men, who are assertive, are take charge leaders, while women who exhibit similar qualities are…ahem, bitches.

As I have studied and written about virtues I continue to be struck by the tension and balance which exists in each aspect. Too little and the virtue is literally of no effect, too much and you border on being perceived as a demigod. Striking that balance is not easy. It requires continual attention to the details, as well as the big picture.

These articles have generated several comments and I hope they continue to do so. All of you have had interesting and insightful thoughts about each virtue and I have enjoyed reading them. More importantly your comments have opened ideas in my mind that I’m sure I would have never discovered on my own. So please, continue to share your thoughts, ideas, theories, recipes, money…whatever. As always I wish you the best.

Be encouraged!

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22 thoughts on “Virtue #4–Assertiveness

  1. Excellent post Stephen. I love this topic. I actually teach workshops on the four different types of communication – assertiveness being the the most effective and healthy style. (I grew up in a house like yours so I know where you’re coming from.)

    Anyway, here are some situations that might help illustrate the different styles.
    1. If somebody cuts in front of you in the grocery store – (passive, aggressive, Passive-aggressive, and Assertive people will all respond differently.)
    2. If some one is talking in the movie theater and you’re being disturbed.
    3. If your food is over-cooked or under-cooked in a restaurant, etc.
    These are basic examples and obviously they can get more challenging.

    I tell my clients to use this formula to help them with being assertive. It’s pretty easy for beginners. Use “I FEEL” and “I NEED” statements. No one can dispute or argue when you’re expressing a piece of yourself – feelings.

    Assertive people have healthy self-esteem and so they don’t have a problem with expressing their needs – it’s very natural for them. They don’t read more into a situation than is there. They don’t take things personally. (Likely they didn’t grow up in too much dysfunction. They had a family that was respectful, etc.)

    Aggressive people have low self-esteem and feel the only way they can get their needs met is if they act forceful, controlling, loud, and aggressive. They have no problem breaking your boundaries as long as they get what they want.

    Passive communicators also have a diminished sense of self. The message they send the world is, “I’m not good enough to have my needs met, hell, I’m not even good enough to have needs! I’m more likable if I fly below the radar. I don’t want to draw attention to myself because I don’t really know how people will respond. I don’t feel emotionally safe enough to take that risk.”

    Passive- aggressive people will just smile and outwardly appear calm and cool but inside they’re full of rage. Since they grew up in households that didn’t allow real authentic feelings to be expressed, they hide their anger and let it come out later in a sneaky way. If you cut in front of them or were talking in the theater, etc., they might key your car in the parking lot. This is probably the most unhealthy and unattractive of the different styles. Sort of twisted.

    Yes, another long comment. Sorry! I got carried away!!!

    • I’ve just told my wife you are my soul mate…anybody who writes long comments like yours…well let me just say it must be destiny written in the stars…lol.

      Thanks for getting carried away…I appreciate your thoughts.

      Be encouraged!

      • We’re definitely from the same tribe, Stephen. Your passion and sense of responsibility to share what you know jumps off the page. I so respect that. Lessons learned the hard way are always worth sharing.
        I REALLY enjoy your posts. (You couldn’t tell, right? hahaha!)

      • Hey Lisa, are you in this country? I’m just curious…not in some weird stalking kind of way…LOL.

        Be encouraged!

    • Interesting examples. I would have said I was reasonably assertive but I know in each of those examples I probably wouldn’t have said anything, so perhaps I am only assertive in an assured environment (family/friends) which probably isn’t assertive at all!! haha. Oh well.

      • Haha! It’s good to examine that part of ourselves that prevents us from speaking up and taking care of our needs. Those examples are good because they’re simple things that happen all the time. Sometimes we’re raised to think that speaking up is selfish, rude, unkind, or that people won’t like us, etc. It’s really a false and unhealthy message we get from our family — and it’s not so easy to undo!
        Being self-aware is so important and then catching yourself and practicing. After a while you’ll see that those earlier messages were untrue.

        As a mother it’s important to raise your kids in a way that teaches them to be assertive. You’ll be happy you did later on when you don’t have to worry about them taking care of themselves. : )

      • One of the greatest gifts we are working on giving our six year old Grandson is the gift of being assertive. We believe this originates in self-esteem, so we do our best to convey how important he is. We try to demonstrate to him his self-worth. Poor little guy is going to grow up thinking every experience he has is a life revelation…er, wait a minute, maybe it is…lol.

        Be encouraged!

      • Haha! He’s a lucky guy! It really is a blessing to know that when our kids are out in the world that they feel good enough about themselves to take care of their needs. It takes a lot of the worry away. : )

      • Hopefully we can raise up a generation of children who will be well balanced, compassionate, loving and kind…at least that is my plan…lol.

        Be encouraged!

      • Hi Jessica, thank you for your comments. Assertiveness can be an odd cat…too much and you are major butthead…too little and you become the world’s doormat…where I struggle is finding the right balance.

        This life thing can be pretty interesting at times…lol.

        Be encouraged!

  2. AgrippingLife on said:

    Yes, I live in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. I’m nothing if not trusting! Haha!

  3. I used to be quiet and too “nice” but also too nice to be passive aggressive, thank goodness. But, like Susie, I learned to (kindly) speak up. Sometimes I regret doing so because I’d rather have my own feelings hurt than hurt someone else’s. There is a fine line, as you say. Also, because people take their beliefs very seriously, if we differ in what are deemed significant ways, it is unfortunately easier to offend just by being different.
    Very interesting, Stephen. Thank you, and happy weekend to S and JtWD, and the new additions. ~ Lily

    • Hi Lily, thanks for taking the time to comment…you know I appreciate hearing from you. Susie and Jake tWD all say hi back.

      Have a great weekend with friends and family.

      Be ecnouraged!

  4. Excellent! I’m glad I lingered long enough to read it… compassionate assertiveness does take time, practice and vigilance. It also takes the best insight you offered in your post, a willingness to redefine what the word “assertiveness” truly means. TY! 🙂

  5. Hey, good morning Stephen. When you wrote your wife & you are ‘polar opposites’ I actually read ‘bipolar opposites’! I did!! So funny, the mind.

    Assertiveness is definitely something that took me more than a decade to learn. This article sounds very valuable. Because I’ve got to get ready for work now, I’ll copy the link & email it to my workplace where I can print it.

    And what you said ‘learning that you have the right to be heard can be troublesome for some’ is so, so true. It HEAPS was for me. I had no boundaries for decades, and that could be seen (I just don’t know how) by men a mile off.

    Great post.

    • First of all, have fun at work…if you can…may the time you are at work go fast and the time you are off work go slow!

      That whole “could be seen by men a mile off” could be the subject of several books…everybody has an idea how it works…mine was always the ability to catch the average housewife just wanting to go bad…and, of course, I was always more than willing to be of assistance. It has been over twenty years since I exercised that way of thinking, but I firmly believe there is some kind of vibe that people give off that denotes their needs/wants, whether they be sexual or otherwise.

      Glad to hear there are boundaries beginning to take shape. It is weird that all we hear about in culture is to throw off shackles and boundaries, to have no limits. Yet the truth is we need some, whether it be moral guidance or just core values, we need something that gives us structure…otherwise there is nothing that separates us from the rest of animal kingdom.

      As always Noeleen, it was good to hear from you. Every time I see your byline I get a smile…thanks for the smile today…hope you and yours have a great week.

      Be encouraged!

  6. Like your words on compassionate assertiveness. That’s something I’ve been working on for many years, but not sure that I ever called it that. Thanks for giving me some new words to describe part of my spiritual and life path. 🙂

  7. Great post, Steve. I was glad to see the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness being added to the mix by your first responder. Some people confuse the two, especially people who are aggressive by nature. 🙂 Many people, especially women, need to have assertiveness training to give them the confidence to contribute to discussions, defend their positions, and fully participate. Very different from being aggressive, which has the connotation of being a bully. I wonder if there is such a thing as compassionate aggressiveness, as in the gruff patriarchal type about whom one MIGHT say, “He means well” or “His heart is in the right place.” He’s still a bully!

    And you’re still at the beginning of the alphabet. So much virtuous fun ahead!
    Thanks, Jane

    • Hey Jane, Thanks for taking the time not only to read, but also to give me some great feedback. Funny you should mention the “Many people, especially women, need to have assertiveness training to give them confidence…” My wife Susie and I are co-founding a company to supply content for an all day women’s professional empowerment conference. Think more razzle dazzle, like a Broadway show with speakers, skits, videos, and magic all focused on motivating and empowering women in their professional and private lives.

      Keep sending me thoughts, ideas, or whatever comes to mind…love hearing from you.

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