What Does It Mean To Be Assertive?

The word, “assertive” is defined in many different ways: “bold,” “definite,” “insistent,” “positive,” “certain,” and “confident.” Being assertive means you have the skills to ask for or clearly state what you want or need. Take a look at the following scenario, question and responses.

Scenario: Jane’s Trip to the Movies

Jane goes to the movies with a friend. She approaches the snack counter and orders two sodas and two large bags of buttered popcorn. The young lady behind the snack counters gives her one iced tea, one soda and two medium-size bags of plain popcorn.

What Would You Do If You Were Jane?

Response 1: Pay and take the incorrect snacks the young lady gave you. It’s no big deal because you like iced tea. Plus, you and your friend won’t mind eating plain popcorn instead of buttered. You thank her and head to your seats with the drinks and popcorn, feeling disappointed.

Response 2: You get angry. You tell the young lady what you think of her listening skills and work habits. Then, you demand to get what you ordered at no charge. You sit down and tell your friend, “I sure told her!

Response 3: You calmly repeat your order. You ask the young lady to exchange the iced tea for another soda and the 2 medium bags of plain popcorn for 2 large bags of buttered popcorn. You thank her, pay and take your snacks.

Response 1: The Passive Response

If you selected 1, you responded passively. It may be wise to brush up on your assertiveness skills. Taking the passive approach by not re-stating your order may indicate that you feel uncomfortable about asserting your own wants or needs.

Here are some reasons why this may be the case:

You feel uncomfortable standing up for yourself.
You feel unworthy.
You believe that speaking up means you’re aggressive.

Response 2: The Aggressive Response

If you selected 2, you responded aggressively. You might feel annoyed and angry about the young lady’s mistakes.

Some things to consider if this is your preferred response:

You may feel justified in your reaction because, after all, she’s wrong and you’re right.
You must demand satisfaction from this person.
Consider practicing assertiveness rather than aggressiveness in the future. See below for ideas.

Assertive Response

If you selected 3, you chose the assertive response. You believe you have a right to receive what you ordered.

You have confidence to appropriately ask again for what you ordered.
You chalk it up to a minor mistake by the young lady and forget about it.

What Can You Do To Be More Assertive?

Practice the following skills in your everyday life to become more assertive:

  1. Make every effort to be honest, even when you’re in a tough situation. 
  2. Describe to the person what you observed or experienced. A detective on an old television show, Dragnet, was known for saying, “Just the facts, ma’am.” The facts are your central focus when someone hasn’t responded to your clearly stated wants or needs. Avoid being judgmental or stating your opinion.
  3. When sharing your feelings, use “I” statements. “I asked for two sodas and two large bags of buttered popcorn.” Then state or ask for what you need. “Could you get them for me, please?”
  4. Be mindful of your tone of voice. If you’re irritated or angry, it will come across to the person. It’s better to have a cooling off period so you can keep your tone normal to state what you want or need.
  5. Maintain eye contact with the person when you talk to them.
  6. Allow yourself to feel confident about your ability to communicate your wishes. Tell yourself that you have every right to be honest and direct with others, as long as you do it tactfully and respect the other person involved.

Understanding how you respond in situations when your needs are unmet is important to living a healthy life. Examine how you behave in such situations to determine your assertiveness response type. If you seek to improve your level of assertiveness, try practicing the above suggestions.