We are almost ready to wrap up our discussion on assertiveness. We have already discussed the passive type and the aggressive type. Now it is time to discuss how to meet in the middle of these two extremes of the assertiveness continuum, or in other words, being assertive.
Assertive individuals express their feelings and thoughts in a manner which do not infringe on the rights of others. You've met people like this -- they are respectful, say what they are thinking but always take into account the feelings and impact of their statements on others. They come across as strong and confident but yet approachable. They have good eye contact, are good listeners and appear physically relaxed while conversing with others. Assertive individuals stand up for their personal rights but also respect the opinions of others.
Assertive individuals are much more likely to be successful in relationships, work, and life in general because they understand that the only thing they have control over is themselves. They get respect because they give respect. They are not afraid to say to somebody "I want you to know that your comment hurt my feelings." Will it change what the person said? No. Will it change the way that individual interacts with them in the future? Possibly. Will the person who expressed their feelings be walking around sulking or being angry wishing they had stood up for themselves? Absolutely not.
When discussing assertiveness, I like to use the example of going to the grocery store and having someone cut in front of them in the checkout lane. We've all had that happen at least once in our lives. But what do you do? Do you ignore the cut? Do you berate the person for being rude> Or do you say politely but firmly, "Excuse me, but I am next in line. The end of the line is back there." Of course, how you respond may depend on your mood that day or how much time you have to shop. The way to know for sure if you should have said something is if you are still stewing about it when you get out to the parking lot.
Being assertive doesn't change the situation, but it allows you to rid yourself of unnecessary emotional baggage, i.e., stewing about the person who cut in front of you or about the way your co-worker addressed you in a meeting, etc. Assertive individuals don't waste their energy in this way. I guess an easier way to describe it is that assertive individuals have very good boundaries.
So, back to why I am writing about assertiveness on a parenting blog. As I discussed in my initial post, our kids learn more from what they see us do than what we tell them. As parents, we have to be what we want our kids to be. We want to model healthy boundaries so our kids will be able to navigate the myriad of relationships and situations they will encounter in the grown up world. This includes modeling good assertive communication with our spouse/significant other, relatives, friends and co-workers.
And what to do if we slip to either end of the spectrum in front of our kids? Use it as a learning opportunity. Explain how you should have handled the situation and why. It's important for kids to know that we too make mistakes and that rather than beating ourselves up, we use them as ways to learn.
Next time, I'll share some assertiveness techniques and tips.