The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines assertiveness as:
Some people may struggle to behave assertively for a number of reasons, and find that they behave either aggressively or passively instead.
Responding in a passive or non-assertive way tends to mean compliance with the wishes of others and can undermine individual rights and self-confidence.
Many people adopt a passive response because they have a strong need to be liked by others. Such people do not regard themselves as equals because they place greater weight on the rights, wishes and feelings of others. Being passive results in failure to communicate thoughts or feelings and results in people doing things they really do not want to do in the hope that they might please others. This also means that they allow others to take responsibility, to lead and make decisions for them.
A classic passive response is offered by those who say ‘yes’ to requests when they actually want to say ‘no’.For example:
“Do you think you can find the time to wash the car today?”
A typical passive reply might be:
“Yes, I’ll do it after I’ve done the shopping, made an important telephone call, finished the filing, cleaned the windows and made lunch for the kids!”
A far more appropriate response would have been:
“No, I can’t do it today as I’ve got lots of other things I need to do.”
The person responding passively really does not have the time, but their answer does not convey this message. The second response is assertive as the person has considered the implications of the request in the light of the other tasks they have to do.
Assertiveness is equally important at work as at home.
If you become known as a person who cannot say no, you will be loaded up with tasks by your colleagues and managers, and you could even make yourself ill.
When you respond passively, you present yourself in a less positive light or put yourself down in some way. If you constantly belittle yourself in this way, you will come to feel inferior to others. While the underlying causes of passive behaviour are often poor self-confidence and self-esteem, in itself it can further reduce feelings of self-worth, creating a vicious circle.
By being aggressive towards someone else, their rights and self-esteem are undermined.
Aggressive behaviour fails to consider the views or feelings of other individuals. Those behaving aggressively will rarely show praise or appreciation of others and an aggressive response tends to put others down. Aggressive responses encourage the other person to respond in a non-assertive way, either aggressively or passively. There is a wide range of aggressive behaviours, including rushing someone unnecessarily, telling rather than asking, ignoring someone, or not considering another’s feelings. Good interpersonal skills mean you need to be aware of the different ways of communicating and the different responses each approach might provoke. The use of either passive or aggressive behaviour in interpersonal relationships can have undesirable consequences for those you are communicating with and it may well hinder positive moves forward. It can be a frightening or distressing experience to be spoken to aggressively and the receiver can be left wondering what instigated such behaviour or what he or she has done to deserve the aggression. If thoughts and feelings are not stated clearly, this can lead to individuals manipulating others into meeting their wishes and desires. Manipulation can be seen as a covert form of aggression whilst humour can also be used aggressively.
You may find that you respond differently — whether passively, assertively or aggressively — when you are communicating in different situations. It is important to remember that any interaction is always a two-way process and therefore your reactions may differ, depending upon your relationship with the other person in the communication. You may for example find it easier to be assertive to your partner than to your boss or vice versa. However, whether it is easy or not, an assertive response is always going to be better for you and for your relationship with the other person.
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