Assert your way to success and health

Time to ‘fess up. Are you assertive? Or are you aggressive? Some people think they are acting assertively when they are really being aggressive. And some people think if they assert themselves others will interpret their behaviour as aggression.

There’s a world of difference between assertive and aggressive, so let’s start with a definition. Assertive people express themselves, while still respecting others. Aggressive people attack or ignore others’ opinions, in favour of their own.

Being assertive is key to being a great communicator. When you are assertive you speak with your authentic voice. That’s your voice when you’re not feeling threatened, being aggressive or feeling defensive.

When you are assertive, you are honest with yourself and with others. You ask for help when you need it. You say no when you don’t want to do something. You express what you’re feeling, without being overbearing or judgmental.

If you want to assert yourself, stick with ‘I’ statements as much as possible.  Don’t say “You’re wrong”. Say “I don’t agree.”

Here are some useful assertive phrases:

‘I need…’

‘I feel…’

‘I want…’

Being assertive means speaking your mind. Sometimes we hold back and bite our tongues. We let problems simmer. The result – invariably – is an explosion of emotion, often with aggression.

A better strategy is to learn how to express your feelings openly. An assertive person might say ‘When you do (describe the behaviour), the effects are (describe the consequences). I’d prefer (state your desire outcome).’

Another phrase is useful when trying to reconcile two different positions: ‘I understand you (brief summary of what the person said). However I (state your desired outcome).’

In addition to using the right words, you need to have assertive body language. Maintain eye contact with the other person. Keep your body relaxed. Don’t cross your arms. Relax your facial muscles. Try to avoid frowns, furrowed brows, or down-turned lips. Keep your voice neutral and level.

There are many benefits of being assertive. You have more confidence. You build a better reputation. Your ideas get implemented. And you are healthier. According to the Mayo Clinic, not only does assertiveness make you a better communicator, it helps reduce stress.