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Finding Your Assertive Self

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There are a few kinds of people we might regularly find in a group setting or common work environment. If you watch carefully, you’ll recognize assertive people, aggressive people, and passive people. An assertive person establishes boundaries and states opinions while respecting others. The assertive person is open about what they personally need. An aggressive person tries to dominate others, with behaviors that destroy the boundaries of other people and stifle honest discussions. Aggressive people may view assertiveness as a challenge, demanding passivity from everyone. Passive people accept whatever anyone else says or does. They’re typically easy targets for aggression and can be frustrating for assertive people who believe that everyone has a right to establish their own boundaries and state their own opinions. They often look busy because they are trying to meet everyone else’s needs before their own.

Clearly both aggressive and passive group members cause dysfunction within a team. However, they cause much more damage if they’re attempting to lead the team. Aggressive leaders force the team to disregard their own interests and ultimately the interests of the company. They are under the constant stress of quashing other people because they need to be in control at all times and can never relax. On the other hand, passive leaders constantly change focus and priorities at the whim of other people—and the team also has to constantly change. A passive leader creates and experiences constant chaos, an equally stressful condition because a passive leader always out of control. Being an effective leader that manages a strong team requires you to know your values and you know your limits

Know Your Values

To find your assertive self, you must first commit to the values that are important to you. For example, accountability, responsibility, respect, and trustworthiness. Once you relay those values to others, you will feel empowered to stand up to those who violate them. If someone devalues your time by coming to meetings late or avoids their responsibilities by expecting you to handle them, you stand up for yourself by standing up for your values.

You expressive your assertive self by making decisions based on your values, including honesty, integrity, and level of risk to yourself and others. You do not wallow in guilt for having a problem or needing help with a decision—especially if the problem or situation was outside your control—but simply state the facts. You avoid stress because you have standards guide your behavior and your decisions.

Your values may change over time, especially as your priorities change in your professional and personal life. Your commitment to your values and your comfort in expressing them should never change.

Know Your Limits

You find your assertive self when you realize that it is up to the others to offer their opinion just as honestly and respectfully as you offer yours. You listen to the point of view of the other person and take it into consideration, without immediately surrendering to it or expecting them to surrender to you. That is the only way you can ever reach a win/win situation.

If you are an apologizer, you stop apologizing for everything you do. You are fine with saying “no” and sticking to your guns, even if other people try to guilt  you into changing your mind (“if you don’t join us for drinks after work, you’re letting down the entire team”). You avoid stress because you make yourself—not other people—accountable for what you do, how you spend your time, and what you prioritize in life.

You know people cannot possibly read your mind, so you speak up. Your body language conveys simple confidence in your right to respectfully express and stand up for your needs, without aggression and without self-deprecation.

In discussing assertiveness, the Mayo Clinic recommends using simple and specific “I” statements, rather than “you” statements. In that regard, “I expect you to arrive on time” is an improvement over “You better not be late” and “I disagree” is better than “You are wrong.” Simple, declarative statements also avoid apologetic and ignorable requests like “It would be nice if you could arrive on time.”

Keep in mind that incorporating these changes into your daily interactions will take time and diligence. Allow yourself this time and be mindful of your words. By knowing your values and knowing your limits, you’ll find your assertive self in no time.

Key Takeaways

Both aggressive and passive group members can result in lack of cohesion within a group. Finding your assertive self is especially important when you're leading a group. Two key elements to finding your assertive self are knowing your values and knowing your limits.

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