Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive. What’s the difference? Three words: respect for others. Being assertive means standing up for yourself but not against anyone else. When you speak your mind respectfully and honestly, without attacking or blaming, people know where you stand. They aren’t left wondering how you are feeling or what made you frustrated. Being assertive is productive most of the time. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll always get what you want.
Take Five for Assertiveness
Wondering where to start learning how to be assertive? Here are five suggestions:
- Think carefully before you speak. Think before saying something that you may regret. If you need help organizing your thoughts, you can write out a letter or make a list of the things you would like to say to help you stick to the issue at hand.
- Avoid blaming. Use “I statements” that begin with “I feel,” “I think,” “I need” and so forth to help you express your feelings without blaming the other person. These kinds of statements help you focus on what actually happened and on your reactions to the situation, not on the other person. When people feel attacked or blamed, they’re likely to get defensive or shut down and stop listening. Connect your emotional reaction to very specific behaviors so people know exactly what upset you.
- Never say never. When people are angry, it’s easy to take things to extremes. That’s why it’s best to avoid using such words as “always” and “never” when you’re talking about yourself, someone else or the situation at hand. “You never call me back on time” or “You never say I look nice” imply that there’s no way to solve the problem. These types of statements are rarely accurate, and they make people more defensive and angry. They also bring the past into the discussion, while the thing you want to do is to stay concentrated on the one situation that just occurred.
- Don’t hold a grudge. When people do things that make you angry, let them know how you feel and then let the anger go. Holding on to anger eats away at you and sours your outlook on life. Even the best relationships include disappointments and frustrations. We’re all only human.
- Use humor. Laughter can help release tension. Using humor can include imagining silly situations in order to lighten your mood or making a joke to create laughter and break the tension. Be careful to avoid sarcasm, though—it’s a way of expressing anger indirectly that can make matters worse.
If your anger is causing problems for you, think about getting some help. Talk to someone at your college’s counseling center or a trusted faculty or family member about getting the support you need. Remember that you can change the way you express your anger. It will take time and effort, but an improved frame of mind and relationships are definitely worth it. Give yourself credit for the big and small steps you take along the way.