Why Assertion Matters
Some people are so anxious they allow others to walk all over them. By contrast, some people are so anxious not to allow this to happen, they send out ‘keep your distance' signals and can appear, aloof, aggressive and unapproachable. Between these extremes is assertiveness behavior. Think of assertion as a more appropriate form of behavior that allows you to stand up for your own rights without violating the rights of others.
Assertiveness is a real boost to self-confidence, but you do need some level of self belief that you can be effective. Not all encounters will necessarily change in the direction you might wish, but your own sense of satisfaction will increase in the knowledge that many will, and no-one has been damaged in the process.
Being assertive doesn't mean you have to take on every situation or social encounter as though it is a battle to be won. Moreover, the range of situations and events included under the category of ‘assertion' might surprise you. For example, thanking someone appropriately is assertive, as is admitting you have forgotten someone's name, or forgotten to do something. Apologizing, when you are clearly at fault, or making moves to smooth over a previously tense encounter, are two more examples of assertive behavior.
Then we have the ‘other' situations. All situations are not the same and most people have their own comfort zone. When was the last time you asked someone to stop gossiping about other people? When did you last ask for a pay rise, or ask someone to stop smoking, or insist on seeing the manager over damaged or faulty goods? Some of these examples represent no-go areas for many people. Part of the reason is that people are at their least comfortable when asking for something for themselves. In turn, this says something about the association between assertiveness and self-image.
Behaving assertively means holding a line between non-assertion and aggression. This isn't always easy, especially if the other person is being aggressive, or is asserting their power or authority over you (real or perceived). But, getting back to basics, the fact is that most encounters are based on a system of mutual benefit. So, if someone asks you to swap shifts, you have a few possible choices. You could comply, even though you didn't want to swap. You could say ‘no thanks'. You could tell the other person you'll get back to them and then use the time to think about whether this is what you want, or to work out some alternatives. You could agree, but only if they agree to do something for you. All of these are possibilities and all, except the first, are examples of assertion.
Is it possible to be over-assertive but not really aggressive? Yes it is. It is not untypical to find that your newly appointed boss, or the young executive, falls into this category. The emphasis tends to be on them placing a higher value on their own rights than on yours. The fact that they have the right to change systems and practices, and do, is typical of the ‘new broom'. In most cases the new broom sweeps, and once swept, things settle into a new routine reasonably quickly.
Being assertive in your private life is usually different to assertion at work. Within your private life you will exhibit far more in the way of personal feelings and emotions. You will react differently to circumstances and the range of events and situations you encounter is fundamentally different to those of work. Assertion, in this context, is often a matter of asking others to recognize and accept that your behavior and emotions are part of your character.