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Being Assertive is HARD

One of things that comes up most often in my work with clients is them facing a challenge or difficulty in a relationship. Whether it’s a point of difference with a parent or ongoing miscommunication with a partner, most of us have a hard time being honest and forthcoming about our emotions, needs and desires. Being assertive is HARD.

Honest communication is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our relationship. Often times we think of a person being a “good communicator” or not, but as most therapists know it’s all about building the SKILL! With effort, any poor communicator can turn into someone who can expertly share their thoughts and opinions to have their needs met.

Getting Real about Being Assertive

First, let’s talk about what being assertive is not. Being assertive is not about being “mean” or “angry”. It’s not acting out and being aggressive or using violent, shaming or abusive language (aggressive communication style).

Being assertive is also not withholding your thoughts and feelings about your true feelings in order to keep the peace. It is not being passive in order to maintain the parts of the relationship that you like, forsaking other needs in the process (passive communication).

Being assertive is also not pretending that you’re OK when you’re not, only to act out in other ways like giving someone the silent treatment or testing (or punishing) the other person because you find it hard to speak plainly (passive-aggressive communication).

So how do you know when you’re assertive?

Being Assertive is HARD.

I love a good acronym and this is a great one. You’ll know that your communication is assertive when it is honest, appropriate, respectful and direct. That means no beating around the bush. To be assertive means to speak plainly about what your thoughts are. To be assertive means to speak of your hurt. Being assertive means asking for what you want to see from the person you’re talking to.

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Here’s an example:

Let’s say that you and your partner decide to meet up at a restaurant one night for date night. You’re both coming from work in different parts of the city. You head over right on time and find yourself waiting there for your partner to arrive. Your partner arrives after your reservation time. They apologize because they took a call to discuss a non-urgent matter with a friend on the phone. You’re upset. You’ve talked before about how much you hate waiting, and your partner is consistently late. Being assertive might sound like:

“I’m actually upset right now because we’ve talked before how important it is to be on time, especially when we have a reservation. I’d appreciate if you tried hard to be mindful of this because I actually find it very disrespectful.”

This is just an example and remember there’s no one way or right language to be assertive. But, you can see how this language isn’t aggressive – there’s no name-calling or belittling. It’s not passive because the person is speaking up for themselves very clearly. It’s not passive-aggressive communication because there are no moments of silent seething and plotting to get even later.

This example is honest, appropriate, respectful and direct.

Being assertive is easier said than done. I hope this example, and framework, offers a bit more guidance on how you can move forward and improve your communication, no matter the situation.

Author: Jor-El

Jor-El is Co-founder of Viva Wellness and a foodie and film buff. He most often writes about mental health, relationships, food and mindfulness. When he’s not busy working, he typically can be found lounging or walking around NYC with his pup Nomi.

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