Assertiveness and assertive communication

assertiveness can be defined as the ability of a person to recognize their needs and express them in their own environment, with good chances of reaching their goals while maintaining a positive relationship with others. From the etymological point of view, the term assertiveness derives from the Latin verb “asserere” (to assert, in the Italian translation) and from the English “assertiveness”.

It is a behavior that promotes equality in human relationships, which allows people to act to safeguard their interests and rights, while respecting those of others. What assertiveness it can not be considered a concept equivalent to or synonymous with skills / social competence, as it is confined to a specific sector, although extended and composite, the above skills.

Those who are assertive use a type of communication, verbal and non-verbal, which is a clear and direct expression of their needs, wants, desires or intentions, but which also takes into account the feelings and emotions of the person with whom they communicate. There is an intrinsic idea of ​​reciprocity, because the same right to communicate convictions, feelings and to pursue objectives is also recognized to others.

In fact, the concept of assertiveness is closely connected to that of freedom, both from environmental conditioning and from expressing oneself in more advanced and technically more effective forms. The first form of freedom concerns the subject and consists in being oneself; the second is the freedom of others, in the sense that it is recognized for the same purpose.

Assertive communication

The communication assertive is directed to the improvement of interpersonal relationships that occur on a daily basis to the family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues of your workplace or any person with whom you exchange any kind of conversation.

Specifically, assertiveness  is the particular competence that involves being able to express one’s inner world, made up of ideas and emotional states, while avoiding creating damage to other people by causing offenses or not respecting the opinions of others.

Assertive individuals  , therefore, are able not only to considerably increase the quality of the relationship that is established with the other person, but also that of their way of life. In doing so, according to various psychologists who study the subject, they assertively defend their opinions, without accusing peaks of anxiety, but having the opportunity to express to others what they are the feelings felt, without infringing on their rights.

Furthermore, in  assertive communication , there is an excellent balance between two types of behavior possessed by each individual: we are talking about the passive and the aggressive; this also means living relationships with others in a balanced way, that is, without suffering and without attacking.

Some models proposed in the United States, the country where the study and practice of the assertiveness argument was born  (Alberti and Emmons, 1975, 1982; Lange and Jakubowski, 1976) and also taken up in our country (Veglia, 1988; Alberti and Dinetto, 1989; Anchisi and Gambotto Dessy, 1989), point out a two-dimensional theory, in which social behavior occurs along a kind of behavioral continuum that goes from a pole of “inactivity or passivity” to an opposite pole of “hyperactivity or aggression”, both considered negative and dysfunctional, passing through an intermediate area, where socially skillful and functional behavior would be located, that is, assertiveness .

Now, let’s see in a more precise way the characteristics of the various behaviors mentioned and the differences between them.

Passive behavior

Having this modality means giving up the expression of thoughts and emotions, submitting to the will of others. Being passive and giving up assertiveness allows you to avoid conflicts in the short term, but in the long run it leads to a gradual loss of self-esteem , because you would like to express your point of view but are unable to do so.

The one who intends to communicate is blocked, or hesitant, due to the fear linked to the possible judgment of his interlocutor, thus preferring silence and a “harmless” course of situations. The needs of others are put before their own.

Concretely, we are passive if we tend to suffer others, we think they are better than us, we are dependent on their judgment, we need their approval, we are always afraid of making mistakes, we cannot refuse requests, we cannot give or accept compliments , we have difficulty communicating our feelings, we feel uncomfortable with people we do not know, we struggle to make decisions .

These are just some of the difficulties that a subject may have in relating with others, in fact, to be passive it is not necessary to always possess, with everyone and in all situations, all these characteristics.

It may happen that the passive person, after accumulating excessive frustration, “bursts” with aggressive behaviors (however lacking in assertiveness ), which consequently trigger feelings of guilt that make him return to his usual attitude; this mode is called passive-aggressive.

The inability to make their own decisions and dependence on the judgment of others make them tend to “lean” on aggressive and / or manipulative people.

Aggressive behavior

On the contrary, implementing this modality (however not assertive) means expressing one’s thoughts and emotions taking into account only one’s point of view, which allows in the short term to get what you want and to feel strong and appreciated, but in the long run it produces feelings of guilt and enmities.

The aggressive person however lacks assertiveness and expresses self-centered and arrogant attitudes, such as to allow him to dominate the other; you put your own needs before those of others.

Specifically, we are aggressive if we feel better than other people, we tend to judge and / or criticize others, we make them feel guilty or inferior, we don’t know how to apologize when we make mistakes, we want others to behave as we want, we make decisions for others without listening to their opinion, we can’t change our opinions about someone / something, we don’t accept the idea that we can make mistakes, we don’t listen to other people when they talk and / or we interrupt them often.

Also in this case, it is not necessary to possess all these characteristics in order to be defined aggressive. Basically, a subject of this type, incapable of assertiveness , will tend to surround himself with passive people, who confirm his “superiority”.

Warning: being aggressive does not only mean exercising physical violence on others, but all attitudes and behaviors characterized by the violation of the rights of the other and carelessness for the feelings and emotions of others are aggressive.

The aggressive person often manages to get what he wants and therefore, as far as he is concerned, does not perceive a relational discomfort. In fact, in the long run her behavior could lead her to be marginalized by others who will no longer tolerate her behavior.

Assertive behavior

Compared to these two extremes, assertive behavior is located in the middle, as there is a balance between the expression of one’s own needs and the space for those of others; we do not judge others, we accept their point of view, we seek their collaboration, we are ready to change our opinion, we do not expect others to behave as we please but listen to each other, while taking our own decisions independently, we do not allow others to manipulate us or to be aggressive with us, do not make themselves feel inferior or guilty, we are able to communicate our emotions or moods.

It is always important to recognize and accept one’s personal rights (the right to say no, to say I don’t know, to change one’s opinion, to say it doesn’t concern me, to make mistakes, etc.), to understand that sometimes dissent from opinions of loved ones does not involve compromising or losing the relationship: it is not selfishness, but affirmation of one’s needs, in fact we must not confuse “non- assertiveness ” with being helpful to others (you can be helpful when this does not involve sacrificing our needs).

Developing these skills, in practice, means being able to: stay in contact with one’s emotions and communication goals, therefore knowing how to communicate effectively with any type of interlocutor (for example, starting a conversation with a stranger), expressing needs, needs , personal wishes and preferences, saying no, giving / receiving compliments and / or criticisms without feeling uncomfortable.

However, when we fail to implement one or more of the behaviors described above, it is a problem! We accumulate stress , frustration, discomfort, we feel inadequate, and this affects our self-esteem and our mood.

It is therefore easy to understand why it is necessary to be assertive : first of all, because the human being is constantly inserted in a network of relationships in which it is essential to mediate assertively between our needs and those of others, moreover, for an effect very important on our self-esteem: not being able to be respected (or not being able to respect the other), for example within the couple relationship, or in working relationships, can generate a lack of self-esteem, frustration, anxiety and anger .

Numerous researches have shown how improving self-esteem, through the acquisition of assertive competence , can be an effective therapeutic tool for knowledge, change and prevention of mental illness.

The lack of this competence can be, in some patients, one of the factors in maintaining psychological distress. Certainly, being assertive is a choice that manifests itself in an improvement in the quality of interpersonal relationships, in greater self-esteem and self-efficacy, allowing us to recognize and catalyze emotions, rather than repress them (passivity) or throw them at the other (aggression).

L ‘ assertiveness is a mode that allows you to communicate from adult to adult, avoiding to act automatically driven by momentary emotions and often destructive, and achieve their goals.

It is an indispensable skill in daily social interactions, in the family, professional and in all relational contexts, and is recognized as fundamental also by the scientific studies of the World Health Organization, which attach ever greater importance to acquisition and strengthening of   life skills   (ie “skills for life”), which include: self-awareness, management of emotions, stress management, critical sense, ability to make decisions (decision making), ability to solve problems (problem solving) , creativity, effective communication, empathy, and skills regarding interpersonal relationships.


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