The dictionary describes assertiveness as: Confident and direct in claiming one’s rights or putting forward one’s views.
When you are assertive, you are confident enough to express yourself clearly and stand by your values and convictions. At the same time you also respect the opinions and dignity of others.
A lot of people confuse assertiveness with arrogance and rudeness, being dogmatic or even aggressive. But if you have confidence in yourself and an inner conviction in your ideas, there is no need to brag or throw your weight around.
Once you start standing up for yourself, you are likely to get a lot more respect from the people around you and a lot less likely to get steamrollered into doing something that you do not want to.
If there are so many benefits to being assertive, why do so many people lack the confidence to stand up for themselves?
In fact, this question has a direct link to the fundamental question many people ask on leadership – why do some people develop into leaders while others end up becoming or choose to become followers ?
To answer this question, we need to look at two of the basic psychological principles that end up shaping a person’s attitudes and communication skills – Fight/ Flight response and Pattern Matching.
Fight/ Flight response
Humans generally respond to “Potentially Dangerous” situations in a pre-programmed manner – either by fleeing the situation or by fighting back or as a third option by freezing (think of a deer in the headlights). So in the case of a timid or diffident person, when faced with a potential confrontation, his/her mind tries to protect the individual by avoiding these situations or by mentally freezing.
Now let’s take the other principle – Pattern Matching. It is potentially impossible for our mind to consciously analyze thousands of tiny bits of information that hit us every minute and make individual judgements or decisions.
So the human mind cleverly uses a shortcut called pattern matching. Your mind will go through records of situations that happened in the past. If the current situation seems to match a previous one in some way, it will, in many cases, pick the action you took then (which helped you survive in that particular situation) – rather than taking the risk of trying out a new solution which could potentially fail.
So if you, in your childhood, “survived” by avoiding confronting one or both of your parents, your mind might unconsciously decide that avoiding confrontation is the best option in most communication situations (with a few exceptions, of course).
The good news is, your brain has the capacity to keep learning throughout your life. You can always consciously learn to be assertive. Will it be easy? Not necessarily. Is it worth the trouble? One hundered percent!!
It takes determination and the desire to make and keep the change. Development of assertiveness will also take practice. You will have to go through a period of the initial discomfort. Chances are, people will look at you differently. Some may start avoiding you or may even test your resolve with a few doses of rude or aggressive behaviour towards you.You may lose a few ‘friends’ who had always taken you for granted and had often taken advantage of your timidity.
But if you understand the truth that till now, these people were trying to cover up their own issues like lack of self esteem by bullying a person who, they thought, was acting “more timid” than themselves.
The moment you decide to act more assertively, you will set in motion a whole chain of events – both in your mind and in the external world – which will ultimately help you gain the respect of others be recognized by them as a confident, well-adjusted person.
Your relationships will be genuine and sincere because your self confidence will be high and you will be less guarded, more open and well grounded.
Remember, people around you will always treat you the way you teach them by your behaviour.
So get out there and start training people to treat you with respect.