How to build assertiveness in relationships

“It is naive to think that self-assertiveness is easy. To live self-assertively–which means to live authentically–is an act of high courage. That is why so many people spend the better part of their lives in hiding–from others and also from themselves.” Nathaniel Branden

It is often said that assertiveness occupies the middle ground between passivity and aggression. Assertiveness involves communicating feelings, beliefs, and thoughts confidently and openly and defending personal rights and values socially acceptable, non-offensive, and non-destructive.

Assertiveness is highly valued and is constantly being sought or developed. Parents want it for their children—employers for their employees. And individuals want it for themselves, their partners and friends. Why is this? Because as human beings, we know, often acutely, what it is to have and not to have assertiveness. The simple truth is that it is hard for anyone to thrive and survive in life without the ability to be assertive.

Relationships: wants and needs

One of the most powerful statements someone can make about a relationship is: I want to be in it, but I don’t need to be in it. Assertive people adopt this stance. They will walk away from a relationship that does not meet their needs and is confident about finding a replacement that does. Walking away from a relationship becomes an opportunity rather than a threat for the assertive. They might be sad and regretful, but leaving a relationship never depresses nor destroys them.

Identity – defined by a relationship?

People who lack assertiveness reverse the wants and needs principle. Instead, it can become: I need to be in this relationship, even though I don’t want to be. Unassertiveness generates doubt that someone can find a positive replacement for a negative relationship, which links to identity. For if someone isn’t assertive enough to leave a negative relationship, their identity is inseparable from it. Assertive people have a strong, core identity both in and out of any relationship, allowing them to leave one if it fails to meet their needs.

A question of value

When an assertive person addresses problems in a relationship, be it personal or professional, anyone else involved is forced to consider the value this person has for them. This is because they know the person will walk away from the relationship if problems remain unresolved. Such a stance can be difficult to object to because assertive people will make their case reasonably and respectfully.

The boss of an assertive employee putting their case for a pay rise or promotion, for example, will be forced into a mental calculation. What do I stand to gain if I work collaboratively with the employee? And what do I stand to lose if I don’t? Assertive people know their value and are confident that others will recognise this too. Unassertiveness never forces others to make this calculation because there is no value at stake for them.

Reasonable people

Reasonable people faced with requests from assertive people will reasonably engage with them. Any initial resistance they might feel at changes asked of them will fall away as their reasonableness sinks in. This is how assertive people rarely end up in problematic relationships for too long. Faced with an unreasonable person, they simply walk away. To stay would be to devalue themselves, an impossibility for the assertive person.

Getting support to develop assertiveness

There are many good reasons why assertiveness is either sought or developed, but for us the main ones are to do with relationships. If you struggle to be assertive and would like to address this so you can be more and do more in life, please get in touch. My IMPACT Model and IMPACT Programmes have all been designed to support you at whatever stage you have reached.

To book an initial consultation, visit my Make a Booking page. You will have the opportunity to tell me about what you are going through and find out how I can support you. Even if you choose not to work with me, I promise your consultation will give you more ideas, knowledge and insight than you had before.