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7 Myths About Assertiveness | How To Be More Assertive

I’ve been teaching Assertive Communication in various formats and contexts for more than ten years now.

In this interval, I’ve seen the entire set of assertiveness-related skills completely change people’s lives. Assertiveness also changed my life, which is why I became an advocate for the concept and its many benefits.

I am one of those people who would encourage pretty much everyone to dedicate time and other personal resources to understanding and assimilating this segment of personal development. The ROI is truly impressive.

The news of assertiveness benefits traveled fast and now there are countless trainers and programs that promise impressive results. Large audiences are interested in those results.

And it all looks great from afar: people seek personal development and professionals are ready to guide them through the process. All good, right?

Not necessarily. Just like in the case of many other subjects of personal growth, the assertiveness training environment is not homogenous, and not everything that shines is gold.

Unrealistic expectations pertaining to the personal development seekers and misleading claims and promises pertaining to some “trainers” or “personal development gurus” may actually cause the whole process to backfire and trigger less than desirable results.

They may also be the reason why some people may decide to not even attempt a personal optimization program.

Assertiveness can truly change someone’s life, yet these beliefs or false advertising elements can prevent you from enjoying the full range of benefits the complex skill has to offer.

In this article I will address 7 Myths About Assertiveness in the hope that those of you reading will become vectors that will help spread valid information about the concept, thus assisting many others in their own journey of becoming who they want and need to be.

 

MYTH 1. FULLY ASSERTIVE, ALL THE TIME.

Belief: “Once I learn how to be assertive, I will be assertive 100% of the time, in all aspects of my life.”

Why the Belief is False:

The main goal of most assertiveness trainings is to trigger Assertiveness as the main or predominant mindset and communication/behavioral style. But all other communication styles – passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and manipulative, will also show up from time to time, depending on the situations we find ourselves in and in accordance with our specific goals.

Also, there are contexts in which Assertiveness is not the recommended strategy. For example, directly aggressive contexts should never be approached through assertive techniques.

One should aspire to be assertive most of the time, not all the time.

The Linked False Promise:

“This training will teach you how to be assertive all the time.”

No training will achieve that.

 

MYTH 2. ASSERTIVENESS GETS YOU WHAT YOU WANT.

Belief: “Being assertive ensures I will achieve all my goals.”

Why the Belief is False:

Assertiveness is a powerful tool that we can include in our goal-setting and goal-achievement strategies. But there are many factors that go into us reaching our personal and professional targets. Assertiveness alone does not get us there. It improves the journey and increases the likelihood of us being on the right path, but many other things will determine whether we achieve a milestone or not.

Commit to the principles of your journey. Make them assertive, rather than passive or aggressive, and you’ve already made progress.

The Linked False Promise:

“This training will teach you how to achieve all your goals through assertive techniques.”

There is no direct link between a predominantly assertive communication or behavioral style and goal-achievement.

 

MYTH 3. ASSERTIVENESS TRIGGERS SOCIAL INFLUENCE.

Belief: “Once I learn assertiveness, I will influence others into doing what I want.”

Why the Belief is False:

Assertiveness can help us send the point across. It won’t play a part in social manipulation. In fact, wanting to change the actions of others to benefit you is an aggressive goal.

If used properly, assertive communication can make your message more compelling and convincing, but that is all that you should expect when it comes to the way it can and should influence the receivers of that message.

The Linked False Promise:

“This training will teach you how to influence people”.

That trainer would teach you aggressive, not assertive techniques.

 

MYTH 4. ASSERTIVENESS IS FOR THE WEAK.

Belief: “Those who want to learn assertive communication are weak and cannot deal with life situations on their own.”

Why the Belief is False:

Assertiveness already resides in us, at different levels. It’s a skill that is rather to be awakened via a training session, not created from scratch per se.

It is a stance that promotes non-passive and non-aggressive principles. It is a way to find balance in one’s life. It is not just about learning and becoming more comfortable with expressing your own beliefs, needs, and emotions, it is also recommended for those who completely disregard the beliefs, needs, and emotions of others.

Assertiveness is a perspective that places everyone on the same level – you’re neither more nor less important than others. Optimizing it is a way to ensure compliance with that perspective.

It can also help get rid of irrational thoughts, unrealistic expectations, and toxic relationships.

Given the many benefits and implications, Assertiveness trainings do not target a single type of audience. Everyone can learn to activate it in their own life, in those contexts that could register better results through this set of skills.

The Linked False Promise:

“This training will help you man up”.

Yes, I’ve actually seen that phrase – “man up!” – used in reference to assertiveness trainings. Sometimes even in the title. By saying that, the “trainer” is basically bullying the potential audience, seeing them as weak. Also, it is highly unlikely that they themselves can make the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

 

MYTH 5. ASSERTIVENESS IS A STAND-ALONE SKILL.

Belief: “Assertiveness is all I need to learn to fully optimize my personal development process.”

Why the Belief is False:

First of all, Assertiveness in itself is a complex skill – it’s a mindset, a set of skills, a type of communication, a style of behavior.

Because of its complexity, it is linked to a variety of other skills that can be the subject of additional optimization and learning processes. Among them, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, empathy, self-confidence, self-esteem, etc.

Keep in mind that self-development is an ongoing process, with no definite end in sight. What we do is prioritize what we want to optimize next based on our inner structure, needs, and goals.

The Linked False Promise:

“This assertiveness training is all you need to better your life!”

Assertiveness is only a drop in the ocean. It is a big drop, yet it is not the entire ocean.

 

MYTH 6. ASSERTIVENESS MUST BE DONE “RIGHT”.

Belief: “There is a right way to be assertive.”

Why the Belief is False:

Personal Development in general, and Assertiveness Training in particular, are about gradual improvements. There is no precision to the process. There are guidelines that can be used to ensure the direction of our results, but nothing is fixed when it comes to personal growth.

Entertaining a “right or wrong” perspective is a cognitive distortion called Dichotomous Thinking. Also known as black-or-white or all-or-nothing thinking.

The Linked False Promise:

“This training will teach you how to be assertive in the right/appropriate way”.

Like I said before, there is no fixed approach to personal development. With assertiveness, it is quite simple – if it’s not assertive, you will be able to identify it as passive or aggressive, or a combination of the two.

 

MYTH 7. ASSERTIVENESS IS THE SAME THING AS AGGRESSIVENESS.

Belief: “Assertive is just another way of saying “aggressive“. People who call themselves “assertive” are so pushy and conflictual, always saying what they want.”

Why the Belief is False:

Assertiveness is a point where you are aware of your own worth and rights. At the same time, you are aware of and respect the worth and rights of others.

Now, knowing and making sure that your rights are respected may not always sit well with others – and by others I mean those of the mainly passive or mainly aggressive kind.

People who are rather passive may see the assertive individual as too daring, even rude – for having the audacity to always speak their mind.

On the other hand, the aggressive will always try to curb an assertive individual’s attempt to stand up for themselves and refuse the influence of the aggressive person. One way to do that is to try and accuse the assertive person of aggressiveness – “You want to fight with me”, “You’re the one who started all of this”, etc. – when in fact that person is only protecting their own rights.

Knowing the difference between assertive and aggressive stances is one of the skills taught in assertiveness trainings.

The Linked False Promise:

Similar to that in Myth 3.

Have you come across any of these myths? Do you know of other unrealistic beliefs or false claims regarding Assertiveness? If so, leave a comment below.

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