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Assertiveness FAQ: Guided by Google and Bing Searches

You asked Google and Bing. AnswerThePublic compiled the top searches. I answered.

Assertiveness is a complex skill that can be considered in cognitive, behavioral and social contexts. It can actually be thought of as being simultaneously a Set of Skills, a Communication Style, a Type of Behavior, and even a Personality Descriptor.

For decades now, Assertiveness-related terms such as Assertive Communication and Assertiveness Training popped-up in a variety of contexts ranging from healthcare (mainly psychotherapy) to business (mainly leadership and team building) to personal development and self-help environments (mainly books and online courses).

It also seems that during this time span the public interest regarding the subject of Assertiveness and the related methods increased, while many professionals, especially in research environments, seem to have lost interest in it, despite the fact that there is a high amount of information and evidence to support the extended benefits, at clinical and non-clinical levels, of the various training elements that focus on this multi-dimensional concept.

So I guess It's only Logical 🖖 that assertiveness-related internet searches saw a significant increase as well and with them, the number and variety of articles, websites, and readily available online training programs. I find that to be a great thing. People seem interested to improve the way they function at both individual and social levels and at the same time, professionals and responsible self-development enthusiasts all over the world recognized the importance of providing information and assistance on this subject. I identify with members of both groups. I search for assertiveness-related information to update my knowledge about it and get a feel of the way the topic places itself in the online environment and also create content - articles, social media posts, online courses, to share the information, promote the benefits, and teach the methods that can trigger long-term changes in one's life, and at social levels as well.

This article is one such piece of content. I decided to use the most common Google and Bing searches and autosuggest results, filter some of the most relevant questions users seem to have regarding assertiveness, and answer them to the best of my ability in a short, easy to grasp format. To guide me through the myriad of search terms and their variations, I chose to rely on AnswerThePublic, a platform that compiles the top data into relevant categories that are easier to navigate.

At the moment I performed the search for "assertiveness", the platform returned 81 Question-type results, out of which I chose 17 to address in this article. Some of the results have been slightly modified and transformed into questions, for the purpose of this article, others refer to an implicit question, but are not a question themselves. Initial search terms are also listed. Each answer refers strictly to the question it triggered it, but reading all of them will actually paint a better picture regarding Assertiveness. Even if some elements could have been included in several answers, I decided not to repeat them throughout the article segments.

Here we go.

1. What is Assertiveness?

Basically, Assertiveness refers to the complex ability to think, emotionally react and act in a way that is non-passive and non-aggressive. Non-passive means that you are in control of your life, set your own personal and professional directions, you stand up for what you believe in, trust your skills and follow the goals that hold meaning to you. Non-aggressive refers to the fact that your thoughts, emotions and most importantly, your actions, reflect the fact that you consider your rights and the rights of others as being equally important and that your decisions and behaviors do not directly or purposefully infringe the rights of other people.

A primarily assertive person is able to openly express their opinions, feelings, needs, and desires in a way that is respectful of their own rights and the rights of others. (linked to Q2)

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2. How can you best describe Assertiveness?

I like referring to Assertiveness as complex ability or multi-dimensional concept that can be applied to a variety of intra- and inter-personal contexts such as thoughts, emotions, behaviors, social interactions, etc.

It can be simultaneously considered a Set of Skills, a Communication Style or Type of Behavior.

The Set of Skills involves cognitive, emotional and behavioral elements. You think, manage your emotions and act in an assertive way.

The Communication Style refers to using assertive verbal and non-verbal techniques and strategies in your social interactions. At the same time, it includes the regulation of your inner speech. This is also communication, but this time it’s directed toward yourself.

The Assertive Behavior means being able to generally act in ways that project the assertive principles and traits.

The term can also be used to describe someone's personality. (linked to Q1)

Search terms (exact form): assertiveness can best be described as, assertiveness can be described as.

3. What Assertiveness is not

I think the most important things to know here are the following:

(a) Assertiveness is Not Aggressiveness. Even if some people, depending on their own predominant Communication and Behavioral Style, may consider assertive people aggressive, especially because they know how to protect their own rights, set boundaries and go for what it's important to them, being assertive does not equal aggressiveness in any context, because aggressiveness implies the infringement of other people's rights, and simply not saying "Yes" all the time does not directly affect anyone. Aggressive people may get upset and angry when others do not respond positively to their requests all the time, and passive individuals may feel threatened by assertive people who seem so confident and poised, but upon closer analysis, none of the assertive individual's decisions actually cause any direct harm to either aggressive, nor passive persons.

(b) Assertiveness is not Manipulation. I've seen many trainers promote their so-called Assertiveness Training Programs by stating that one of the end-results of their course or workshop is "to get people to do what you want" or "get people to like you". That would in no way be Assertiveness Training, but Aggressiveness Training based on a specific type of aggression, Manipulation. Assertive individuals control their own lives, not those of others. You can set goals for yourself, but when you make them about others, it's abusive. Bullies "get people to do what they want". Manipulators "get people to like them" through a variety of schemes. As an assertive individual, you create opportunities that may benefit you and others as well - this means people get together to do what they want and what's best for the like-minded group, and you interact with others in ways that show them they're being seen, accepted, valued, etc - and this may make them like you in return. That's how you reach those same goals or perspectives through assertiveness.

(c) Assertiveness is not Passiveness. Being assertive is not about being "nice" or saying "yes" all the time. It's about attending to your own needs and happiness so that you can later on assist others in achieving their own goals. If you always neglect your needs and place the needs and goals of others above yours, you will most likely never achieve the objectives that are significant to you. This may have multiple effects on someone's mental comfort and overall health and well-being.

Search terms (exact form): what assertiveness is not.

4. What are Assertiveness Skills?

Assertiveness Skills refer to the ways in which you can successfully project the assertive principles (non-aggressiveness, non-passiveness) both at an internal level (thoughts, beliefs, emotions, inner speech, etc) and at a social one as well (personal relationships, professional settings, etc). Some of the skills that are most often linked to displaying good levels of Assertiveness refer to Assertive Communication, the ability to Deal with Criticism and Delivering Constructive Criticism in an assertive manner.

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5. What are Assertiveness Techniques?

Assertive techniques are strategies that include actionable steps one can take to improve their Assertiveness levels and skills. These techniques may address verbal, non-verbal, cognitive or behavioral aspects. 

Some of the most frequently used assertive techniques can help you convey your message in a powerful manner when the other person is either ignoring or trying to dismiss it, and also ensure an optimal flow of information during social interactions, while others prepare you to react to criticism in an assertive manner.

When reading about these strategies or when the trainer or therapist presents them to you, they may seem pretty basic and even unimportant, but their potential is being revealed once the person is starting to practice them, put themselves in specific training situations and engage in an authentic manner with the content of the training program. Like all self-development techniques, they will only work if the person commits to trying to step out of their comfort zone and experience new settings and response strategies.

Search terms (exact form): what are assertiveness techniques.

6. What is Assertiveness Training?

Assertiveness Training refers to the self-development strategy that aims to improve one's Assertiveness-related skills, through both cognitive and behavioral techniques. The training can be assisted by a professional (therapist, trainer) or it can occur in a self-development setting, guided by reliable materials such as evidence-based books, articles, and self-paced online courses.

Obviously, assessing one's own progress and results can be difficult and even strongly biased when no external feedback exists. I recommend trying to gain external feedback, at least in the first stages of assertiveness training, to know if what you end up displaying socially is actually assertiveness or something else (i.e. aggressiveness or passiveness).

Search terms (exact form): what is assertiveness training.

7. Can Assertiveness be learned?

Yes, definitely. Actually, you already are Assertive, according to many professionals. Here's the rest of the perspective.

Many professionals consider assertiveness to be an innate trait of individuals, just like aggressiveness and passiveness. We are all passive, aggressive and assertive, but display different levels of each. The set of traits that we display the most in a certain period of time, becomes our predominant communication or behavioral style. Another way to look at assertiveness is to consider it the actual continuum on which all other behaviors can be placed on - low levels of assertiveness would mean passiveness, while levels of assertiveness that are too high would be labeled as aggressiveness.

So, unless some specific mental context prevents the individual from assimilating and displaying primarily assertive traits, the level can be adjusted through training. This is valid for most individuals, even when severe mental disorders are present, such as schizophrenia (Speed, Goldstein, & Goldfried, 2017).

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8. How can Assertiveness be enhanced?

Based on the previous answer, I think this is a better question. How do you enhance your assertiveness levels and make it your primary Communication and Behavioral Style? The obvious answer is through Assertiveness Training (check the answer for Q6), but to make things a bit more specific here I will mention the fact that in order to experience significant, long-lasting, positive changes regarding your predominant communication and behavioral style, you need to address not only the observable behaviors such as social communication and various interactions, but mainly to learn, assimilate and automate thinking patterns that comply with the assertive principles. This will trigger changes regarding your inner-speech, better emotion regulation and they will also be projected into the social environments. So, effective enhancement of assertiveness starts from within. Thoughts and emotions first, and observable behaviors will follow.

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9. Can you teach Assertiveness?

Yes, but you would have to have a great understanding of behavioral types, cognitive mechanisms, thinking patterns and biases, various manipulation and dissimulation techniques, emotion regulation and many other psychological, communication and interpersonal dynamic-related aspects. Basic information and techniques could probably be presented by anyone, but not necessarily taught. When complex mental contexts are a variable of the assertiveness training, then only trained professionals - psychiatrists, clinical psychologists or psychotherapists should attempt to assist the process. Knowing your professional limits is part of any responsible professional's life.

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10. When to use Assertiveness?

You can basically use assertiveness in any segment of your life (with pretty much just one big exception; read the next answer), personal or professional.

Use it whenever you want to confidently state your opinion, in public speaking and educational settings, when you want to ask someone to do something and to address unreasonable requests.

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11. When not to use Assertiveness

Most daily contexts are fit for an assertive approach, but there are also situations in which the assertive strategies are not recommended and can even escalate a conflict. Among them, violent relationships. If you find yourself in an abusive, violent relationship, then do not use any of the assertive communication techniques to try to deal with that situation. Instead, contact a professional who can guide you and offer you the best recommendations given your particular situation. Assertiveness training may be part of the process, but it is not the proper way to directly address violent situations.

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12. When Assertiveness doesn't work

You need to remind yourself that you can only control what you do or say, not how others react. When interacting with highly aggressive or manipulative individuals, assertive communication and assertive behavioral techniques may not render the expected results. Sometimes, the best assertive strategy would be not to engage with known aggressive individuals or people who may try to escalate a conflict or turn any situation to their favor through dishonest methods.

Focus on significant, healthy interactions and choose your battles carefully, when required to make such choices and enter certain contexts.

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13. How can Assertiveness be used to resolve a conflict?

The best thing about assertiveness when dealing with conflicts is that it doesn't cause conflicts to escalate. Assertive individuals do not respond to fire with fire and try to find alternative ways to deal with problematic contexts. At the same time, keep in mind that even if you act in the best way assertiveness-wise, you cannot control and are not responsible for the way the other person acts or reacts. Just because you do not want a situation to escalate into a conflict it does not mean that things will remain peaceful. Once again, careful assessment is required and individuals should make their own decisions on a case by case basis, and see whether they should remain in a context or whether the violent potential is too high for them to manage (see the answer to Q11). 

Search terms (exact form): how can assertiveness be used to resolve conflict.

14. How can Assertiveness change your life?

Once you understand and assimilate the assertive principles and techniques and make them a part of your primary way of thinking and conducting yourself in social interactions, positive changes will occur in basically every segment of your life.

General benefits of a primarily Assertive Mindset, Communication and Behavioral Style include increased cognitive, emotional and social independence, engagement in healthier relationships, the ability to create opportunities that can benefit you and others, and the ability to confidently approach your personal and professional goals.

Specific benefits of increased assertiveness include lower anxiety levels (especially social anxiety), lower levels of depression, increased self-esteem and self-confidence, and increased relationship satisfaction (especially marital relationships) (Speed, Goldstein, and Goldfried, 2017).

Given these gains, we can say that Assertiveness is an important factor in well-being and life satisfaction. It boosts feelings of independence, self-worth and a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Search terms (exact form): how assertiveness can change your life.

I don't usually promote my own courses in the middle of the article, but given the topic of this one, I found it appropriate to bring them to your attention, along with the special offer available to all Psychology Corner readers.

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Access all my  Assertive Communication courses and 25.000 more classes, free of charge, for 14 Days months, on Skillshare.*

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15. How can Assertiveness affect communication?

Much of the answer to this question is scattered throughout the article, but I will mention here that Assertiveness makes communication reach higher levels of authenticity and reveals elements of interaction that can turn relationships into healthy, mutually supportive and development-oriented environments.

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16. How can assertiveness be a barrier to communication?

It's not. The only type of communication that gets stopped through the assertive techniques (that I can think of now, at least) is the abusive, manipulative kind. You learn to say "No", break free from toxic environments and make time for interests and goals that are important to you.

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17. Where to find Assertiveness Training?

Assertiveness Training can be found in a variety of contexts, but among the things that differentiate the ever-growing range of programs and factors that can influence your decision to enroll in them, we find the following:  the environment in which they occur (offline or online, formal or informal), who's teaching the class (professionals or self-development enthusiasts), the length of the course/workshop/weekly sessions, curriculum, specific goals, active (interactive) or passive, etc.

You need to make your own decision based on your own goals and learning preferences. Since you are reading this article online, I guess Google and Bing could be called to the rescue when you decide what you're looking for.

Search terms (exact form): where to find assertiveness training.

BONUS

Why learn and display Assertiveness?

Because it can make a great difference for both individuals and society. A growing number of people who display the assertive principles in their everyday interactions - mutual respect, consideration, and support - can trigger a positive wave of social change that can bring about a global environment marked by safety, trust, and meaningful collaboration. That, I believe, can enable us all to build a better future and fulfill our combined potential.

Are you in?

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  • The answers provided in this article should by no means be considered complete or professional advice. They are only meant to provide an initial, general response to specific questions regarding assertiveness, and trigger further research on behalf of the reader.

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REFERENCES

Speed, B. C., Goldstein, B. L., & Goldfried, M. R. (2017). Assertiveness Training: A Forgotten Evidence-Based Treatment. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 25(1). doi:10.1111/cpsp.12216

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