"Assertiveness"- If you visit a bookstore and try to search books on Assertiveness, chances are that you would be a little disappointed. Though the behavioral school of thought has recognized the importance of Assertiveness as a behavioral trait, still there is some confusion and mystery glued to the topic.

When I first encountered the word Assertiveness, my original idea was that it's about getting something done your way, no matter how others think and feel about it. Even popular dictionaries define it as 'having a confident and forceful personality' or as an adjective-'expressing opinions or desires strongly and with confidence, so that people take notice'; the emphasis here shifts from "being confident" to making sure "people take notice". This confused me a bit, as I wasn't able to figure out the difference between Assertive and Aggressive.

This is what started my enquiry which led me to develop a Training program on Assertiveness and the discoveries made for that program were startling.

Ryan and Travis defines Assertiveness as " your ability to express your thoughts and feelings in a way that clearly states your needs and keeps the lines of communication open with the other". Now let's drill down this a bit, expressing one's thoughts and feelings is ok, one can do that, but how to ensure that the lines of communication are kept open with the other person. This is the 'tricky part'.

Let's take an example, if I am writing this bawl and my wife is disturbing me with some playful noises with my baby son in the same room, then I have 3 choices to make :

I can simply yell down at my wife with all my masculine vocal prowess and tell her to leave the room immediately. Here I have used my authority and one thing is sure, she will not come back to the room till my work is done. This is the aggressive strategy. Here I've got my way followed, but the crucial question to ask in this case is "What after that?"
I can submissively leave the room and work somewhere else or altogether postpone the thing thereby killing all the possible creative flow of thoughts coming at the moment. Here I have respected her right to play with the baby and make noise, but what about my rights of expression?
As a third and novel Option, I can initiate a 10-15 seconds conversation with my wife, appreciating her needs as well as communicating my requirements in a honest fashion. This will create a shared understanding between the two of us and will put both of us on the same platform. This is what is called assertiveness and this is how you keep lines of communication open with the other. The need has been met, but not at the cost of strained relationships or closed dialogue.
The example above highlights 2 important aspects of Assertiveness which will follow in the paragraphs below. First and foremost, Assertiveness is all about making choices. Austrian Psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl articulates beautifully in his classic work "Man's search for meaning" that " Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms, the power to choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances". This observation from Frankl means that whatever comes, whatever happens, you always have your choices open.

You can choose to respond. The response will dictate how you live your life.

Stephen R Covey compliments the thought above by saying " Between stimulus and response there is a choice. In that choice lies your whole power and freedom to run your life".

Assertiveness is choosing the right responses. If from the example listed above, I choose anything except the third response, I might not have the power and courage to see through the repurcussions of those responses, else I might suffer either myself or create suffering for others. This is what happens when people choose Aggressive or passive responses.

Another aspect which deserves a due note here is that Assertiveness is all about how you communicate with others. To explain it in a bit more detail, we need to dig a bit deeper into it. We can be aggressive, but that would be killing the options of communication and that's an attitude of a seriously ill individual who lacks self worth and is scared to allow others to have their say in the scheme of things. Similary a passive is an attitude which is so low in self worth that it doesn't considers expressing his/her own rights to start with as he/she thinks that they are not worthy of any consideration. In both of these cases, a faulty communication is established with the self concept and the outside world, leading to unwanted consequences.

However, Assertiveness is a positive and optimistic attitude valuing oneself and others, seeking respectful communications with others, yet at the same time able to draw boundary lines to save oneself from attack (Emotional/Psychological) from others.

In this way, Assertiveness is analogous to a Sound Defence System. Its effectiveness cannot be gaged from its ability to attack others, nor it can be analysed from its inability to stand attacks from others. A sound defense system is one which can withold attack from others without attacking them.

There are a couple of Assertive role models which have taken birth on this planet.If one refers to their biographies, one could realise that Assertivness was more than a behavioral trait for them, it was a 'way of being'. Two good role models worthy of citing here are Mahatma Gandhi (India) and Martin Luther King Jr (USA). Assertiveness was present in their being even in the midst of toughest of challenges that they faced.

If you are serious about your own self development, Assertiveness can be a good starting point. As Assertiveness is the breeding ground for many other useful traits like Confidence, Courage, Leadership, Self Expression, Influencing Skills, etc. It's a goldmine of opportunity for those who are serious to grab it.

Thanks for your time and attention.

Mohit Sharma

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