Viv Thackray, Positive psychologist (MAPP). Working globally at www.positivechangeguru.com to provide expertise on all things positive psychology and wellbeing.
Why being assertive is good for business and wellbeing.
Find your assertiveness sweet spot. There is an optimal level of assertiveness, especially if you’re a leader. Too much or too little assertiveness and others will judge you as less effective. In fact, research suggests that failing to find that assertiveness sweetspot is one of the main mistakes that aspiring leaders make.
Assertive people are less anxious. When we express ourselves assertively, frustrations are less likely to fester and develop into anxiety or aggression. It’s a different story for for those who feel less able to be assertive. Less assertive people are likely to seem more neutral but experience significant levels of anxiety, especially about their dealings with others. They can also struggle to create logical goals to strive towards.
Context matters. Research shows us that when it comes to being on the receiving end of assertiveness, context is key. You might be surprised to learn that when we assess how assertive others are and how appropriate their behaviour is we tend to factor into the equation things like sex, race, empathy and assertiveness level.
Control yourself. “Assertiveness is about controlling your behavior, not someone else’s.” Columbia University’s Randy J Peterson explains, “When we behave assertively, we are able to acknowledge our own thoughts and wishes honestly, without the expectation that others will automatically give in to us. We express respect for the feelings and opinions of others without necessarily adopting their opinions or doing what they expect or demand. This does not mean that we become inconsiderate to the wishes of others. We listen to their wishes and expectations, then we decide whether or not to go along with them. We might choose to do so even if we would prefer to do something else. But it is our choice. Whenever we go along with others it is our decision to do so anyway. But we can often feel helpless because we forget that we are under our own control.”
Assertiveness can lower levels of stress and depression. When we feel unable to act assertively we can become more vulnerable to stress and depression. Research with professional groups highlights that when we’re less assertive, we experience more vulnerability, especially in new social situations and are more susceptible to depression.
When it comes to Facebook, women are more assertive than men. In a study of over 15,000 Facebook users, researchers found that, although women tended to be warmer in their interactions on Facebook, they were no less assertive than men. The language women used was warmer, more compassionate, and polite but was also slightly more assertive than the men’s language which was generally colder, more hostile, and impersonal.
How to avoid being judged negatively for being assertive. Women especially, are often penalised for being assertive and described as overshooting that all-important, assertiveness sweetspot. However, recent research suggests that this is less likely to happen when more subtle, non-verbal demonstrations of assertiveness are adopted, such as expansive posturing, proximity, speaking loudly or interrupting. So if in doubt, exercise your non-verbal assertiveness skills.
“People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.”
- MARCUS AURELIUS