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Assertiveness

Since the flurry of books about assertiveness which came out in the 1970's (see, for example, Alberti & Emmons, 1974; Bower, S. A., & Bower, G.H., 1976; Butler, 1976; Fensterheim & Baer, 1975; Smith, 1975, and more in the resources page), promoting assertive communication has been an important stress management issue for countless persons. It may not be too much of a stretch to say that all interpersonal stress management skills, when boiled down to their essence, are nothing more or less than assertive skills.

Assertive behavior involves being clear about your own needs and expressing these respectfully to others, knowing that all others at all times also have the same right to express their needs.

Being assertive, therefore, does not mean that you always will get what you want. The knock on assertive communication (especially when it involves an assertive woman) is that it is pushy, aggressive, and disrespectful.

We maintain that this critique typically is made by persons who do not understand assertiveness to begin with, because that negative description best fits aggressive communication. Aggressive persons may even get more of what they say they want (at least in the short run) than assertive persons, but at a significant price -- the quality of their relationships.

At very least, an assertive person can always feel positive about being clear, respectful, and honest in their communications -- they are being true to self, and have no apologies to make to self or others after they have communicated their position. They have respected the other person, and have respected themselves as well, precluding the kind of "oh, if only I had said something" second-guessing that could diminish their sense of self.

As a stimulus to close out this brief section, we would like to offer for your consideration the Bill of Assertive Rights from Manual Smith's When I Say No I Feel Guilty (1975). Whether or not you agree with all of them, our hope is that they will give you some things to think about regarding your own communication, both at school and away from school.

BILL OF ASSERTIVE RIGHTS

  1. You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.

  2. You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behavior.

  3. You have the right to judge if you are responsible for finding solutions to other people's problems.

  4. You have the right to change your mind.

  5. You have the right to make mistakes -- and be responsible for them.

  6. You have the right to say, "I don't know."

  7. You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them.

  8. You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.

  9. You have the right to say, "I don't understand."

  10. You have the right to say, "I don't care."