'Well, I don’t like to be pushy,” was the answer I got to a question the other day. I’ve never considered assertiveness as being ‘pushy’. I started to think about how I would describe it.

What is assertiveness?

Being assertive is the grown up place to be - it’s where you are able to stand up for yourself without trampling or bullying others. It’s about being flexible and creative in finding suitable alternatives, working with others to find compromises when what you want clashes with their needs, and being able to walk away and find new opportunities when compromise isn’t possible.

Being assertive is about being confident in who you are, seeing yourself as a willing contributor to the world and not a master or servant.

It’s also about having the confidence and choosing not to assert yourself in every situation - when you feel there is no point in doing so.

To be specific - being assertive is:

Taking responsibility for yourself and what you want to do and achieve. It’s about knowing that it’s up to you to express your needs and aspirations clearly and unambiguously. This doesn’t mean that anyone else then has to make that happen. It is still fully your responsibility to work out how you can move closer towards achieving your own goals.

Finding co-operative solutions in any situation. Assertive people don’t blame or make unreasonable demands on others. Also, they don’t put up and shut up and undertake a route they fundamentally disagree with. Instead they work with and around conflicting needs to find a suitable solution, or agree to take divergent paths, without having to give or receive personal slight or injury.

Standing up for yourself and what you want or need, while taking into consideration what other people are trying to achieve for themselves, and being prepared to negotiate and compromise where appropriate.

Managing your own reactions. While you may not have control over everything that happens in your life, you can control how you react to it, and the choices you make as a result. People may say: “They make me so angry,” but other people cannot ‘make’ you feel or do anything without your agreement or compliance. They may act in ways that you dislike and disagree with, but how you react is entirely up to you.

Respecting yourself and others, which means being confident that you and your needs matter while recognising that they might not be a priority for others.

Being aggressive:

  • Is often about being right at all cost and often just for the sake of being right. Aggressive behavior is usually unbending or uncompromising. It’s about acting in such a way as to coerce or even force people to do what you want no matter how they feel about it and can easily slide into intimidation and bullying.
  • is confrontational with little scope for debate or negotiation.
  • can be manipulative.
  • often indicates a loss of emotional control. When people are being aggressive, they often don’t moderate their emotions, losing their tempers without caring if it’s appropriate or damaging to others.

Being passive:

  • Is about pleasing others – often by sacrificing one’s own wants and needs – sometimes even when you don’t agree with what you are doing.
  • Is following others without expecting your needs or opinions to be considered.
  • Is about lack of self-respect, and in some ways lack of respect or belief in others, thinking that they will somehow be unable to deal with or handle your opinions and preferences.

A subset of the two alternative options above is being passive aggressive, which is:

  • Doing what others want but with a grudge.
  • Quietly sabotaging things with a false smile.
  • Using emotional blackmail and other manipulative strategies to get your own way without explicitly expressing your opinion.
  • Trying to provoke feelings of guilt in others to coerce them into doing what you want.

Passive aggressive behavior can flip very easily directly into fully aggressive behavior. In fact people often seesaw between the two extremes.

Examples of responses across all these options

Imagine a situation where you are a performer and have been offered work, which you would love to do. It entails mixing with the right people and will be great to add to your portfolio. It’s going to take up 50% of your time over the Christmas period, when you are usually in demand. Still, they have asked first, and you can still manage to fit in some of the other work so you won’t have to let down most of your regulars.

Just as you are about to head off and celebrate, they mention that the rate is going to be a substantially reduced one. In fact, it is half what you expected, and only a third of what you will earn from the other work you are pretty sure you will be offered. How do you respond?


Aggressive option:

“You are having a laugh. I wouldn’t get out of bed for that rate. You can shove that offer where the sun doesn’t shine mate. Good luck with finding some sucker to do that for you!”

Consequences – A terminally damaged relationship between you and that client.


Passive option:

“Oh, that’s less than I was expecting, but I really want to work here, so OK, thanks.” (Does mental calculation that they can live on beans on toast for six weeks, and it’ll be worth it in the end.)

Consequences – You suffering potentially unnecessarily, and possible even being thought less of for not standing up for yourself.


Passive aggressive option:

“That’s great thanks, I’m really look forward to working with you all.” (Shakes hands while thinking to self, if something better comes along, I’ll just let them down and it’ll serve them right for being so stingy! What a bunch of con artists!).

Consequences – You are unlikely to enjoy this work if you actually do it, and will very likely damage the relationship with that client if you let them down.


Assertive option:

“Oh, that rate really is much less than I was expecting. This is my busy time of year, and I will very likely have to let down some of my regular bookings to do this work. I realise that it’s a great opportunity and I would love to do it, but this rate is a problem for me. We are so far apart, I wonder if we are perhaps talking about a slightly different level of commitment of work or time. I would be very happy to chat this through and see if we can find a way to agree to something that works for us both.” (If the rate cannot be budged, there may be some bartering that would be possible, if not, then it should be possible to walk away without any hard feelings on either side.)

Consequences – You will either reach an agreement that works for both of you, or you will part company, with the client understanding what your issues are, and why you are unable to agree. The relationship will be intact, respect for each other will still be there, and you have scope to work together some time in the future, when circumstances are more flexible.

So where are you?

Let’s be honest here, we all spend some time in each of these spaces in the different contexts of our life. Wouldn’t it be great to spend more and more time in assertive mode?

Just for a bit of fun, take the test in this link to see how assertive you are. You don’t need to log your details to do the test unless you want to save and record the results.

Unless you are a super assertive person, (in which case you are unlikely to be reading this) you might be wondering what do you need to do to become more assertive? Our next blog will be packed with tips for being more assertive.

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