Assertiveness and Differences
Assertiveness is being strong without being mean and being kind without being weak.
Sometimes people tell us that assertiveness won’t work in their family or in their community. But because assertiveness is a new tool for many of us, sometimes what we think is assertive is actually passive, aggressive, or passive aggressive.
When we are actually assertive, we advocate for ourselves and clearly communicate our needs and feelings without invalidating others or their needs and feelings. We use our body language, what we say, and how we say it to be calm, cool, collected, confident, and clear.
What assertiveness looks, sounds, and feels like will be different depending on the people and the situation.
Assertiveness is not only about being strong without being mean, it is also about feeling strong without being mean. We are all different and come from different cultures, which is why feeling strong without being mean can look different for everyone.
It can also look different depending on what we want to happen in that circumstance and what choice makes us feel good. We could choose to say “Stop it now,” “I need space,” or “No.” We could choose to walk away, staying calm, cool, collected, confident, and clear as we do so.
If we know an action that some people might consider to be assertive (such as maintaining eye contact) will make a particular person angry, then doing it anyway is actually aggressive. Assertiveness involves gauging other people and how they respond to us.
We have found that assertiveness is an effective tool to communicate across cultures and across power differences. What is far more important than the exact words, tone, or body language we use is the assertive spirit behind them. Although the ways that we choose to be assertive might vary in every situation, our goal remains the same: to advocate for ourselves and what we believe in while respecting others. This gives us our best chance at being understood, especially by someone who is different than us, whether they come from a different background or have more or less power than us. Assertive communication is honest, respectful communication that builds authentic connection.