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5 Characteristics of an Assertive Person

I often work with people who seem to get assertiveness and aggression confused. “I don’t want to be mean” or “I don’t want to get that person mad” are phrases I hear when I teach clients about setting boundaries for themselves or expressing what they want from someone. Being assertive is about respecting both yourself and the other person without compromising either person’s rights as a human being. Assertive behavior builds strong relationships with others and allows others to feel heard and understood even though you may not necessarily agree with them. The following are some characteristics I have found assertive people to possess.

1. They have confidence in themselves. In order to be assertive, you need to know what your boundaries are; what you like and what you don’t like. Many people who struggle with assertiveness will allow others to make decisions for them, so when I ask “What’s your favorite food?” they honestly don’t know. If this sounds familiar to you, this is a great opportunity for self-exploration. Look at things around you and begin forming an opinion; are you interested in an activity because you are genuinely interested in participating in it on your own or are you engaging in it because everyone else is?

2. They respect the opinions of others. Assertive people feel confident about their opinions and beliefs, but don’t feel it’s necessary to insult or degrade another person’s opinions.

3. Assertive people have the ability to validate other’s feelings. A person may express the following “You’re stupid for getting mad about this.” Rather than minimizing the person’s experience, an assertive person may say “I understand you are frustrated with me, but I’m standing firm on my decision.” People often want to feel they are understood.

4. Assertive individuals are good listeners. Often times when I work with couples and families in session, they are so focused on how they will respond to the other person that they stop listening to what is being said. As a result, neither party ends up feeling heard. Assertive behavior includes being an active listener; behavior which includes good eye contact, not interrupting when the other person is talking, and reflecting back what was just said to confirm the information was heard correctly.

5. Problem solving and compromise. Another key trait to assertiveness is the attempt to compromise in a situation. Not everyone gets everything they want when engaging in a compromise, but some needs are met for all parties involved. Compromise shows that the other person’s needs have been heard and this is the attempt at providing a solution that all can be content with. Assertiveness can be a difficult trait to master if you’ve had difficulty in the past standing up for yourself. But like any other new habit, it gets easier to do with practice. Remember that your needs are just as valuable as the needs of those around you. You may find that some people may drift away when you introduce the new, assertive You. Think about how they add value to your life; you might discover that they were toxic people who you are probably better off without. You may also find that the more assertive you are, you will begin to be surrounded by new individuals who value and respect the confident person you’ve become!


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