Hi, my name is Rebecca Toulson and I’m a Licensed Mental Health Therapist with Thriveworks Counseling in Greenville, South Carolina. The online counseling question I’ve been asked is, “How can I be more assertive without being rude?”
I love to get this question from my clients because being assertive is one of the most empowering things we can do. Many of us are more than willing to advocate for others or for causes, but we aren’t advocating for ourselves. The first step to doing this is recognizing your needs. Take a step back from the situation to look through the emotions and the behaviors underneath all of that as a need that’s not being voiced next.
Now the differences between aggressive, passive, and assertive communication. Aggressive communication is often emotion driven, demanding, and maybe even belligerent. Passive communication is avoidant and direct and sometimes vague. Assertive communication is respectful, considerate, and firm. That being said, I think it’s important to note that unfortunately, manners and rudeness are in the eye of the beholder.
No matter how considerate and respectful you are in your assertiveness. Occasionally, someone will still have a problem with it, but don’t be. A lot of the time the problem they have is with themselves and not with you. Cultures vary by household, region, religion, and so on. While it’s important to consider your audience, you can’t possibly predict all of those factors.
Focus on processing your emotions, identifying your needs, and calmly stating it or the decisions based on it. For example, let’s say you have a supervisor who has a bad habit of frequently asking you to tackle tasks at the last minute, which forces you to stay late. A passive response might be to accept the tasks and always say yes because you don’t want to displease them, but you’re really exhausted and stressed about putting off your responsibilities at home. You start to resent your supervisor or maybe even your job for asking you to stay and for asking you to sacrifice so much.
An aggressive response might be to blow up at your boss. Maybe you walk out on your shift or you quit your job. An assertive response would be to ask to speak with your supervisor about a concern. Sit down with them. Tell them you’re willing to help when you can, but that you can’t keep staying late while you don’t owe your supervisor an explanation. If you’re more comfortable giving one, you can always add that you have other responsibilities outside of work that can’t be neglected.
Another example might be if your significant other is that person who’s always staying and working late. You rarely see each other. You feel unimportant and undervalued. A passive response could be keeping those feelings to yourself, maybe venting them to a friend, allowing the distance to grow in your relationship without saying a word. An aggressive response might be to berate your significant other. Telling them that they work too much. They don’t care about you. They better find a way to be around more. An assertive response would be to tell your significant other. You want to talk to them about something that’s been bothering you. You’re feeling lonely and unappreciated because they have to work so much. You want to work together to figure out how to spend more time together and to show each other appreciation.
In both of these examples, the other person could respond poorly or very well. Either way, you can feel better knowing that you calmly and kindly told them what you needed and what you expected. You’ve done the best thing you can do. You’ve illustrated that you’re willing to work toward a rational solution. No games, no mind reading. Just honest communication. So advocate for yourself by being assertive. Your ideas are too creative and your feelings are too important to keep them to yourself.