The word has acquired a range of rather forbidding associations. You might relate it to people who are mouthy or pushy or forceful in a way which makes others feel uncomfortable and got at.
That kind of behaviour isn’t assertive at all and there are other names for it, including unpleasant, nasty, inconsiderate. Yet the link between assertive behaviour and displays of aggression lingers.
The reason for this may have something to do with over-compensation. Someone who has been a pushover in certain situations learns some assertiveness skills, and boy, do we know it. Suddenly they begin to ‘speak as they find’, and everyone in their circle rather wishes they wouldn’t.
After years of silently fuming about their mother-in-law’s behaviour, someone decides to get their act together and tells MiL just what they think of her. What harm could that possibly do? Or you acquire the ability to say no, and decide to put it into practice the very next time someone asks you a favour. Cue possible souring of good relationship at home or at work.
You can choose
These are examples of misdirected assertion. We all make mistakes when we begin to put into practice things that we have learnt. Learning to behave assertively is liberating and confidence-boosting.
It’s great to learn the strategies and techniques of communicating honestly and directly without constantly worrying about how we will come across.
Once you have assimilated the concept and the pratice of assertive behaviour, you can decide how to use your skills. You will become good at keeping the balance between asserting your own interests and considering other people’s. You will realise that just because you can behave in a certain way, it doesn’t mean you have to.
Keep your powder dry
Oliver Cromwell is thought to have told his troops ‘keep your powder dry’. No, dear sisters, this is not a reference to the desirability of a matte complexion. The phrase is advice to keep your weapon in good order and ready for action, so that when the time is right you can let fire.
In other words, know how to behave assertively, and be ready to do so when the occasion requires it. Don’t waste or dilute your assertive skills by employing a scatter-gun approach. Sometimes you can choose to let things go.
Make life more enjoyable
The imagery of weapons reminds us that assertive behaviour is an invaluable tool for dealing with heavy or threatening situations. It enables us to stand up to people who want to damage us, to harassment, to slights, to wrong-doing.
However, you can be assertive in non-combat zones as well. It’s not just about dealing with the negative, it’s also about having the confidence to behave positively.
People who behave assertively can
- tell a joke
- pay someone a compliment
- make a suggestion
- enjoy a good debate or discussion
- start a conversation
- defend their non-ironic love of the Eurovision Song Contest
- stick up for a friend when they are being bad-mouthed
- ask someone on a date
- speak up in a meeting
Now they do sound like people you would like to know or to be.
Making assertiveness fun
There was a 1945 movie called ‘Keep Your Powder Dry’. It starred the glamorous actress Lana Turner, famous for her femme fatale roles and her colourful life. She was married eight times to seven different men.
I imagine, to misquote Fleetwood Mac, that she made assertiveness fun.