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Human Assertiveness

We assert ourselves against other people, but also conditions and fares. There are positive ways to get along by, and there are other ways too. Basic assertiveness, fair and square, is good to hold on to, while "supported assertiveness" may get us into trouble through what comes out of it if fairness dwindles.

You may increase your odds for success in a society or group or family by learning how assert yourself a bit - maybe not fully and well. Some things depend on what others are willing to take also. So wide success is not guaranteed, and sound conditions are not either. A lot can mar between birth and death. If you get a valuable education and a decent, well paid job, you may not suffer as much as all who believe they are barred from those assets.

Proper assertiveness is not always an easy thing. Not too little, not too much, considering the circumstances, others involved, and what you are able to stand or withstand yourself - such things tend to go into it, and striking a balance to thrive by is an essential part of it too.

If you get over-assertive, you may get bossy, and others stop looking up to you, and think you have become a bully or something. If you are less assertive than what is good for you, others think less of you, and you yourself may start slinking.

Luckily, with not a lot of work, some features of assertiveness may be trained, and ways of assertive talking can be learnt. Talk is easy compared to stances and interactions, and how we live and work. Assertiveness is far more than talk, and a more complex and deep-going side to fit assertiveness is how you manage your life, your time. To focus on essentials tend to be of help one way or another; it could happen.

Among the steps to look into first, before taking action one way or another is to see how to improve your time management. If you find out fine ways of using your spare time you assert yourself too. Improve Your Time Management by Polly Bird (2010) is a nice book about organising your life for saving time, achieving more and having good enough control. One had better start before getting old; one gets better conditions for improvements that way. After retirement age, the conditions get different, and the achievements and perspectives too. The American George Burns (1896–1996) lived to a ripe old age, and said: "In my age I don't even invest in green bananas."

Well you do what you can. We are not all alike.

Fable 1

There was once a house that was overrun with mice. A cat heard of this and off she went. She took up her quarters in the house and caught the mice one by one and ate them. At last the mice could stand it no longer, and they determined to take to their holes and stay there. "That's awkward," said the cat to herself. "The thing to do is to coax them out by a trick."

So she considered awhile, and then climbed up the wall and let herself hang down by her hind legs from a peg and pretended to be dead.

By and by a mouse peeped out and saw the cat hanging there. "Aha!" it cried. "You're very clever, madam, no doubt; but you may turn yourself into a bag of meal hanging there, if you like, yet you won't catch us coming anywhere near you." [Retold]

If you are wise you won't be deceived by the dangerous.

You may say the mice were beaten, shy and all that, but they kept on living. Realism crept in and they adapted - and hid. It has to do with finding out who will be very dangerous. Another fable:

Fable 2

Once all the mice met together in council and discussed how to best secure themselves against the attacks of the cat. After several suggestions had been debated, a mouse of some standing and experience got up and said, "I think I know how to ensure our safety in the future, if you approve and carry it out. It is that we should fasten a bell round the neck of our enemy the cat. Afterwards, the bell's tinkling will warn us when she approaches."

The plan was warmly applauded. The mice wanted to carry it out when an old mouse got upon his feet and said, "I agree with you all that the plan is an admirable. But who is going to bell the cat?" [Adapted]

Being circumspect is often a good thing.

Assertiveness isn't all

It is fair to point out the dangers first, before starting to push boundaries or one's luck. Realistic appraisals should not make cowards of anyone, but may instigate suppressed ones to seek for remedies that work.

Pretty much depends on upbringing. Standing up for your rights and not being taken advantage of; communicating what you really want in a clear fashion, respecting your own rights and feelings and the rights and feelings of others; and honestly and appropriately give vent to feelings, opinions, and needs - that is worth going for. However, do not stop being realistic. The mice that wanted to put a bell around a cat's neck showed some assertiveness, but forgot to take all sides to their cat problem into account. Thus, train yourself and get skilled first - that is what the mice were not up to in the fable. Thus, see what you can do, and what others may do or go for against you - it is a side to realism. If you get unrealistic enough, assertiveness may not help at all.

Many are not assertive for fear of displeasing others and of not being liked. Being taken advantage of and belittled may be results of that.

Some sound self-exploration and practice should yield fruits you like. There are many keys that may serve you. Some may appear to be spoken in jest; others not.

You may start softly and not hurt anyone.


Tact is about how to do or say things without offending or upsetting other people - at least not wantonly or unnecessarily; it involves a keen sense of what to express or not so as to maintain good relations with others or avoid offense. Skills in communicating without being all too tactless may hopefully be learnt. Skill and sensitivity blend in it and helps in dealing with others or with difficult issues. It is often needed.

We discern between these four: basic, emphatic, escalating and language assertion, as they are called.

Tactful sensitivity is hardly enough if bullies and mongrels are all around you, if not on top of you.

Married to a Nymph

Many good insights could have to give way to your delighful children: "Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories," says John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. And if you don't treat your children tolerably well, your self-respect may go down the drains for it by-and-by. If you don't respect yourself, there are many means to signal it, many of them unconscious, in part by the body language.

STORY A charcoal burner was out in the woods working his kilns. One evening a handsome woman appeared and said she did not know the way - easygoing and nice she looked. He thought that she should stay with him. She agreed, but made the promise that whenever he had been away someplace, he would first knock three times on a certain tree before coming home. She pointed it out. After that she stayed with him for three years. They had three children.

But one day he had been drinking much Scotch whisky, he forgot about the knocking. When he got to the kilns, he saw how she really was with her nose and claws and her tail dipped in a bucket of water. He got very frightened - he was living with a wood sprite. He turned to an old Finn and asked him for advice.

"Take her and the children with you on a sleigh," said the Finn. "Sit on the horse yourself, but do not tie any tight knots in the harness. When you come to the middle of the frozen lake, ride away from them: get shaggy and hairy for yourself."

The charcoal burner sobered up somewhat and next went back and knocked on the tree as he usually did, and he found her handsome as usual. He mounted the horse and invited all the four of them for a ride. When they got to the middle of the frozen lake, many wolves appeared on the ice. It dawned on them that he was going to make a sacrifice.

"Have pity, or I will call my brothers and relatives." his wife said in the wind.

He did not, he chose differently, and next rode off after letting the sleigh loose. When she saw it, she called for help and thundered like cannonballs, hitting the ice. It was blue, Swedish ice. Yet the charcoal burner rode away unscathed; his wife and children were devoured by wolves.

[Adapted from the Swedish. More Swedish legends].

Man and blossoming wife had better be fairly congenial for things to work well.

The less congenial, the more tact could be needed. And vice versa: the better suited to one another, the less conscious tact and assertiveness may be wanted.

Fit Assertiveness

There are many books on assertiveness. Sensitive assertiveness is preferable to brute or blunt assertiveness. Now, it may feel a bit awkward to be told by someone else that you need to assert yourself, how to do it, and pay good money for being told so too, for example, "Don't slump, and regain your best posture, thank you."

Many feel a need to stand up for their rights, and others feel a need to balance the assertiveness needs of many that are supposed to cooperate.

Assertiveness may not need to rest on proofs to work well, and does not have to threaten aggressively the rights of others, or submit to the end that someone ignores or denies the rights or points of views of others. It you claim to be a genuine follower of Jesus and his teachings, turning the other cheek and let demanding robbers take all your possessions and force you into their service, then you do yourself no good turn, and probably not the wider society either, in the long run. If you take slaves and deny their rights to be free (enough), and if you comply with "God-persons" who say that keeping slaves is OK, you deny the slaves normal Human Rights, and step on their assertiveness in the long run. Maybe your complience with bad things help them on and up. Non-cooperation with evil was a paradigm of Mohandas Gandhi's satyagraha, which means "holding on to truth (and integrity)", depending on how you understand the Sanskrit word satya, truth, integrity.

Much too little self-esteem has to be combatted. Also, in no small way assertiveness skills may be learnt and mastered. Many personal development experts, behavior therapists, and cognitive behavioral therapists make a living in such a walk of life. Assertiveness Training has been popularised, and its goals include: increased awareness of personal rights; discerning between non-assertiveness and assertiveness; discerning between passive–aggressiveness and aggressiveness; and learning both verbal and non-verbal assertiveness skills.

How people deal with their own boundaries and those of other people, helps to clarify things a bit:

  1. VICTIMS. Passive communicators do not defend their own personal boundaries and thus allow aggressive people to abuse or manipulate them. Fear may be into it. Passive communicators are also typically not likely to risk trying to influence anyone else. They may become victims by passively permitting others to violate their boundaries. At a later time, they may come back and attack with a sense of impunity or righteous indignation.
  2. OFFENDERS. Aggressive people do not respect the personal boundaries of others and thus are liable to harm others while trying to influence them. They may judge, threaten, lie, break confidences, stonewall, and violate boundaries of others.
  3. BALANCED GUYS. A person communicates assertively by overcoming fear of speaking his or her mind or trying to influence others, but doing so in a way that respects the personal boundaries of others. Assertive people are also willing to defend themselves against aggressive people. If others' actions threaten their boundaries, balanced guys communicate this to prevent escalation. At the same time they may keep an eye to shared interests of many of the parties involved, may perhaps focus on issues more than persons unless the persons do havoc - and seek to maintain their own self-respect.

A bit depending on circumstances, the properly assertive guys with fit self-esteem may feel free to express their feelings, thoughts, and desires; initiate and maintain comfortable relationships; know their rights; can handle their anger to their benefit - not repressing it, but sticking to sensible reason; compromise at times on minor issues; and enter friendships with due consideraton of the needs of one another.

Techniques of assertiveness can vary widely. Here are three of the better-known ones:

  1. When your partner will not take no for an answer, one may simply simply repeat one's requests or refusals as much as it takes. If your no's are not respected enough, it may be fit to have some decent sanctions on hand.
  2. Finding some limited truth to agree with in what an antagonist is saying; agreeing in part or in principle on a thing.
  3. I-statements can be used to express your own, dear feelings and wishes without expressing a judgement about the other person or blaming your feelings on them.

There are better odds for not ending up as a drunk by proper assertiveness training, according to research studies. Social skills - knowing what to say, to whom, and when and so on - may help too, and make public life lighter.

Being over-assertive is not beneficial either. A sound balance is needed, and it depends on part on circumstances. If they change a lot, our optimal assertiveness may have to be adjusted - carefully. If you go too far you may end up as one of the aggressive ones without enough sensible skills of adjustment, and without much respect for the rights of others.

Basically, self-assertiveness is being who you are and go on from there, developing skills of handling and the like, understanding things better, and so on. Also bear in mind it takes two to a tango. You may find yourself in a reciprocality web of a sort, where others may not feel they benefit from your proper assertiveness. That can be problem for those who rise among the classes and social spheres to enter your comfort level, or whatever we may call it. Upward moves may meet with many sanctions by others that are left behind somehow. Another side to it: Life transitions makes you vulnerable to manipulation, Harriet Braiker points out. [Braiker 2004:1]

As proper assertiveness training bears its fruits in your life, maybe you find it best to change your job so that you get an increase in pay, and you may far more easily say no to unreasonable requests along the road too. [Fensterheim and Baer 1976:3]

[Key source: Wikipedia, s.v. "Assertiveness"]

All who have not attended university and forgotten very much from that period have a right to be informed that universities go along with great loss of learnt material. There is more than enough evidence to prove it - horrible wastes of money, time and human resources on a staggering scale. Jarand Rystad supplies evidence. (Rystad 1993)

Academic learning and practical, handling skills help some, and handbags help some. Go for best things first. To maintain one's integrity, decency, and solid functions, is largely fit. Much deends on how proficient you are.

Also, for things to work out well, pay enough heed to the "organismic feel", as Carl R. Rogers calls it when "your whole being tells you so", or tries to.

If teachings don't help you on your couch and where you are otherwise, they may not suit you well enough in your current circumstances, and so on.

You can check a book to read into on our couch by glancing through the front and back flaps, the covers, the table of contents and the index to get an inkling.

Now you are ready to dip into a page or paragraph here and there, and thumb through the book.

If you should use this approach for mere skimming, you may find that you are not just skimming, but reading and enjoying it. We can often enjoy ourselves and get cultured in such a way.


Assertiveness, being properly assertive, Literature  

Bird, Polly. Improve Your Time Management. London: Teach Yourself / Hodder Education, 2010.

Braiker, Harriet B. Who's Pulling Your Strings? New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Fensterheim, Herbert, and Jean Baer. Don't Say "Yes" When You Want To Say "No". London: Futura, 1976.

Hadfield, Sue, and Gill Hasson. How to be Assertive in Any Situation. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2010.

Lomas, Brian. Easy Step by Step Guide to Stress and Time Management: How to Reclaim Control of Your Life and Redress the Balance Between Work and Private Life. Hayling Island, UK: Rowmark Ltd, 2000. ⍽▢⍽ Here are fair suggestions for taking stock of your life, regain some more control of it and ease stress levels a bit or better. See what or who there is a need for better assertiveness against and make sure you enjoy how you spend your time, as poor time management can cause stress. Assert yourself and your quality time against burdening stress if you can. Prioritising well is a key, the author thinks, and learning to tackle work by effective skills is not always too hard to do either.

Moon, Jennifer. Achieving Success through Academic Assertiveness: Real Life Strategies for Today's Higher Education Students. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2009.

Paterson, Randy J. The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2000.

Rees, Shân, and Roderick S. Graham. Assertion Training: How to Be Who You Really Are. London: Taylor and Francis, 2006.

Rystad, Jarand. "Alt glemt på grunn av ubrukeleg eksamensform? En empirisk unders&olsahs;kelse av Matematikk 2 eksamen ved NTH. (Everything forgotten because of a form of exam that won't do? An empirical investigation of the Mathematics 2 exam at NTH)" In UNIPED No. 2-3, 1993:29-50.

Townend, Anni. Assertiveness and Diversity. Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2007.

Zimmerman, Constance, with Richard Luecke. Asserting Yourself at Work. New York: American Management Association, 2010.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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