Two Perspectives on Assertiveness-Why, When and How
Two Perspectives is a monthly column with two different perspectives on the same topic from two different continents, cultures and genders viz
Janet Smith Warfield, Florida, USA and
Dr Amit Nagpal, New Delhi, India
Assertiveness is absolutely vital if we want to get our needs met. To be assertive means to express one’s needs to those who may be able to help with no attachment to the results.
Aggressiveness destroys relationships. To be aggressive means to pressure or manipulate someone else into doing what we want them to do, whether they want to or not.
Recently, I purchased a bag of manure at Wal-Mart. It was heavy - more than I could easily lift alone.
I asked one of the Wal-Mart employees if he could help. He said, “Sure. Just drive your car over here to the entrance and I’ll put it in the trunk for you.”
I went to my car and drove to the entrance. The employee had suddenly disappeared. My car was parked in a “No Parking” zone. I sure as heck didn’t want to lift that bag of manure by myself.
Twenty years before, I would either have lifted the bag of manure myself and thrown my back out or stewed and fumed and started thinking evil thoughts about the Wal-Mart employee who had promised to help and then disappeared. Twenty years later, with more maturity, I was willing to be assertive, ask for help, and get a different result.
Two young men, clearly customers, approached the entrance. Both were total strangers. I had never met either of them before in my life.
“Excuse me,” I said to the one with the biggest muscles, arms covered with tattoos. “Would you be able to lift this bag of manure into the trunk of my car for me?”
He pilled back, surprised, but then said “sure,” easily picking it up and depositing it in the trunk of my car.
“Thank you very much,”
“No problem,” he smiled. I could tell he felt good about himself.
By being assertive and asking for help, I avoided the aching back, anger and judgment I would otherwise have experienced. It was a triple win. The Wal-Mart employee won because his supervisor didn’t receive a complaint. The young man won because he’d been able to demonstrate his strength and kindness. I won because I didn’t have to lift the bag of manure.
Janet Smith Warfield works with wisdom-seekers who want understanding and clarity so they can live peaceful, powerful, prosperous lives. Through her unique combination of holistic, creative, right-brain transformational experiences and 22 years of rigorous, left-brain law practice, she has learned how to sculpt words in atypical ways to shift her listeners into experiences beyond words, transforming turmoil into inner peace. For more information about Janet, go to
Copyright © 2011 - Janet Smith Warfield. All rights reserved.
Dr Amit Nagpal's Perspective
First let us understand what assertiveness is after all. We can respond to situations and people in three ways viz. submissive, assertive and aggressive. When we are too gentle (or under-react), it is submissive behavior, when we are too loud/violent (or over-react), it is aggressive behavior and when we have a measured response (the right degree), it is assertive behavior.
The first question which comes to our mind is why we need to assert. Well we need to assert to defend our rights or to claim which is rightfully ours. As human beings we will very often under-react or over-react unless we are conscious and careful to give measured assertive responses. When we are submissive, we will be treated as doormats and our rights may be trampled upon. When we are aggressive, we will make people defensive or irritate them and create an undesirable reputation.
The second question is when we need to assert. We need to assert whenever we face situations or people with whom we need to demand our material rights, space in relationships, individual freedom, legal rights or simply to remind people of their duties. We need to assert in every relationship, be it family, workplace, society, friends, and government and so on. In fact, sometimes with the customers also, who start behaving like dictators rather than kings.
Now the most important question is how we assert. If you are a gentle soul, how can you practice asserting for what is rightfully yours. Here are some exercises you can use.
- An assertive person asks, demands, insists and does not expect to get things without asking. Use ‘I’ rather than ‘We’ to show that you are in command.
- Whenever you face criticism you don’t agree with, tell the person with conviction that you don’t agree with his views.
- Positive self-talk (talking to one self about one’s achievements, past successes etc) can boost one’s confidence and body language resulting in more assertive behaviour.
- Practice saying ‘No’ with firmness. Offer an explanation, if necessary but keep it short (to avoid getting defensive).
Just keep in mind that if you don’t learn to assert in life, you may have a feeling of being insecure and a fear that everyone is out to make a fool of you. You may also behave like a cry baby expecting people to understand you and feel bad when you don’t get things you deserve. Once I wrote on Facebook, “Even a mother feeds the baby when the baby cries. Even God comes to your rescue when you remember and remind him. Do not suffer in silence and learn to assert in life.”