How to be assertive without being aggressive: 8 tips for confident communication

Assertiveness is a communication skill that can help you express yourself in an effective manner. It helps you stand up for your point of view without being disrespectful to others. It does not mean being aggressive while expressing your opinions in a demanding way. You can be assertive without being aggressive. But assertiveness does not come naturally to everyone. It may be difficult for some people to be assertive due to fear of hurting others’ feelings. But you should neither let others dominate you, nor should your share your opinions with others in a hostile way. Let us tell you ways how to be assertive without being aggressive.

What does being assertive mean?

Being assertive means sharing your needs, thoughts, and feelings in an honest, direct, and respectful way. It is all about standing up for your rights and opinions simultaneously considering and respecting the rights and opinions of others. Assertiveness helps in communicating effectively without being passive (yielding to others) or aggressive (dominating others), says mental health and behavioural science expert Dr Rahul Chandhok.

A woman being assertive and not aggressive at work
Being assertive may help reduce stress. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

What does being aggressive mean?

Being aggressive means expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs, but in a forceful, hostile, or demanding manner. Aggression is typically all about disregarding or violating the rights and feelings of others, leading to conflict and resentment. Aggressive people tend to yell, threaten, or be overly critical while expressing themselves, says the expert.

Why is it important to be assertive?

If you are aggressive, your friends, family or colleagues may see you as a bully who does not value others’ opinions and feelings. Such people intimidate others, but assertiveness has benefits. People who are assertive tend to have less conflicts while dealing with others, so it may help in reducing stress, according to a research published in the Social and Personality Psychology Compass journal in 2017.

Being assertive is also important because:

  • It promotes clear and open communication, leading to healthier relationships and reducing misunderstandings.
  • It helps in building self-confidence and self-esteem, as it allows people to express their needs and stand up for themselves.
  • It helps in problem-solving and conflict resolution by fostering a respectful and constructive dialogue.

Why is it difficult to be assertive?

It can be difficult to be assertive because of fear of rejection, confrontation, or hurting others’ feelings, says the expert. People may also lack the confidence or communication skills that are needed to express themselves assertively. Societal norms that discourage direct communication or emphasise submissiveness can further complicate assertiveness. Also, past experiences of being dismissed or punished for assertive behaviour can hinder one’s ability to be assertive.

How to be assertive without being aggressive?

Here are certain ways to be assertive without being aggressive:

1. Use “I” statements

Using “I” statements is not always being selfish. You must express your thoughts and feelings from your perspective to avoid blaming others and being rude to them. You can say, “I feel frustrated when work does not start on time” instead of saying, “You always start the work late.”

2. Maintain eye contact

Don’t look at your shoes or other things in the room while making your point. Ensuring that you make appropriate eye contact with the other person while talking shows confidence and sincerity without intimidating them. It helps in establishing a connection with others and ensures that your message is understood effectively says Dr Chandhok.

A woman saying no while being assertive and not aggressive
Be polite yet firm while saying no. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

3. Keep your tone calm and steady

Tone of a person matters a lot. A calm and steady tone shows confidence and control. It avoids the hostility that an aggressive tone might suggest. It ensures that your message is assertive, but not threatening to the other person in any way.

4. Practice active listening

Listening to others actively and not looking distracted shows that you value their perspective. You can nod, make affirming sounds like “hmmm”, and paraphrase what they say. These will help to show that you understand and respect the other person’s opinions.

5. Be clear and specific

Be it in front your colleagues or lover, clearly articulate what you need or expect from them without being vague. Being clear and specific helps prevent misunderstandings between people and ensures that your message is understood as intended.

6. Use appropriate body language

It is not just the words that make a difference. Open and relaxed body language complements your verbal message. This can make you appear more approachable and assertive without seeming aggressive to others, says the expert.

7. Learn to say no

Be polite, but firm while declining requests whenever necessary. Saying no can help protect your time and energy. It can also reduce stress, as you won’t feel the pressure to do everything you are told to do. Saying no assertively is all about being respectful, but clear about your boundaries as well.

8. Find win-win solutions

Try to find mutually beneficial outcomes. Collaborative problem-solving is good, as it shows respect for the other person’s needs. It also promotes a cooperative approach rather than a combative one, which often happens in the case of an aggressive person.

Being assertive can help you to share your thoughts without being disrespectful to others. Being aggressive, on the other hand, can be intimidating. So, learn to be assertive without being aggressive.

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