It can be hard expressing needs directly to someone, especially when our wishes aren’t aligned with the other person’s. Asking for what we need is the principle behind assertiveness (Gillihan, 2018). Being assertive often gets confused with being aggressive, as if being assertive means demanding that others give you what you want. However, according to Alberti and Emmons, being assertive actually falls between being passive or being aggressive. It’s a fine line to walk, but one that comes with many great benefits.
A recent journal article by Brittany Seed and colleagues summarized some of the many benefits of being assertive with our needs:
- Less Anxiety: Specifically, with social anxiety, it can be improved with greater assertiveness. This is because as we face our fear of upsetting others and letting them know our needs, our fears diminish. Through this process we often discover that we don’t get the upset reaction we expected from the other person.
- Greater Self–Esteem: When we honor our needs, we are also practicing self-respect, which can help improve our view of ourselves.
- Greater Sense of Agency: It can be easy to feel powerless when we’re passively swallowing our needs. By advocating for ourselves, we can reclaim control over our lives.
- Better Relationships: If being assertive meant we were selfish or aggressive, then we would expect it to hurt our relationships. However, the reality is that research shows that greater assertiveness actually improves relationships. Good things happen when people express their needs directly to one another.
It’s important to note that if you don’t see yourself as an assertive person, it can be learned! Gillihan (2018) recommends the self-help book Your Perfect Right by Alberti and Emmons. If you’re ready to start practicing today, Gillihan (2018) offers some principles to follow:
- Be honest with yourself. What is it that you need in different situations? Be cautious of any tendency to discount your wishes.
- Be direct and unapologetic. Especially as you let the other person know what you need.
- Aim to be positive. By expecting a positive response from the other person, it can help to get the interaction off on the right foot.
- Take responsibility for your needs. Try this rather than making it about the other person. For example, rather than criticizing your partner for being unavailable, let them know that you would enjoy spending more time together.
- Remind yourself that you are perfectly within your rights. You have a right to have needs and express them to people!
- Keep in mind the balance you’re aiming for. Honoring your wishes as well as those of the other person. When possible, a collaborative approach works best.
- Tend to your non-verbal behaviors. Alberti and Emmons point out that only part of assertiveness has to do with the words we use, it is also about:
- Eye contact. Looking at the person without starting them down.
- Facial expression. Matching the words we’re saying. For example, not smiling while describing frustration.
- Posture. Standing up straight and facing the person directly.
- Physical distance. Too far away can show passivity, while being too close can signal aggression.
- Gestures. Trying your best to move in a relaxed and fluid way to suggest confidence.
- Vocal quality. Speaking in a clear, firm tone rather than yelling or speaking timidly.
Gillihan, S. (2018, January 18). 5 Benefits of Asserting Your Needs-and How to Start Today.
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