What Is Assertiveness in Psychology?

Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D. 0 24-02-2021 / positivepsychology.com

Assertive behavior reflects an individual’s ability to stand up for their best interests without being excessively anxious. When effective, they are “exercising their own rights without denying the rights of others” (Speed, Goldstein, & Goldfried, 2017).

As humans, we are challenged daily to deal with a wide variety of situations in our lives, often having to choose between a mixture of approaches to handle each one.

Do we engage, compete, or show aggression?

Each behavior has a time and a place, appropriate depending on context and the importance of the outcome.

How we respond and judge our own and others’ behavior exists along a dimension known as interpersonal assertiveness. Too little or too much decides whether we let others’ needs take precedence or whether we push for our own desired outcomes (Ames et al., 2017).

The source and degree of assertive behavior come from aspects of our mental state, including our “motivations, expectancies, and failures of self-regulation” (Ames et al., 2017).

How does assertiveness affect our behavior?

When assertiveness goes wrong, it can lead to negative consequences. Pushing too hard or too ineffectually results in resistance and a failure to meet needs.

“Generations of scholars, in multiple areas, have examined these dynamics in various forms, ranging from cooperative to competitive behavior and from avoidance to aggression” (Ames et al., 2017).

Ames et al. (2017) consider assertive communication an aspect of our behavior, most relevant when our goals are instrumental (i.e., get us nearer to our final goals) and fail to align with those of others. When we avoid others’ needs or our own, we are displaying low assertiveness. And when we compete or show aggression, we are exhibiting a high degree of assertiveness.

Being overly assertive can be appropriate, for example, for a police officer who is moving people away from a dangerous incident but is ill advised when parenting a child who is lacking the confidence to complete their homework.

Balance and timing in assertiveness are everything.

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