What Holds Us Back from Being Assertive?
Are we fearful of being seen as too aggressive, bossy, pushy? Are we uncertain of the legitimacy of our beliefs? Are we trying to make others happy or protect their perceived vulnerability? Do we not really understand what assertiveness is? Probably a mixture of all of these and more. Sadly, failing to be appropriately assertive is a path to sacrificing what you believe in and what you may have to offer to solve a problem or situation. Assertiveness, used thoughtfully, can be a calibrated tool for physicians to achieve goals. Developing assertiveness as a constructive form of communication can prevent us from devolving into blunt instruments of aggression or authoritarianism.
Productive assertiveness has an inside out quality, that is not the superficial antithesis of aggressive or passive-aggressive behavior. Physicians who want to reach their potential and create the impact that they desire for themselves and for others are well served by cultivating the skill of assertiveness in their behavior and their style of communication. In a Harvard Business Review article, Scott Edinger describes leadership qualities that are enhanced by assertiveness, including, amongst others, fostering teamwork and collaboration; creating a safe environment; and communicating effectively, attributes that are all essential to the world of medicine today.
What is Assertive Communication?
Assertive communication is the ability to clearly and directly communicate with others in a respectful and open way. Maintaining calm and emotional equilibrium allows for your ideas, beliefs and decisions to be expressed with confidence without the need to dominate and overwhelm others. It leads to engagement in conversation and opens the door to mutually respectful dialogue. In contrast, aggressive communication creates an atmosphere of disrespect and fear, and hinders fruitful interaction. Passive communication rarely achieves results and can easily breed internal resentment and disengagement. Passive-aggressive communication can be an outgrowth of passivity and functions as a weak form of communication that sabotages trust and sacrifices effectiveness.
How to Cultivate Inside-Out Assertiveness
- Be Prepared
Do your research, know your data and thoroughly understand the information and thoughts that you want to communicate. This facilitates your ability to present with confidence and supports assertive, not defensive communication.
- Cultivate Mindfulness, Self-awareness, Self-respect and Respect for Others
Mindfulness is characterized by the ability to pay attention moment-to moment in a non-judgmental way. This leads to awareness and curiosity about the thoughts and emotions that we experience on a continual basis. Through this self-knowledge we can function from a neutral, curious place that is not at the mercy of our emotions. This mindset sets a strong foundation for communication that emanates from a place of calm and thoughtfulness.
Self-respect that extends to an embrace of respect for others ensures the possibility of creating a forum where opinions and different viewpoints can be shared and considered in a measured thoughtful way.
- Function with Integrity
Antonyms of integrity are dishonesty and untrustworthiness. Communication based on these characteristics trends towards aggression and passive-aggressiveness. A leader who embodies integrity sets the stage for assertive communication that will influence others in an accurate, trustworthy and safe way.
- Engage in Self-management
Mindfulness sets the stage for managing our emotions and feelings in constructive ways. We can communicate from a place of self-control, which supports the patience and respect that underpin assertive communication.
- Connect to Others and Request Honest Feedback
All of the skills discussed above create the inner confidence to connect to and ask for input from others. This kind of assertive leadership fosters collaboration and teamwork.
Commit to the Art of Assertiveness
Assertiveness, used appropriately, characterizes a way of being and of communication that creates a door to possibility, choice and opportunity. It creates the potential to live with authenticity and self-respect and positively influence those around you.
“To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.”
Edith Eva Eger