I am working with a client who wants to develop his emotional intelligence (EI). Since EI entails a broad range of attributes, I encouraged him to focus on specific areas. We started with the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i 2.0) framework, one of the models of emotional intelligence. From the framework, he decided he wanted to work on his assertiveness.
My own experience with assertiveness started years ago when I helped teach self-defense classes for women. I learned that a lot of people cannot clearly define the difference among assertive, passive, passive-aggressive, and aggressive. If we are aiming for “assertive,” it’s important to understand what each means. Here is a summary:
- Assertive. We are willing and able to clearly express our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and perspectives. We know our boundaries and are not afraid to enforce them. We respect the boundaries and views of others.
- Passive. We may not be confident expressing our views, and we may not think it’s even that important. We may not know where or what our boundaries are or may not feel comfortable enforcing them.
- Aggressive. We forget that others have the same rights as we do to their views or to express themselves. We overstep the boundaries of others.
- Passive–aggressive. We don’t clearly express our views nor enforce our boundaries. But, we act quietly hostile if we think our views and boundaries are not respected, for example, by being sullen or unresponsive.
Understanding the definition of assertiveness is one thing. But, like any quality, embodying assertiveness can be a challenge. Many people have a hard time being assertive because they:
- Are not aware of their own thoughts, feelings, opinions, and perspectives
- Cannot clearly and respectfully express their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and perspectives to others
- Confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness
The above statements are applicable whether you tend to passiveness or aggressiveness. However, to get to assertiveness you need to know where you are starting from and choose appropriate development steps.
If you are passive (or passive-aggressive), try these practices:
- Know thyself. Figure out what your values, perspectives, and boundaries are. In what situations do you need to be clear with others what these are? This might be at home, at work, with your friends, in your community.
- Express yourself. This may seem scary to do in your next meeting with the CEO, so start small. For example, if your colleagues are picking a place for lunch or dinner, chime in with your idea.
- Explore your fears. Fear can keep us from expressing ourselves. When we put shape to our fears, we can explore the risks, either real or perceived. What do I risk by speaking up? What do I risk by not speaking up?
If you are aggressive, try these practices:
- Take a time out. If you are upset, you may resort to shouting or sarcasm as your modes of interaction. Give yourself time to cool down before jumping into conversations with others.
- Bite your tongue. One way we tend to railroad other people’s boundaries is by interrupting them. Next time you get the urge – in a one-on-one conversation, in a meeting with others – let the other person finish instead.
- Be open-minded. If we tend toward aggressiveness, it’s easy to see our views as important but dismiss those of others. Really listen to what other people have to offer, and ask yourself if their points may be valid.
Someone who is assertive stands up for themselves and what they believe in while at the same time respecting others. Check with yourself to make sure you understand the assertiveness balance and add to your emotional intelligence.