Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

Assertiveness and self-esteem. Which one comes first? Does assertive behaviour produce a healthy self-esteem, or are people with healthy self-esteem assertive?

Both are true - so you don't have to wait till you have healthy self-esteem to begin being assertive.

Assertive people tend to get what they want from life. They feel heard and have less stressful relationships than their passive or aggressive counterparts.

An assertive way of thinking

Assertive people have an,' I'm equal to anyone' view of life. They value their own worth, opinions and ideas and expect that others will too. They treat others with that same sense of equality and are less defensive than people who are passive or aggressive.

What makes assertive people think they are equal and valuable? Their ‘identity’ - the way they see themselves. All of us, regardless of background, up-bringing, genetics or education, can change our identity.

Assertiveness and self-talk

A key component to shaping identity is self-talk. Self-talk is the stream of messages that play, over and over in our heads. What do you say to yourself when you:

  • make a mistake? ('Gee I'm stupid', or 'I can do this'.)
  • succeed at a difficult task? ('Phew, I was lucky', or 'I'm pretty smart'.)
  • get a compliment? ('It's just an old shirt I bought at the op-shop' or, 'Thanks, I love it too'.)
  • fail? ('I'll never be able to do this', or 'Okay, that way didn't work - what else might?')

People build positive self-esteem by sending themselves messages that give them the credit for success (“Yahoo - I did it! It shows that I have the ability”) and attribute failure to something outside themselves. (“It's not personal, he's just having a bad hair day”). We reinforce our self-esteem, negatively or positively, by using self-talk that affirms our identity.

Developing an 'equal' view begins with actively managing your self-talk. Start paying attention to your internal messages. If they are negative, change them. Deliberately plant positive messages in their place. Say them out loud, under your breath and finally in your head. Keep saying them until they have replaced the old, redundant messages and become part of your new identity. It takes about eight weeks of active participation to change old habits, so keep at it. After all, you're reversing a process that took decades.

Actively managing your self-talk will change your beliefs about yourself. And since beliefs spill into action, you will find yourself behaving differently. You will become more confident, and acquire a more 'equal' view of yourself.

How to communicate assertively

Once you feel confident about yourself and your ideas, you need to develop some key skills to help you to communicate assertively and effectively.

Assertive people have their point of view heard because they can communicate difficult messages without raising the other person's defences or losing the plot. It takes a bit of practice, but it's not difficult. They do it by using a combination of neutral language and 'I' statements.

Here's a simple recipe for communicating assertively.

  • Only raise one issue at a time
  • Resist the temptation to wound or score points
  • Use 'I' instead of 'you'
  • Take out all inflammatory or emotive language, including 'always and never'
  • Focus on the issue or the behaviour, not the person
  • Talk about what you have noticed or know to be true
  • Explain the tangible or intangible effects the behaviour has on others, including you
  • Say what you would like to see happen
  • Listen and give others fundamental respect

If you use positive self-talk and assertive communication skills together, you'll be well on your way to achieving your goals and improving your relationships.

Remember, failure is just another way that hasn't worked yet, so what have you got to lose?