According to the Oxford Dictionary, assertiveness is having or showing a confident and forceful personality. Upon first reflection, I did not like the word forceful. But after some reflection, this initial gut reaction is likely a product of the influence of my gender-specific representation of the word shaped by society; one where women should not be 'naturally' assertive. Forceful, rather, denotes strength and energy. So, regardless of your gender, here's the spoiler alert for this post: The best way to handle assertive people is to be assertive yourself. Strength and energy is a good thing, regardless of sociocultural norms.
Assertiveness is something that I need to work on. Recently, I had the opportunity to have a strength training session with Dimitri Tsoumpas of Strength Shaman. This former-pro-football-player-turned-warrior-for-wellness focuses on confidence and exuberance while guiding his clients towards physical health. He took me through a few strength exercises that specifically focused on some areas that have been giving me grief, my areas of weakness and injury. Malcom Gladwell talks of this same idea. By focusing on the weakest link and getting to know it, embracing it, and building upon it, we strengthen the chain. Strength training has definitely helped me become more assertive in terms of the complimentary benefits of self-confidence that feeling strong brings. In addition to boosting your own physical wellness, below are a few other ideas.
How to handle assertive individuals by being assertive yourself:
1) Disagree openly with them
Being assertive provides the opportunity to commit to your values and integrate them into your self-identity. Engaging in a healthy discussion can help the assertive individual dig deeper into why they feel the way they do, which ultimately leads to problem solving and creativity.
2) Appreciate their body language by considering your own
Assertive individuals are relaxed. Their shoulders are back, their body is still, and they convey openness. They make eye contact and are quick to listen, rather than speak. Being closed and uncertain suggests that you feel threatened by what the other person is saying.
3) Be a witness to their emotions
Assertiveness comes from passion, and passion comes from believing in something. When events or people influence the path or seem to be a barrier, assertive people sit with their emotions. They take notice of what they are feeling and why. Being present and reflective helps to prioritize what we need from an interaction with someone and what we can set aside.
4) Stay informed, think critically, and be open to others' perspectives
We can all think of people who are assertive and ignorant at the same time. This is a bad combination. This can lead to aggression, which breaks down communication by sending people into fight or flight mode. We all need to be responsible when it comes to effective communication, so when you speak from the heart about a topic you care about, make sure you know your stuff. You need to be able to consider the other person's perspective, and sometimes this means walking in their shoes and being empathic. When others have closed minds, consider why.
5) When They Put Up Boundaries, Know Your Own
This can be a tricky one. Assertive individuals know their role. They can describe how they can be helpful in a situation, or what they can add, without stretching themselves too far. If you're the kind of person who says yes too often, think about something that was asked of you that felt like it was too much. Think of a scripted response that would have communicated that you care, but also conveyed that you could not do what they were asking. Setting clear boundaries takes practice and consideration, but doing so will help you be prepared for the next time you are asked to do too much.
“knowing your power
is what creates
not know your power
is what creates
― Nayyirah Waheed, Salt