The way we deal with the world around us, as well as with our own selves can vary. It can be vary from person to person. It can vary from time to time within the same person. It can vary from one context to the other.
Four basic forms of such dealing could be recognised: Assertive way, Aggressive way, Passive way and Passive-Aggressive way. Let us get to know them one by one.
The assertive person is readily aware of what she wants and needs. She knows that she needs to be happy and free. The assertive person knows what is more likely to make him happy and what is less likely to make him happy; he knows what is more likely to be beneficial to his development and what is less.
The assertive person makes decisions within a reasonable time period. She does not go on for indefinite periods of time asking each and every person for their opinion, considering the point of view of everybody, and analysing the most unrelated. She makes decisions, she makes them reasonably quickly and she is quite aware of what decision she has made.
The assertive person expresses the decisions/ choices he had made without undue fear. He does not hide his decisions/ choices. He tells others what he likes and what he does not; what he wants and what he does not.
The assertive person is ready to accept the consequences of her decisions. She does not duck from responsibility. Usually her decisions prove to be right later and bring happiness, prosperity and freedom to her. However when they do not and when a decision taken by her is proven to be wrong, she readily accepts that and faces the consequences. She stands by her decisions as well as their consequences.
Let us take an example. Pamudi is a doctor taking up her first appointment as a Medical Officer of Health (MOH) in a provincial area. She is 27 and is single. Her parents wants her to marry and asks her to consider marriage proposals. She decides that she would wait another year before making a decision on her marriage and asks her parents not to bring any marriage proposals for the next one year.
As she starts work, the provincial politician indicates to her that he is not happy with the continuation of a maternity clinic in a certain area. He says that there are not many people in that village and the MOH office could make best use of its services by discontinuing this clinic and starting a new clinic in a nearby village. Dr. Pamudi does a little fact finding mission and finds out that a large number of families benefit from this clinic. Furthermore the people in that area have been putting pressure to close down an alcohol sales outlet situated near this clinic, which is owned by a relative of the politician.
Dr. Pamudi decides to continue the clinic and conveys the information related to the situation with relevant statistics to the Regional Health Director. The politician becomes unhappy but gradually she gains popularity as a courageous people-friendly doctor. She feels that the respect shown to her, even by her superiors, is growing.
Now we can see that Dr. Pamudi has been assertive on both of above situations. She has been brave to take appropriate risks and been able to make clear decisions. She expressed them and stood by them. She is happy and content.
However this does not mean that if a robber stops you on a deserted road pointing a gun at you asking for gold, that you make a firm decision and face the bullet. No! That is not assertiveness, that is stupidity.
Here are few more examples of demonstration of assertiveness:
- Red light: You have a red light and you stop. The private bus behind you starts honking, obviously asking you to break the red light. The traffic flow is such there are gaps that you might actually get away with it. What would you do now? The man is incessantly honking. The non-assertive one would break the red light now, given that there is no police presence. The somewhat-assertive would move ahead a bit, but then stop – move ahead a bit with the next burst of honking and stop again. The Assertive would not budge. Might even open the door, look back and ask “What?”
- Striking at work/ university: The union leaders would announce that ‘today is strike day’ – nobody goes for lectures. The non-assertive would stay away from lectures. The Assertive would ask the leaders why. “Is there no other way to win our demands? What happened to the talks you had yesterday?” And if found to be inappropriate she would not join the strike.
- Abscond school: The friend tell the boy to jump the wall and go for a swim at the beach and a beer. The boy does not want to do it. This is inviting unnecessary trouble. By the way beer tastes horrible. But if he does not have enough assertiveness to say ‘no’, he would say ‘yes’. Quite readily he would accept this disastrous invitation if he feels there is a risk of being seen a bit sissy if he does not. The Assertive young man would not care what he looks. If he does not want to do that, his answer would be ‘no’.
- Alcohol invitation: You have planned to go on a family excursion tomorrow and you friend asks you to have alcohol with him tonight at a party. Your wife is waiting to go home early tonight and get ready to leave at dusk tomorrow with children. “Aha! So you fear your wife, eh?” is your friend’s response to your refusal. The non-assertive one would say “to hell with her, machang!” and drink. The Assertive would say “No, machang. I love her not fear her”, which would shut up the friend with a bit of a nasty blow to his poor ego!
This is a brief account of assertiveness. Now let us look at Passiveness, Aggression and Passive-Aggression later. We would also look at how to be more assertive and how to help our children to become more assertive.