Assertiveness and Interpersonal Influence

Assertiveness and Interpersonal Influence


How behaviors make a difference at work

Assertiveness is the behavior that enables a person to act in his or her own best interests, to stand up for themselves without undue anxiety, to express their honest feelings comfortably, or to exercise their own rights without denying the rights of others we call assertive behavior.

As businesses globalize and coordination becomes a larger part of every job, every employee is in the business of selling ideas. And when a sale is defined by buy-in and commitment, it’s the communication of goals and vision that does the selling. Too often, people cower behind imagined reactions and responses. They either don’t say anything, or only say what they believe the other person wants to hear. They avoid confrontation at all costs. Rather than listen, process, and reflect on what someone is saying, they instead drown out the ideas of others with their own inner dialogue of “What am I going to say next”?

This doesn’t work, but we do it anyway. In our fear, we forget that their own communication will motivate and embolden others to do likewise, leading to forward movement and favorable outcomes.

Offering solutions in an appropriate way is, in most cases, the result of taking into account the situations of others, and finding common ground. We call this Interpersonal Influence – behaving in a thoughtful and intentional way; not just reacting, but contributing to the situations in which we find ourselves. While there are various ways to use interpersonal influence, assertive behaviors, those that enable us to exercise our own rights without denying the rights of others, are the most effective. However, it’s not always obvious which behaviors are assertive and which aren’t. 

Below are some facts about assertiveness:

  • Assertiveness is a characteristic of behavior, not of a person: Individuals are not born assertive. Rather, assertiveness is a collection of skills that can be learned. 
  • Assertiveness is person- and situation-specific, not universal: No one behaves assertively or non-assertively 100% of the time. There are particular situations in which assertive behavior is more likely to occur. 
  • Assertiveness must be viewed in a cultural and situational context: Assertive behavior is in the eye of the beholder. What we call assertive in the United States may be viewed as rude in other cultures. Different situations call for different behaviors.
  • Assertiveness is predicated on the ability of the individual to choose freely his or her actions: Assertive behavior is only possible if individuals have free choice. Individuals are often so constrained by the situation that assertive behavior is prohibited. 
  • Assertiveness is a characteristic of socially effective, non-hurtful behavior: Assertive behavior is not aimed at getting one’s own way or intended to harm others in order to fulfill one’s own desires. 

It is perhaps easiest to understand assertiveness by examining the behaviors that produce influence styles and by contrasting assertiveness with other influence styles. When one attempts to influence another, two dimensions of behavior produce an influence style. The dimensions of behavior are openness in communication and consideration for others. 

Openness in Communication 

Openness is an individual’s willingness to disclose to another his or her thoughts, feelings, past experiences, and reactions. People are willing to disclose information about themselves to varying degrees. At one end of the spectrum are people who disclose very little, playing their cards “close to the vest.” At the other end are people who speak their thoughts and feelings directly and fully. 

Consideration for Others 

Consideration means an individual’s willingness to accord to others the same rights he or she expects for him- or herself. At one extreme are people who have very little respect for the opinions, feelings, and reactions of others. At the other extreme are people who defend and attempt to preserve the rights of others as strongly as they do their own. The amount of openness and consideration that people show in their behavior determines the influence style they use.

Consider opening up to a new way of thinking about communication and the meaning of assertiveness behaviors. With some investment in assertiveness training, your employees will be able to make impactful changes that will not only benefit them, but also your entire organization.

Assertive vs. Passive Behaviors

Assertive behavior is accompanied by thoughts of self-confidence and a belief that all individuals have rights. Individuals who behave assertively believe that their desires should not be denied or pursued at the expense of others. Individuals behaving assertively are even-tempered. Any anger or frustration they feel is recognized and directed with control at the behavior or situation that produced it, not at other people. Assertive nonverbal behavior consists of an upright, comfortable posture, direct eye contact, and appropriate tone of voice. Assertive verbal behavior is clear, direct, and concise.  Individuals speak in the first person and express themselves in an upfront manner. Their speech directly expresses their views while leaving an opening for alternative points of view.

People who are passive believe that they should not speak their minds, either because they do not have confidence in themselves or they do not want to disturb the relationship. They do not wish to disagree, and they believe that they are inadequate. Passive individuals have concluded that others have rights but they do not. Passive behavior includes hiding one’s feelings from others, and having feelings of victimization and depression. Resentment and anger held inside may eventually build to a breaking point, at which time the passive person may become aggressive. The nonverbal passive style consists of slumped posture, downcast eyes, nervous gestures, and similar behaviors. A weak voice or stilted speech may be used. Passive verbal behavior puts down the speaker by belittling his or her opinion.

Learning More

To learn more about this topic, check out the Interpersonal Influence Inventory assessment and workshop. It is an eye-opening learning tool that reveals a preference for one of four dominant styles: openly aggressive behavior, concealed aggressive behavior, passive behavior, or assertive behavior. An HRDQ bestseller for more than 20 years, the Interpersonal Influence Inventory has helped thousands of people identify their interpersonal influence style, learn how they come across to others, and work toward becoming more effective communicators. Click here to learn more: https://hrdqstore.com/products/iii.

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