How To Be Assertive Without Being A Steamroller

Healthy Assertiveness is a gift, but high and healthy are not the same thing. To be healthy, high assertiveness must be balanced by other dimensions of emotional intelligence. Without balance, you might get a lot done, but you will leave carnage in your wake.

Assertiveness, along with Emotional Expression and Independence, is part of the Self-Expression Composite in the EQ-i 2.0™ model of emotional intelligence.

What is Assertiveness?

Multi-Health Systems (MHS), publisher of the EQ-i 2.0 emotional intelligence assessment, offers the following definition:

Assertiveness is communicating thoughts and beliefs openly, as well as defending personal rights and values in a non-offensive and non-destructive manner.

That last part is obviously critical. Being assertive and being aggressive both involve defending your personal rights and values. The key difference is that assertiveness does this in a way that also respects the rights and values of others, while aggression defends personal rights by violating the rights of others.

High Assertiveness involves clarity of personal goals and boundaries, expressed in words and actions that occur to others as confidence, self-assurance, and directness.

Those with low Assertiveness can find it very difficult to speak up for themselves. They may not be clear where they stand, and even if they are, they choose not to state and defend their position. Others will be unclear about what you are thinking and feeling, and will experience you as excessively shy, wishy-washy, or uncommitted.

Those with well-developed Assertiveness know where they stand on issues that are important to them, and they set and maintain clear personal boundaries with calm confidence.

Two things you can do to improve Assertiveness right now:

  1. Pack your words before you go. When emotions are running high, it can be hard to find the words you need, which makes it easy to stay silent. Write down a few phrases that feel authentic to you: “I hear you, but I see it differently…,” “I’m not sure I agree; I’d like some time to think about that…”
  2. Choose the center, not the margins. Physically place yourself in the center of the conversation.

Too much of a good thing:

We all know people whose high Assertiveness is unchecked by other emotional skills. Unbalanced Assertiveness can easily cross the line into aggressive and dominating behavior.

Assertiveness is a valuable skill, not to be wasted, so the answer is not to suppress it, trying to bite your tongue when you want to speak up, but rather to do more of those behaviors that create balance. These include focusing more attention on EI dimensions like Impulse Control, Empathy, and Flexibility.

Healthy assertiveness is an essential element of overall emotional intelligence. We hope this helps you avoid being a steamroller if you have it, and avoid getting steamrolled if you don’t!

Until next time, thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more on emotional intelligence. In our next installment in this series on EQ we will be working with Independence, the final dimension of the Self-Expression composite. Until then, you can subscribe to our newsletter via email to make sure you don’t miss future articles like this one, and you can click here if you are interested in taking the EQ–i 2.0 assessment.

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