Assertiveness… Standing up for your rights

Do you usually say ‘yes’, even when you mean to say ‘no’, for fear of displeasing others? Do you refrain from making your opinion known for fear of offending others?

  • PublishedJuly 9, 2011

Do you usually say ‘yes’, even when you mean to say ‘no’, for fear of displeasing others? Do you refrain from making your opinion known for fear of offending others? Do you avoid conflict at the expense of your own happiness or peace of mind? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you need to learn the virtue of assertiveness.

Assertiveness is a way of behaving or a form of communication that enables one to clearly communicate their needs, wants, feelings or opinions without infringing on the rights of others or submissively permitting others to ignore or deny them their rights.

Assertiveness should not be confused with submission, passive aggressiveness or other aggressive forms of behaviour. Submission is the act of yielding to others’ wants, while discounting your own rights. A submissive person has difficulty expressing his thoughts, feelings and wants and when he does, he may feel guilty for doing so.

Passive-aggressive behaviour involves displaying behaviour characterised by the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive passive way, for instance, through procrastination and stubbornness. It is a defense mechanism that allows people who are not comfortable being openly aggressive to get what they want under the guise of trying to please others. They may want their way, but they also want everyone to still like them.

Plainly aggressive behaviour, on the other hand, involves communicating in a demanding, abrasive or hostile way. It is being insensitive to the rights, thoughts, feelings, or desires of others and attempts to obtain results or responses through intimidation.

Assertiveness is a form of confidence. When you’re assertive, you’re comfortably able to be honest with people without being rude or hurtful. You are also able to state what you really want, while respecting yourself and allowing others to feel safe and get what they want as well. It is a virtue that takes time, patience, and guts to develop.

To be assertive, you have to make the decision to be assertive, think about what you want and whether it is fair and respectful to others, as well as stay cool, calm and collected while talking to them. It is also important for you to be open to new ways of thinking about yourself and others, and also different situations. Assertiveness also involves being open to fair criticism and not being afraid of giving it yourself, negotiating and making compromises. It is important in helping you feel more confident about yourself and become aware of who you are. It is also important in maintaining good relationships with those around you.


If you are going to have to play defense all the time, you cannot have the kind of ingenuity, assertiveness, independence, and intelligence, which is what has made our country strong.

Arlen Specter, Former United States Senator

To know oneself, one should assert oneself. Albert Camus, French author and journalist If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.

George Orwell (1903-1950), English author and journalist

There is a fine line between assertiveness and being relaxed.

Justin Guarini, American singer/songwriter

We must teach our girls that if they speak their mind, they can create the world they want to see.

Dr. Robyn Silverman, Child development specialist and body image expert

Assertiveness is not what you do; it’s who you are!

Shakti Gawain, Personal development author

Your thoughts

To be assertive is to confidently make a decision you consider right, and boldly implement it with a lot of enthusiasm. One has to be assertive in order to move forward in life. In a world full of negative people, you need to be positive and stand by what you believe in without wavering.

Dr. Orpha K. Ongiti, Director, Nazarene Nairobi University Campus

Assertiveness is being confident and self-assured in pursuit of a particular cause. However, one has to do so while considering the rights of others.

Ben Mutahi, Salesman, Nairobi


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