How to Reach a Healthy Balance When Being Assertive

Balancing Levels of Personal Assertiveness


Being assertive in our personal lives has differences from and similarities to the way we assert ourselves at work or in business. Similarities include trying to be calm, honest, and direct. Note the use of the word "trying." The differences are fairly obvious. In our personal lives, our emotions are much more involved and often take over our ability to be objective and thoughtful. When we are in the middle of a heated argument with a spouse or romantic partner, it is very hard to remain calm. In fact, always being calm and thoughtful is a clear sign that there is little emotional investment in the relationship.

On the other hand, always being emotional is a sign of too much investment, unbalance, or unhealthy communications. Just as it is with work situations, it helps to take a break from a highly charged situation to calm down and regroup before continuing with the communications. Try to bring the same sense of workplace calm into your personal assertiveness; this will help keep high emotion from ruining your chances of getting what you want and need.

Appropriate and Inappropriate Communication in Our Personal Lives

Just as in the workplace, in our personal lives, not everything is written in stone. The points offered below are simply guidelines for how to communicate in many personal situations wherein you are asserting yourself and your wants and needs. However, if your family is apt to be very emotional and extravagant with vocal communications, then it is perfectly acceptable to go with it. It is never, ever acceptable, though, to hit or physically, sexually, mentally, or emotionally harm or wound friends, romantic partners, or family. If you find that any exchanges like this are occurring in your personal life, whether you are the victim or perpetrator, then you need to seek professional help immediately.

Here are some appropriate ways to communicate with family, spouses, and romantic partners:
· Use clear, direct communication.
· Know and communicate what you want and need going in.
· Be firm and speak with conviction.
· Present honest, straightforward requests.
· Offer solid examples.
· Use humor.
· Try to use positive speech rather than negative blaming.
· Avoid highly emotionally charged discussions. · Use honest, direct confrontation of issues or problems.

Inappropriate communication with family, spouses, and romantic partners may include the following:
· threatening;
· hitting;
· emotionally wounding words or actions;
· abusive speech or actions of any kind;
· mean, hurtful humor; · double talk, spining the story, or backpedaling.

Here are some appropriate communication tactics with friends:

· Set clear, firm boundaries.
· Use honest, direct confrontation of issues or problems.
· Share personal information, as suitable to the intimacy level of the friendship.
Following are some inappropriate communication techniques with friends:
· yelling;
· threatening;
· disrespectful or surly speech or behavior; · nasty, negative, or potentially harmful gossip about mutual friends.

Below are appropriate ways to communicate with acquaintances:
· Make respectful requests.
· Set clear, firm boundaries.
· Engage in discussions about your job or work life.
· Share general personal information, such as weekend plans, relationship discussions, discussions about family, children, home life, etc. These are inappropriate ways to communicate with acquaintances:
· yelling;
· threatening;
· disrespectful or surly speech or behavior;
· very personal information that should only be shared with those you trust; · nasty, negative, or potentially harmful gossip about mutual acquaintances.

Constructive Criticism, Act II:

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Assertiveness Training course?

Unfortunately, in our personal lives, people rarely if ever use the word "feedback" to describe whatever character defect they see in you that drives them crazy. While it is not always the case, more often a partner, parent, friend, or sibling will instead tell you that you are being irresponsible, lazy, selfish, etc. In our personal lives, it is typical to become defensive when our friends and/or family give us feedback aimed at helping us be better people. When these times present themselves in our lives, try to view the communication as exactly what it is, an attempt on the part of our loved ones to let us know what is bugging them about us. As it is with work situations, personal life feedback is a chance for us to improve ourselves. Instead of becoming defensive when a friend or loved one points out our faults, try to use the following tips:

  • Keep an open mind; you may learn something about yourself that you did not know.
  • Maintain an attitude that is interested in self-improvement.
  • If the criticism is ambiguous, ask for clarification.
  • If the solution is not obvious, ask for suggestions that would help your loved one feel better about that behavior.
  • Try to view what the person is telling you as a form of communication.
  • Ask for some examples of when you acted in a way that is upsetting your loved one.
  • Try to be objective. Ask yourself, "Do I really do this?"
  • Do not retaliate with criticisms of your own. Although you may have one or many to share, allow your loved one or friend to have the floor.
  • Tell your friend or loved one that you will need a few days to mull over what was said.

After you have been duly criticized by said loved one or friend, really try to think about what was said. Try to find examples from the past in which you might have acted this way with others. Ask yourself if others say the same things about you. For instance, if your husband says, "You are so stubborn, you refuse to try anything new," ask yourself if this may be correct. If you just tried sushi for the first time four days ago, learned a new instrument two months ago, or have other people telling you the exact opposite, he may be speaking of something more specific. He may not be able to communicate what he means more precisely. In that case, you should go back to your husband and explain that you disagree with his general criticism and point out why. Ask him if he was referring to something in particular and if so what that might be. If his answer is clearly something tangible and you agree, ask what you can do to accommodate his needs and wants.

By learning how to accept feedback from loved ones and friends, we are learning in turn how to assert ourselves. We also are laying the groundwork for opening them up to giving us what we need and want in return. Assertiveness is often a two-way street. We need to give something to get something. Call it personal negotiating if you prefer, but the end result is the same. Be open to giving, and those in your life will be more open to giving, too.

Avoiding Passive Aggression with Friends and Family

Just as it is when dealing with work relationships, it is important to be as clear and direct about your needs and wants as possible. It is very easy to fall into patterns of passive aggression in our personal lives. If you think you are in a frame of mind that is overly emotional, stop talking. Wait until you are able to be calm, firm, and direct. If you can do so, speak up right away about a problem or issue. Do not let problems fester and grow larger. Do not stifle frustrations and minimize their impact on your happiness and well-being. On the other hand, do not make every small issue a catastrophe.

Here is a very simple personal example many of us may be familiar with: If your wife or girlfriend borrows your razor to shave her legs once or twice because hers was out of blades, do not blow it out of proportion. You do not have to assert yourself over isolated, minor incidents, even if they annoy you. However, if your wife or girlfriend continually takes your razor, never replaces the blades, and you find your face is starting to look like you were just caught in a shrapnel storm, then you need to say something. For example, you could say, "Honey, did you know that you can purchase blades for your razor at the grocery store?" or simply, "Honey, please stop using my razor. It's really wreaking havoc on my face."

If you are a problem-solver, you might purchase a pack of blades for her when you are at the store and give them to her with these words, "Here, I got these for you. If you add them to the shopping list, I'll pick them up when you're out of them in the future." Try to be good-natured about it if possible.

You have become passive-aggressive if you begin hiding your razor or if you start taking hers when she finally does buy fresh blades. This type of behavior will create a hostile confrontation eventually.

And here is one for the ladies. If your husband or boyfriend leaves the toilet seat up on occasion, do not blow it out of proportion. This is not an "assert yourself" situation. If, however, you find yourself greeting ice cold porcelain in the wee hours, night after night, you need to say something such as, "Honey, could you please put the seat down. It's not very comfortable for me when you don't." Or, you could leave a sign over the commode: "Please put the seat down.Thanks, The Management."

You have become passive-aggressive when you begin slamming the commode seat down as loudly as you can at 2 a.m., or if you hide all the toilet paper, remove the toilet seat, or throw out all the bathroom magazines in protest. This type of behavior will create a hostile confrontation eventually.


Depending on the situation, being assertive in your personal life can be harder or easier than it is at work. In some respects, it is easier because the environment is more casual and showing emotion is acceptable. On the other hand, the tendency for emotion to get out of control or escalate is greater. Try bringing some of your workplace assertiveness attitudes to your personal life. Use the tools of direct, calm, honest, open-minded communication. Remember that to get what you want and need, reciprocation will be required to achieve balance in your relationships. Do your best to avoid the passive-aggressive trap that is so easy to fall into when it comes to personal relationships. Do not let things fester. Address significant issues as soon as you can in as gracious manner as you can manage.