Assertiveness 101: How to Express Your Needs with Kindness and Clarity

Sean Dadashi
Sean Dadashi

Sean is the co-founder of Rosebud, an AI journal for personal growth.

April 25, 2024

Do you often find yourself holding back from expressing your true thoughts, feelings, or needs in your relationships or at work? Do you worry that being assertive will come across as aggressive or demanding? In a recent podcast episode, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Stephanie Catella, an expert on emotional intelligence. We delved into the topic of assertiveness and why it's a crucial skill for building healthy relationships and achieving success in all areas of life.

What is Assertiveness?

As Dr. Catella explains, "Assertiveness is a few things. It's the ability to understand and accept and experience our emotions as they're occurring in the moment. And then it's being able to stay connected, staying in the interaction with someone despite the presence of discomfort." Assertiveness involves clearly and directly communicating your needs, wants, and boundaries while respecting the rights and feelings of others.

Why is Assertiveness Important?

Dr. Catella emphasizes, "We can't expect that somebody is going to anticipate and correctly predict our needs, and that's not really a fair burden to place on others. And so we need to be able to express our opinions, our beliefs, our perceptions, enact boundaries, make requests, get those unmet needs met through assertiveness."

Lack of assertiveness can lead to:

  1. Resentment and unmet needs in relationships
  2. Decreased self-esteem and confidence
  3. Increased stress and anxiety
  4. Missed opportunities for growth and success

How to Practice Assertiveness:

  1. Identify your needs: Dr. Catella suggests, "A really helpful starting place would be to really evaluate what are the relationships or the context, the topics, the conversations where I tend to not assert myself." Take time to reflect on your values, goals, and non-negotiables.
  2. Use "I" statements: Express your thoughts and feelings using "I" statements, such as "I feel" or "I need," rather than "you" statements, which can come across as blaming or attacking.
  3. Be clear and specific: Avoid beating around the bush or expecting others to read your mind. Clearly and specifically state your needs, wants, or concerns.
  4. Practice active listening: Assertiveness isn't just about expressing yourself; it's also about listening to and considering the perspectives of others. Practice active listening by giving others your full attention and seeking to understand their point of view.
  5. Find your assertive voice: Dr. Catella advises, "Assertiveness requires a few different things. So it requires that we're clear, direct, and then when it's appropriate, warm." Experiment with different ways of expressing yourself assertively until you find a style that feels authentic to you.

Learning to be assertive is a key component of developing emotional intelligence and building healthy, fulfilling relationships. As Dr. Catella reminds us, "Assertiveness is a gift. It's a gift to all of our relationships because the other person doesn't have to be in this guessing game of trying to figure out how do you feel, what do you think, is this okay, because we're clearly communicating it." By identifying your needs, using "I" statements, being clear and specific, practicing active listening, and finding your assertive voice, you can start expressing yourself with kindness and clarity today.

For more insights on assertiveness and emotional intelligence, check out the full podcast episode with Dr. Stephanie Catella.

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