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Communication is arguably the cornerstone on which any successful relationship, be it business or personal, is built. The importance of effective communication has been acknowledged, and as Bedell and Lennox (1997) demonstrate, a lot of research has been taken on the subject, and numerous books are written to help people hone their communication skills. One of the communication styles that has been observed to be of significant help in communication efforts is assertiveness. This style has been accredited with creating win-win situations and greatly enhancing communication. This paper argues that assertive training is hugely beneficial to the individual. It empowers one to express their opinion openly and honestly, all the while respecting the feedback received from others. The paper will begin by defining what assertive training entails and why it is important to an individual. The reasons why natural assertive behavior is difficult in people in the US shall also be discussed.
Assertion Training and Its Benefits
Assertiveness is one of the styles of communication that is believed to greatly enhance a person’s effectiveness in the communication process, therefore, leading to the most desirable outcomes. Bedell and Lennox (1997) articulate that assertiveness promotes interpersonal behavior that “attempts to maximize the person’s satisfaction of wants while considering the wants of other people.” Assertion emphasizes positive interpersonal relationships by providing a basis from which conflicts can be resolved constructively and respectfully. Assertiveness training techniques can trace their origin to early psychologist’s experimentations that were aimed at inhibiting anxiety (Bedell & Lennox, 1997; Wolpe & Lazarus, 1996). It is from these behavioral therapies that the teaching of assertiveness was born.
Assertive training is based on the assumption that effective communication is a learned behavior. As such, people who do not naturally possess it can be equipped to develop this skill (Weiten et al. 2008). Assertive training involves correcting individuals’ perceived deficits in the expression of thoughts and feelings. Therefore, this training is a mode through which positive social skills can be developed and negative ones repressed. While lack of assertiveness affects all human beings across both sides of the gender divide, research has it that this problem is more common among females because they are socialized to be more submissive than males. While this does not imply that men cannot benefit from assertive training, women stand to gain the most.
Key to every assertion training is the emphasis of a personal perspective since it is acknowledged that different cultures have different perspectives on assertiveness and aggressiveness (Wilson & Gallois, 1993). Most assertiveness programs emphasize gradual improvement and reinforcement of appropriate behavior as opposed to any sudden changes in one’s life. The training begins by providing an understanding of what assertiveness is and situations in which asserting yourself can lead to a positive change. Assertive training aims at assisting individuals in examining their interpersonal rights and the consequences of their behavior. Having done this, the individuals are provided with an opportunity to explore alternative mechanisms to the ones that they typically employ, thus leading to effective conflict resolution in everyday scenarios.
One of the byproducts of assertive training is the increase in the self-esteem of the individual (Wilson & Gallois, 1993). This is because assertive communication is based on the understanding that we all have a right to be afforded respect. We also bear the responsibility to reciprocate this respectfulness to others. Studies indicate that lack of assertiveness is mostly an indication of low self-esteem, which leads to someone considering their opinions not worth to be expressed or responded to by others. Assertion training overrides this self-defeating attitude and restores one’s self-esteem, therefore, creating a path to emotional health.
Weiten et al. (2008) stipulate that one of the objectives of assertive training is to help people decrease their anxiety levels. Once the anxiety in a person has been reduced, one is more likely to demonstrate positive communication traits such as improved eye contact. Nonproductive behavior such as drumming one’s fingers on the table or playing with hands can also be eliminated. This will greatly assist in effective communication since such behavior is mostly interpreted as disinterest by the other party, thus degenerating the communication efforts.
Verbal communication abilities can be enhanced by assertiveness training. As such, the ability to comfortably carry out a conversation and express one’s feelings and opinions honestly can be developed since assertive behavior influences everything that we do, especially with our interactions with others and in our problem-solving activities (Bedell & Lennox, 1997). This is a most important attribute since most non-assertive people do not possess the skills to carry out effective verbal communication.
Assertion and the American Culture
Perhaps one of the factors that have led to the under the practice of assertion in America is the lack of differentiation of assertion from aggression. Aggression is characterized by an individual using intimidating and controlling techniques to meet his/her needs (Bedell & Lennox, 1997). An aggressive person will create a win-lose situation and will be disrespectful and harmful to others. Contrary to this, assertiveness is characterized by creating a win-win situation, which is beneficial to both parties involved. Assertiveness encourages developing appropriate responses to people without necessarily taking a combative stance. As such, one can be firm without being abrasive or highhanded, therefore not coming off as disrespectful and harmful to others. Once the American people can differentiate assertion from aggression, more people will embrace this communication style.
For the better part of the last century, most American organizations were structured around the rigid hierarchical organization structure, which is based on the high-level having more authority over the subordinates. This organizational structure does not foster assertiveness since the employees are not encouraged to speak out (Weiten et al., 2008). From this culture where individuals are not encouraged to speak up, behaving in an assertive fashion has been almost non-existent since it has been the cultural norm to refrain from speaking up, especially to a superior.
The American culture also encourages “getting along” and “being agreeable,” As such, one is from childhood socialized to take the path of least resistance when dealing with people. On the other hand, the assertion sometimes calls for saying no to other people and taking criticism from others (Wilson & Gallois, 1993). As such, assertion is at loggerheads with the culture of being agreeable with others, even at the cost of your own interests. People should learn that inasmuch as assertion encourages one to speak out, this does not invariably lead to being disagreeable as it leads to honest respect between the communicating parties.
This paper has argued that assertive training is hugely beneficial to an individual as it enhances their effective communication. A discussion of what assertive training comprises of and the benefits that can be reaped from it has also been undertaken. By looking at the American culture with regards to assertiveness, a deeper understanding of why assertiveness is not prevalent in individuals in the US has been developed. From the discussions presented herein, it is evident that assertiveness not only makes one a more effective communicator but it also helps in one’s personal psychological growth as one’s self-esteem is increased. Assertive training should therefore be encouraged as it gives an individual how he/she can positively shape his/her destiny for the better by exercising their rights to communication.
Bedell, J. R. & Lennox, S. (1997). Handbook for Communication and Problem-solving Skills Training: a Cognitive-behavioral Approach. Los Angeles: John Wiley and Sons.
Weiten, W., Lloyd, A., Dunn, S & Hammer, E. (2008). Psychology Applied to Modern Life: Adjustment in the 21st Century. (9th edn.). Cengage Learning.
Wilson, K. & Gallois, C. (1993). Assertion and its Social Context. USA: Routledge.