Be Assertive Without Being Arrogant

Assertiveness is a very important means for communicating your needs in a way that is fair to both yourself and to others. Unfortunately, for some insecure people, assertive people are sometimes threatening and it is easier to label them as arrogant, selfish, or unhelpful when they receive the answer "no" or when boundaries are made clear by the assertive person. In particular, those with manipulation, neediness, and trust problems can see assertive responses as undermining their own agendas and will seek to respond with negative critiques of an assertive person's behavior. This is where it can get a little tricky for the newly assertive convert but it's no reason to suddenly start worrying that you are arrogant!


Check that you are using assertive communication appropriately. If you are new to assertiveness, or you're not feeling your usual self because of illness or stress, etc., you might be resorting to techniques that are more aggressive, passive aggressive, or making assumptions where there are none to be made, rather than being assertive. A quick check you can do is to think back through your comments and stance with the person in question and write down what you said. Read it back: Does it sound to you as if you were being assertive, or otherwise? Be honest - it's about you!

Check the context. Sometimes factors come into the equation that shouldn't. Race, gender, married status, age, disabilities, illness, and so on can sometimes cause a person to assume that you have an "attitude", rather than an assertive style of communication. If you suspect that this is the situation, continue with your assertive communication and consider whether it is worth raising your concern that your status might be causing negative responses from the person accusing you of being arrogant, or whether this might even be something actionable in your workplace, school, etc. environment.

Be an active listener. Letting people know your boundaries and feelings while at the same time allowing them space to talk, discuss, and open up about their feelings is important. Assertiveness is about give and take; you take a little of their time to clarify your feelings and you give a lot of your time to hear about theirs. Remember that a good listener is also a flatterer and it's hard to find arrogance in that!

Be humble and modest. Assertiveness and humility make a fine combination. An assertive person doesn't need to shout "Me, me, me, look what I did!" from the rooftops. Assertive people are remembered because they stand firm, their needs and interests are clear to others, and because they are reliable; they also frequently become a form of role model for others seeking to assert themselves effectively. Take this role to heart but don't boast, big note yourself or become pushy, no matter how clever, popular, or successful you might be.

Remember that assertiveness techniques take time to learn and nobody gets it right all the time. Apologizing is a good response to a failure to communicate assertively though and there is always space to reopen that door to better communications.

Don't take negative comebacks to heart. When you are faced with one of life's more challenging personalities, the best thing to do is to not take it personally. Sometimes it is your self-assurance that is a cause of irritation for less secure people and their response is to try and weevil their way in through criticism. This is never a reason to fall back into old patterns of unhealthy communication styles. Simply reassert whatever your point is and choose to leave it there. It is something they can work on with the full enlightenment on where you stand.

Seek the middle way. Sometimes if you're placed in a position of having to choose between differing viewpoints in a group, there might be accusations of arrogance against one division by the other. Always consider the possibility of being able to acknowledge both sides of the argument and finding the middle way to draw the concerns together. You don't necessarily have to solve the situation but you can be a powerful facilitator to the group finding an answer to its division through your assertive communications. In such situations, inform everyone that the situation is not one for blame, not one for recriminations, and not one for finding fault. Instead, help people to see that there is a chance for compromise by showing them where each has made assumptions about the other or the facts of the situation, while still upholding your own belief or opinion. And suggest that they have another look at things to reach a compromise.

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