If you were to ask 100 people about their assertiveness levels, you would be surprised to see that most of them consider themselves to be assertive. Yet if you were to follow up that question, requesting particular examples that showcase the fact, you would find out that they would stumble in their answers and probably find a way to generalize or circumvent a straight-up example. Most people assume that they are assertive the same way they believe they are good drivers and everybody else is bad, or that they know how to make the right choice when everybody else is lost in the complexity of possibilities. This kind of delusion is mostly inside everyone and belongs in the standards of human psychology that preserves us. But with the rise of competitive environments and the need to showcase strong emotional intelligence in handling difficult situations, assertiveness is a trait you cannot do without in the current world. Below, we find ways to scrutinize its components and cultivate the mindset that strengthens it.
The Process Of Decision Making
All decisions are multidimensional. There is the emotional machinery, as it was shaped by evolution, directing our actions many times besides our will, and there is logical thinking robotically analyzing factors and elements in the hopes of maximizing returns. As described in the book “Thinking fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman, we have 2 systems operating within us in parallel.
“System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of this system are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.” — Daniel Kahneman
So when you find yourself exasperating in frustration for having your meal delayed or you feel the strange urge to punch someone in the face, that’s all system A. It is full of automatic responses you pretty much have no control over and can overwhelm you in a second’s notice.
System 2 on the other hand is slow and deliberate. It gathers information and analyses it like a good librarian that methodically keeps account of the books and can perceive the world as a series of inputs and parameters that combust into problems and require solutions. It’s like the cold versus the warm side within us.
The Flow Of Events
What is interesting though is the sequence that these two systems play out their parts. Asking the chicken-egg question for which of these comes first, you’ll come to realize that there is no clear answer as both directions can be at play. Thoughts can create emotions depending on what food we allow our brain to chew on and thoughts can be generated after the fact through emotions without us even noticing, only to support our pre-existing biases. One can only remember the Confirmation bias and how it blinds us into narrowly watching the world through the same set of glasses.
“The confirmation bias is so fundamental to your development and your reality that you might not even realize it is happening. We look for evidence that supports our beliefs and opinions about the world but excludes those that run contrary to our own.” — Sia Mohajer, The Little Book of Stupidity.
In the sphere of thorough, decision making as we analyze in this article, it is mostly this second direction that is predominant in our patterns. In particular, system 1, generates its intuitive sparks and ideas that consequently fuse into the second system to scrutinise and process as it pleases.
“System 1, generates its effortless impressions and feelings that become the main sources of the deliberate choices of System 2.” — Daniel Kahneman
The Emotional System
The problem with most of our mistakes rarely lies in System 2. As surprising as it may be, the logical brain is mostly a decent and honest worker that works on whatever elements you feed to it. Do you require brainpower for math calculations and algorithms to build the next great software? This system is all there to help you along your way and is probably gonna be your most loyal servant. For most people, problems arise mostly on the other side and originate from the emotional sphere that interferes with the processes.
Past experiences, long-ingrained behavioral patterns that hold us back, fears and anxieties are all influencing every move we make, dislocating the normal workflow of system 2.
“Emotion is always passing judgments, presenting you with immediate information about the world: here is potential danger, there is potential comfort; this is nice, that bad. One of the ways by which emotions work is through neurochemicals that bathe particular brain centers and modify perception, decision making, and behavior. These neurochemicals change the parameters of thought.” — Don Norman
Imagine a little dark cloth covering your eyes, altering every perception that comes your way as it pleases. Emotions are a little filter of reality molding it in various ways without many times being aware of it. In the case of assertiveness, fear acts as the negative force that opposes your confidence and suggests you to lower your voice. “What if you get people pissed with this?”, “What if you declare your opinion and it turns out wrong?”. These are all projections of a future reality that hasn’t taken place and has little base for it to do so. Whatever comes your way, later on, you are gonna meet it with the same confident behavior you are manifesting now. But unless you pull the trigger and start this process, it will never happen.
The 4 Main Styles Of Communication
There are 4 basic communication styles that exist in our toolset and they all rotate, throughout our days, as situations change. It’s passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive, and all behaviors are bound to belong in one of these 4 categories. But unfortunately, it’s only the last one that is suitable for sustainable human interactions and unless your communication belongs to that category in a consistent basis, you are gonna have trouble sooner or later.
It’s important to realize that these patterns are established quite early on and are transformed into habitual behaviors that run on autopilot as we grow up. Changing any of these would require a strong attendance and discipline.
Passive attitude equals a small ego. It means putting yourself on the side and over attending other people’s needs.
“Whatever they may think and say about their “egoism”, the great majority do nothing for their ego their whole life long: what they do is done for the phantom of their ego which has formed itself in the heads of those around them and has been communicated to them.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
Ego, is that mental construct, that is molded by our past experiences, and is constructed little by little, by the various blows of the self with the outer world. It includes our self-image, the opinions of others, our self-appreciation, and image. Through the amalgamation of those, there comes a categorical order that depicts the way you treat your needs in relation to the world and what priority you give them.
“Ego is the mental construct that only reveals itself when different needs between people intermingle in a little errupting infusion. Ego reveals itself only in relation to others.”
Imagine a situation that you have a strong preference on a dilemma that is dependant on more than one person. How willing would you be to shatter the waves by asserting this preference and how confident would you feel about such an act? A person with a strong inner critic that is bashing himself all day long, would be much more reluctant to rock the boat. Rather he would prefer to accept whatever decision was made by others, than running though the risk of displeasing the group.
This attitude also manifests itself, in the ways you treat yourself per se. How much respect are you showing to you as a person? How willing are you to forgive your mistakes when they happen and not ruminate on that stupid mistake that took place 10 years ago, and how much effort are you putting forth to denote the fact that you are a person with needs like everybody else and that you need to cater for them. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this is a reality that is not apparent to everyone.
There is a constant question of what is the right proportion of ego and what constitutes a healthy manifestation of it, instead of a toxic one. Obviously the other side is equally dangerous as the first one and many people struggle to find that balance. In the other side, you’ll find people that put their desires first and foremost and let everyone else follow along in second place. It’s the people that get preposterous with a false sense of self-importance and eradicate everybody else with an illusionary arrogance. Understanding your environment and finding the right balance is once again paramount.
In the opposite spectrum of passive behavior lies aggressiveness. It’s the people that put their desires on top, neglect others, and see any opposition to the road of their needs as an unjust blockage. Funny enough aggression originates from the fact that someone believes he is unfairly stopped from attaining his goals and projects false motives to whoever happens to be in front of him at the time. So maybe he didn’t get the promotion because his peer was sharing false facts about him and tricked everyone into believing that he was more worthy, or maybe he doesn’t get the house and car that he deserves because the world is an unfair place that doesn’t give due of what needs to be given. The world owns to him and doesn’t reciprocate on its duty.
However this delusion is generated, this feeling of unfairness and oppression can sit in someone’s psyche for a long time and manifest in various occasions through anger and aggression. One can only bring in mind the idea of pain-body, brilliantly described by Eckhart Tolle, and how it affects our whole lives.
“Consult your resentment. It’s a revelatory emotion, for all its pathology. It’s part of an evil triad: arrogance, deceit, and resentment. Nothing causes more harm than this underworld Trinity.” — Jordan B. Peterson
Passive aggressiveness is one of the most usual behaviors in the modern world and contains the worst parts of the two previous cases. On one hand, it is filled with passivity, in the way of avoiding to declare your needs and ideas, but it is also aggressive through minor indirect and poignant ways that don’t convey the actual reason for this aggressiveness.
It’s when you come home from work and disperse your anger to your household because of the bad attitude you encounter at work, or when you make a minor accusation to someone because he made a decision you didn’t quite like. This indirect accusation is a disease in human relationships and is only a matter of time before this attitude becomes toxic for both parties.
“Passive aggressive people may express their anger covertly, by choosing to not share information that could prevent a problem.” ― Psychology Today
As is fairly obvious, there is only one mode of communication that is acceptable and this is assertiveness. It’s the mode that you know what you want, you know what you’re asking and expecting from the situation, and you are not afraid to make that claim crystal clear. Getting a request to go out from a friend when you are tired and would rather avoid it. “Thanks, but no thanks”. Observing people penetrate your phycological space by requests and issues you don’t want to bother yourself with? An assertive person would not be afraid to calmly and congruently declare his inability to help without getting it out of proportions or overexaggerating the situation. Assertiveness means having boundaries, and boundaries means you have a good grasp of yourself and others in your environment. It’s the highest pinnacle of human understanding and awareness.0