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A New Kind of Assertiveness for People Who Are Afraid to Speak Up

A Letter from Sherrie M. Vavrichek, LCSW-C

Many people find it difficult to express their feelings, make requests, or bring up “delicate matters” with others. This can happen for various reasons. Some may fear rejection, while others believe that asserting oneself is rude or disrespectful. But is it really a good idea to be non-assertive when you have legitimate concerns?

Unfortunately, non-assertive people can pay a heavy emotional and social price. On the other hand, a “me first” kind of assertiveness can be equally problematic. There is, however, a solution: A new approach—compassionate assertiveness—can help you speak up in a kind manner by cultivating both inner virtues and interpersonal skills.

The first step involves fostering certain virtues, including respect, unconditional friendliness, and patience towards yourself and others. It is also important to understand that it is not fair to you or others to let important concerns go unaddressed. This will naturally create a motivation to speak up for the sake of your relationship rather than to “win,” and will help you approach the other person in a caring and thoughtful manner.

The second step—that of sharpening your interpersonal skills—begins by allowing yourself to step back and sort out what you will say and how you will say it. Preparing yourself through the use of meditation, mindfulness, or breathing exercises can help you approach the other person with calm confidence. In addition, you can draw on a variety of communication and negotiation skills—such as avoiding jumping to conclusions, expressing your feelings without judging the other person, and making a real effort to listen—to achieve a reasonable solution that can strengthen your relationship.

Using a compassionate assertiveness approach to interpersonal stresses may not be easy at first, but over time it can increase your confidence, help you resolve conflicts more effectively, and enrich your relationships.

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