Image: Ania Marushkevych on Flickr

Image: Ania Marushkevych on Flickr

The meek and the pushy; all of them exist in every context that we become a part of through our lives. Whether at work, in a relationship, at school, or even within our households; we come across individuals that are both, avoidant to the point where they are afraid to ask for what they want, and aggressive to the point where they’ll hold you by the neck to get what they want. However, there is a thin line between these two emotional palettes that is often blurred. This liminal space, that lies on the fringes of a fiery aggression, and a watered down attitude, is known as the sphere of assertiveness.

We often tend to use the term ‘assertive’ without actually knowing what it means. We tend to think that it means putting forward our views and being mindful about what other people might think about these views that we’re so passionate about. However, this isn’t the case. The very fact that we’re thinking about the opinions of other people, and how they might react to it, shows that there’s some evaluations we’re making based on assumptions in our own heads. When we’re assertive, thoughts come without a filter, and they express what they are meant to in the most neutral manner possible.

Assertiveness in our Immediate Environment

Imagine you’re an employee, and you’re about to ask for leave. If you’re the avoidant type, you’ll probably be thinking twice before you even step into your boss’s office. Asking for leave would bring up thoughts like, “Do I really deserve it? Does my boss like me enough to say yes?” If you’re on the more aggressive side of emotive expression, you might barge in, and tell your boss he has no choice but to give you leave. However, when you access the liminal space we spoke of earlier, you achieve the finest balance. An equivocal, crystal clear opinion free of bias and overthinking is what assertiveness is marked by. Understanding that both you and your boss are equally entitled to taking break, and that you do have the right to ask for one, is what makes you assertive. Simple saying ‘I’d like to take leave’, followed by a sound rationale is probably what is going to get you what you want.

These tenets apply to young individuals as they do to adults too! Let’s take assertiveness to the sphere of K-12 education. When we’re in a spot where someone is trying to take our lunch money, what do we do? The meek will give it all up in exchange for some peace, but someone aggressive will probably make a knuckle sandwich. The key is to step back, say ‘no’ and also say how you feel about being mugged of your lunch money. That will probably get you a little bit more success with the person you are forced to deal with.

Assertiveness and Caregiving: Related or Not?

In almost all professional settings, it has been observed that assertiveness is an absolute boon. In occupations such as nursing, there are doubts about how caregiving behaviors and empathy relate to assertiveness. When an individual is able to pour out their heart and soul to take care of someone, does assertiveness fall short? Well, it’s been observed through studies by scholars such as Mccartan and Hoghie that there is no link between the notions of caregiving behaviors and assertiveness. Expressing one’s thoughts clearly should never be a problem even when a caregiving position is taken up.

When we talk of where assertiveness comes into play, there can be two broad purposes that it serves. Asking for what we want, as exemplified by the aforementioned detour into the corporate world, is one of the main purposes of assertiveness. It helps us ask for something that is imperative for us without being too pushy, or being to afraid to ask for it. Assertiveness also finds applications when it comes to saying ‘NO’.


We often come across as rude when we decline something offered by an individual, or asked for of us. We try our best to sound polite, but individuals often take it the wrong way. The key to putting forward your thoughts in a neutral manner it to support it with a rationale that enables the other person to fully see your point of view; or to say it in a manner that warrants no questioning or conjecture from the opposite party, saying that it was ‘rude’ on your part. When a client tries to glean more into the life of a psychologist by endlessly probing him or her about their lived experiences, the way to decline would be to say that there are more important things to focus on, or that it wouldn’t be wise or rational to try and ‘befriend’ one’s therapist. Simply saying ‘stop asking me about these things’, or submitting to the questioning are simply not viable options, as both jeopardize the very tenets of therapy.

It’s pretty clear that being assertive comes to our rescue whenever we’re trying to do things we find awkward sometimes. When we try to ask for something we want, we often assume we’re in a position lower than the person we’re taking a favor from. Assertiveness is what helps combat this lingering thought in our mind. Once we understand that as individuals, we’re all equally entitled to what life in general has to offer, it helps a lot to put our thoughts forward in a crystal clear, eloquent manner that garners affirmative responses, or helps us politely decline something.


American Psychological Association. What Makes a Good Leader: The Assertiveness Quotient. February 4, 2007. APA. Web.

McCartan, Hoghie. Assertiveness and Caring: Are They Compatible? Journal of Clinical Nursing. September 2013. NCBI. Print.

Content for this article has been curated by:
Ms. Dhruvi Jhaveri (Consulting Psychologist, Type a Thought)
Mr. Vikram Kirtikar (Consulting Psychologist, Type a Thought)