Assertiveness. The Missing Puzzle.

We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong.

~ Theodore Roosevelt


Assertiveness is much more than saying no. Once I grasped this concept and began honing my assertiveness skills my life became… well… brighter.

“But Piotr - this blog was supposed to be about Software Engineering!” one could get outraged. I think, that the more Software Engineer is assertive the better.

Good news! Assertiveness is a skill like any other and anyone can become better. In below post I describe my understanding about assertiveness and share some thoughts triggered by book I recently read: “Assertiveness Training: How to Stand Up for Yourself, Boost Your Confidence, and Improve Assertive Communication Skills” by Chase Hill.


More than one year ago I’ve got a feedback that I’m not an assertive person. “I’ve never heard ‘no’ from you” - my team leader said.

Initially, I brushed it off. I just bought a random book on Kindle store that had nice opinions and started to observe if I’m really not that assertive. After few weeks and few pages read I decided that he’s mistaken. I definetley could say no in many situations.

Later on, some events in my life happened that forced me to revise what assertiveness really is. Claiming that assertiveness is only about saying no is like claiming that creating software is only about writing code.

It only seems that easy!

I apologized the “random book” I bought some time ago, started reading it and my mind has been blown!

What does it mean that someone is assertive?

Assertive person:

  • Is aware of own desires and preferences
  • Is aware of boundaries that cannot be crossed by others
  • Is able to clearly communicate above things - without hurting others
  • Understands that conflicts happen naturally and there is no point in avoiding them

Well, I regret that I didn’t understand importance of being assertive earlier.

Author of mentioned book says:

You can look forward to more fun in your life. Being able to express how you really feel will let others learn more about you. Your relationships will become stronger and more meaningful. You will stop fearing the reactions of others. And all of these things mean that the events and activities that you participate in will be more fun than you imagined compared with just a short time ago when you were people pleasing.

~ Chase Hill

I see a lot of benefits since I started to work on my assertiveness skill and I’m looking forward for more.

Knowing what you want

Everyone deserves the right to express themselves and to be happy, and this is what our goal will be.

~ Chase Hill

I think that most people don’t have a problem with that point. You just know that you prefer software engineering to painting. You tried both things, one was wildly satysfying activity and you couldn’t sleep and the second didn’t click.

However, a valuable thing to remember is to always ask questions if life is not pushing you into something you don’t like. If it’s the case - stand up for yourself!

You want this last piece of pizza but you are afraid of what others will think about you?

There is an exciting project at a job that you would love to take but you think that others deserve it more?

You better think what happens if don’t get it!

Sometimes you get some proposition and you are not sure if you like it or not - it’s normal. But in most cases, you have some preferences and you better be aware of them and try to land in a situation where you got what you want.

Taking it too far

Of course, it’s vital to remember that we’re not alone in this world. I keep saying things like ‘take always what you want’ because I’m coming from people pleasers camp and things like empathy were always pretty natural for me. So be aware that if you act too much to get something without hearing others - you can fall into an aggressive category which isn’t too positive.

Different types of behaviors

There is a fragment in the mentioned book that touched me especially. The author describes different types of behaviors like passive, assertive, aggressive and passive-aggressive. He recommends observing and classifying different behaviors and also gives some tips how to deal with them. When I read the below description of a passive person it opened my eyes widely.

A passive person may:

  • Be afraid to speak up regarding their opinions or ideas
  • Speak softly or quietly
  • Avoid eye contact, often looking at the floor or focusing on other objects in the room
  • Not show expression
  • Slouch
  • Withdraw or isolate themself from groups
  • Agree with what people are saying, even if this goes against their feelings and beliefs
  • See themself as having less value than those around them
  • Be willing to cause themself suffering instead of others
  • Ensure others are happy before themself
  • Struggle to set or reach goals

Well, I didn’t consider myself a passive person earlier, but more than half of those points were very close to me!

Later on, he described why dealing with passive people is even worse than dealing with aggressive ones. The reason for that is that it’s hard to say what a passive person really wants.

The funny thing is that now I totally agree with this point of view. Earlier I thought of such aggressive behaviors as ultimate evil - but it turns out that it’s because I was a passive one.

When an aggressive person approaches you it’s easy to understand what this person wants. Usually dealing with such a person is telling how you and others feel because of his/her behavior and reminding you that there are also other people there.

But dealing with passive people is like defusing the bomb. You never know if something you said didn’t hurt this person. You are not sure what are preferences of this person so you always need to remember to ask. I think it’s more tiring a straight confrontation.

So assertive is somewhere in the middle. One that expresses desires and boundaries but simultaneously care about people around.

Setting boundaries

A good exercise is to look back over the last year or two and examine the situations that have hurt you, upset you, or made you feel angry. It is probably because someone has overstepped a boundary, but you have never put a name to it. Don’t forget that boundaries will apply to your relationships at work, friendships, partner, and family.

~ Chase Hill

It’s incredible that before you name something, it’s hard to reason about it. When I thought about such situations it became clear to me that I was allowing way too often for situations where my boundaries were crossed.

Instead of talking about it with the person who crossed the boundary (very often not intentional) I was keeping this feeling inside.

To give some examples and show that it doesn’t make to be something huge:

  • The waiter makes a mistake in your order. In most cases, you should stand up for yourself and get what you ordered instead of paying for something you don’t want.
  • Somebody is making jokes about your lifestyle. Maybe you have a huge distance and you are OK with that. Then it’s OK - you can laugh as well and don’t bother. But it’s about awareness. If you feel bad about those jokes - stand up for yourself. Don’t allow for such behaviors if they are crossing your boundaries.

It’s also worth saying that if you allow somebody to cross your boundaries - this person will continue.

In most cases, it’s just about telling about how you feel about the situation - huge chance that this person didn’t know about your boundaries.

There are cases when somebody would cross your boundaries with premeditation. It’s a harder case and if you have such a problem - I recommend the book I’ve read.

How to communicate

Over the years I have found that assertiveness has gained a bit of a bad reputation because people often go too far and come across as aggressive. In reality, being assertive is a healthy form of communication.

~ Chase Hill

So far I told about awareness of what you want and what you don’t want to happen. It’s also important how you communicate it. The main trick is to talk here about your feelings. I’m not able to put it better then author of the book himself:

The importance of “I” statements can never be underestimated. “I” statements show others that you take responsibility for your feelings. It shows that you feel strongly about a certain issue and at the same time, it reduces the likelihood of others taking your statement personally. Though the meaning of the following two sentences is the same, the receiver of the message can interpret them very differently. “You make me feel weak when you don’t listen to me” puts blame on the other person. “I feel weak when you don’t listen to me” is how we take responsibility for our own emotions.

~ Chase Hill

Also, it’s worth remembering that you don’t need to explain or be sorry when you don’t want something. You just say simply and short ‘no thanks’. That’s all. You don’t need to have justification. Also putting there some untrue excuses hurts you. You don’t need to feel guilty that you don’t want something. Giving excuses encourages people to give you some solutions. And the longer the conversation lasts - the bigger the chance that you will be convinced to do something you don’t want to do.

Communicating of what you want is a different story and it includes boosting your confidence and changing your way of thinking about ‘what I deserve’. I feel it’s a more complex topic that’s why I encourage you to read the book when you’re interested in that matter.

Over to you!

Embracing assertiveness is a continuous journey. As Roosevelt wisely noted, it’s paramount to stand against oppressors, but never become one yourself.

How are you embracing assertiveness in your life? Share your thoughts, experiences, and aspirations in the comments below. And if you found value in this post, consider sharing it with someone who might benefit. Let’s embark on this assertiveness journey together!