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Blog entry by Janusz Siurek

Assertiveness - the concept, the approach or just a communication pattern?

Assertiveness - the concept, the approach or just a communication pattern?

What is “assertiveness”?

There are many descriptions and definitions of the concept of assertiveness and it seems to be  a fairly well-defined concept derived from science that has evolved over the past several decades. 

There are numerous definitions of assertiveness which historically emerged from research into assertive approaches. Assertiveness is generally understood as an approach including a certain level of self-awareness which allows one to be honest and aware of their needs and priorities. It includes communication competences and behaviour allowing to express own needs and to protect own rights while respecting the rights of others too. 

As a behaviour and approach, assertiveness can be and often is learnt and acquired. Assertive behaviour is very important in a modern professional environment and in most professional services. It is crucial in medical services and healthcare, where doctors face a range of patients and need therefore to be flexible and empathic, but at the same time should also know how to take care of their own rights and how to set boundaries  respecting  the rights of others.  Assertiveness is also crucial for successful operation of small enterprises; therefore, it applies to veterinary practice across the European Union as veterinary clinics can be categorised as small enterprises.

Assertiveness - definitions

Assertiveness can be defined as “an important personal quality, (…) that allows [you] to be able to advocate for yourself - your own positions, to achieve your objectives, to overcome difficulties, to be determined, but without harming the rights of others and to be able to control the aggressive impulses. The concept, which expresses these personal characteristics, is called "assertiveness". Assertiveness is part of the personal potential. It is a prerequisite for self-actualization”[ Ivelina Peneva, Stoil Mavrodieva “A Historical Approach to Assertiveness”, Psychological Thought (2013) Vol. 6(1)].

Assertiveness is also named as “a behaviour that seeks to achieve win-win – a satisfactory outcome for both parties” [Conrad Potts, Suzanne Potts, “ Assertiveness: How To Be Strong In Every Situation”. Published by John Wiley and Sons Ltd, United Kingdom (2013) ], in this approach it is also defined as “the most constructive means of interpersonal interaction”.

Origin and history of the concept of assertiveness

“Assertiveness” has many definitions and approaches. How it has been defined is related to the time in which the assertiveness was the subject of studies. The first research studies on assertiveness were undertaken in the middle of the 20th century by Adam Salter, a psychologist and psychotherapist, who showed a relationship between mental illnesses and a lack of assertive skills in patients. He formulated a theory that some assertive skills can be used in order to improve certain behaviours, which may be helpful for patients with some emotional disorders. Later, in the 1960s and 1970s assertiveness became a subject of examination in the field of humanistic psychology and research focused on goal setting, self-assertion and development of one’s personal potential leading to self-improvement. The definition of the concept of assertiveness at that time incorporated the protection of own human rights without prejudice to the rights of others, which still constitutes an important part of the definition of the concept. At the beginning of the 21st century, the understanding of assertiveness shifted towards formation of assertive skills in various areas, especially in the field of professional development, interpersonal relations and human resources management.

Therefore, in the 21st century (in the last 20 years or so), the concept of assertiveness has been mostly focused on the application of assertive skills in various fields of personal and professional development. 

Assertiveness has been studied as a professional competence necessary for modern and effective communication. There was some research conducted on various professional groups in the fields and areas of education and teaching processes, but also among medical staff and sport people. Assertive communication is an important factor for an organisation as it helps to manage or prevent conflicts, which is part of building relationships among staff.

Effective communication is also perceived as one of the factors contributing to success in business . It includes some assertive approaches and skills such as assertive active listening or learning the culture of business partners. “Lack of attention and active assertive listening may lead to disruption of business relations”. On the other hand, “focusing on the interlocutor, trying to understand propulsions and beliefs may lead to a common platform of conversation, deeper and more stable communication and to reaching a mutually beneficial agreement” [Back K, Back K „Assertiveness at work...” ]

Author: Inga Kołomyjska, MVD 

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