The Assertiveness Myth

All this month, we've been talking about shyness.  On the flip side of shyness is assertiveness, but it's not all it's cracked up to be either.  Check out this article, The Assertiveness Myth: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” -2 Timothy 1:7 In the 70's and 80's there was a fashion trend (a fad) in communication.  Assertiveness Training was all the rage.  It presumed that most people were shy and needed to assert themselves in order to take their rightful place in a conversation and get their point across.  It was believed that charisma and persuasion were the solution to everything from winning arguments to getting ahead in your career.  It's motto was speak loudly and carry a large attitude. In its heyday, the lesson of 2 Timothy 1:7 was badly distorted by this movement.  People were encouraged to disregard respect for others in favor of some rather obnoxious behavoirs like repeatedly demanding something until the other person acquiesced.  Assertiveness gave way to outright aggression in the name of self-esteem.  Many touting Assertiveness Training all but convinced us that you could have no self-esteem unless your point of view was accepted or at least persuasively put forth. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Ephesians 4:29 This new found assertiveness-turned-aggression was wreaking havoc on relationships.  Even those with a naturally bold personality found that this new brand of assertiveness came off as just plain rude.  For one thing, being assertive is not the same thing as being aggressive.  Assertiveness without grace or respect is rude and in the wrong circumstances is ineffective or even counterproductive. The line between being assertive and being aggressive was virtually erased by this training.  Let’s go back to basics for a minute.  Assertiveness, as defined by Merriam Webster, means “disposed to or characterized by bold or confident statements and behavior.”  Aggressiveness is defined as “marked by combative readiness.”  The Lord tells us to be bold for He has not given us a spirit of fear, but He also clearly implores us to be respectful and gracious when communicating with others. “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.” Proverbs 12:18 Another problem with this variety of “assertiveness” is that it isn’t well suited to all situations.  There is a time and a place for assertiveness.  While it’s important to speak up for what is right, it is equally as important to do so at the right time and in grace.  Your mother was right!  Manners are vitally important.  You do catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar so it’s important to wait our turn to speak instead of insisting upon equal time.  It is often necessary to hold our tongue when it isn't the time or place for a particular discussion.  Further, it's sometimes beneficial to lose the battle in order to win the war.  Speaking up is an important part of communicating and learning to do that effectively doesn't always require assertiveness as much as it does grace, respect and a bit of training.  Sometimes the situation requires finesse, understanding, love, respect, logic, explanation, rapport or support. Even a place where aggressive communication used to be the norm is no longer considered appropriate or effective.  Conventional thinking about both leadership and parenting styles have also changed in recent times.  It’s no longer fashionable for a leader to bark out orders and the face of leadership has changed to a more relational style.  Children usually respond better when parents explain their reasoning, allow for discussion and let their children know they were heard.   “Because I said so” and “do as I say, not as I do” never really worked well.   Parents need to be an example for kids not just an authority.  Respect on both sides of the parenting aisle goes a long way to a healthy family dynamic. Assertiveness, even if it isn’t aggressive, is not the answer to every conversation.  Persuasion isn’t always necessary or effective.  Effective communication is so much more complex than this.  Every person is unique, every encounter presents a unique situation and each calls for a different approach.  Making friends and making a speech are not interchangeable, therefore, they each require a different set of communication techniques where assertiveness may or may not be appropriate. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ JoJo Tabares holds a degree in Speech Communication, but it is her humorous approach to communication skills which has made her a highly sought-after Christian speaker and writer.  Her articles appear in homeschool publications, such as Homeschool Enrichment Magazine and The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, which also endorses her Say What You Mean curricula.  You can also find JoJo on web sites such as and  For more information on communication FUNdamentals and Christian-based communication skills for the whole family, please visit ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ If you liked this post, read…Seven Reasons Why YOU Should Sign Up for the Art of Eloquence Newsletter!


  • gold a

    Very nice post.

  • tuita jan


  • ekla

    unique, fun not to mention attractive

  • Art of Eloquence

    Exactly, Carla. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Carla

    Lots of folks get aggressive and assertive mixed up. And, as you say, sometimes it’s neither one. That’s why we need communication skills, to be able to target speech to the individual situation.

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