Assertiveness:
Tiger or Teddybear?

by May Bleeker, 5 April 2010

When it comes to assertiveness, interactions between people can be seen in terms of two factors:

The Tiger Factor:

Tiger photo by Brian Mckay (Brimack)

A strong and healthy concern for yourself and your goals.



The Teddybear Factor:

A strong and healthy concern for other people.




With high self esteem and assertiveness, you tend to balance these two aspects quite effectively. Both are seen as necessary and important.

Things go wrong when:

You have a lot of Tiger and too little Teddybear - Aggressive Behaviour

A strong concern for yourself and your goals combined with a low concern for others results in aggressive behaviour.

This is seen when someone goes after what they want, regardless of who or what stands in their way. When someone does or says what they want, regardless of who they hurt, use or let down - this shows low concern for others and is aggressive.

There is nothing wrong with looking after your own interests, provided you don't exclude the interests of others in the process.

As soon as you narrow your interests down to your own individual self and nothing else, you are adopting a very limited world view. It may appear to work for you in the short term, but in reality, this is how hurtful and destructive events in the world begin.

A lot of Teddybear and too little Tiger - Submissive Behaviour

A strong concern for other people combined with a low concern for yourself and your own goals results in over-compliant or passive behaviour - or lack of assertiveness.

This is seen when someone continually gives up what they want in order to please others, to keep the peace, or because of fear of what might happen if they don't. It shows low concern for self and is submissive.

While this may appear to work in the short term, in the long term this is how many personal frustrations and resentments arise.

Bottling up fear, resentment, anger, disappointment and other negative emotions affects your physical health and in the long term can result in problems with your digestion, blood pressure or heart.

The problem with passive behaviour is that you begin to believe you are helpless, and you behave in a helpless fashion, when you really have the power to act differently. It is a mind-trap.

Being passive appears to allow you to keep your fears to a minimum, but it also results in you giving up your personal power and ability to influence a situation.

There is a tendency to blame the situation or other people for how things turn out, rather than trying to change things yourself.

People who choose to act in a passive way often have an external locus of control. They see themselves as victims of circumstance, with things "happening to them", rather than being active agents in their own lives.

When you feel others have taken advantage of you - please examine how it is that you may have allowed them to do so.

When you are a free man (or woman), what you do is up to you, no matter who is doing the asking. If you don't know how to deal with a situation, it is up to you to learn what you need to know.

Too Little Tiger, Too Little Teddybear - Passive Aggressive behaviour

When you combine a low concern for others with a low concern for your own goals, you get passive-aggression. Arguably the most destructive of all possible responses.

This is when you do something (or don't do something) out of anger or resentment or some other negative emotion, but indirectly or passively. Unassertive behaviour and passive aggressive behaviour often go hand-in-hand.

For example:

Not answering a call from someone when you're angry with them, or pretending you can't hear them when they speak to you.

Giving someone the 'cold shoulder', rather then telling them you are upset about something.

'Accidentally' forgetting to give your boss an important message so that he or she ends up looking stupid - in retaliation for something.

Saying you'll do something when you have no intention of doing it.

These are all examples of a hostile, submissive behaviour or passive-aggression. Just in case you think these behaviours are actually working in your favour - take a closer look. They are behaviours that ultimately undermine or harm the relationship (not enough Teddybear), but also ultimately harm the self (not enough Tiger).

Not answering calls or pretending not to hear someone cuts off communication and harms the relationship by making problem-solving impossible. Doing enough of this will lose you the relationship.

Not giving someone the information they need (setting them up to fail), harms the relationship by breaking trust and deliberately causing hurt. This can quickly lose you your job or a friendship.

Saying you'll do something and not doing it breaks the trust others may have in you and destroys your own reputation.

Passive-aggression harms the other person, but it is a double-edged sword that cuts you at the same time.

Assertiveness is key to maintaining self esteem

Without sufficient assertiveness you cannot look after your own interests or your relationships properly. As a result, your self esteem suffers.

When you act with assertiveness you support yourself as well as your relationships. Being able to look after yourself well contributes to a strong sense of self worth.

Assertive Body Language

Your body language is an important part of how you assert yourself. Like a billboard, it 'advertises' what you think and feel about yourself. Check out Assertiveness Without a Word for more on non-verbal assertiveness.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is. - Jan L.A. Van Der Snepscheut
(from The QI Book of Quotations Advanced Banter by
J Lloyd & J Mitchinson)


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