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Examples of Active and Passive Responses

Like a number of other self-esteem elements, assertiveness is like a muscle – the more that you use it, the stronger it gets.

You are not looking to revolutionise the wheel here; inserting active responses into your life, which often has an element of inserting boundaries into your life, begins with small steps and shifts.

Here are some very typical examples of assertive (active) responses:

  • It’s asking questions – this is one of the most basic examples of assertiveness. It’s also questioning things. When you’re being assertive, you want to ask questions and get answers even though it may mean hearing something that will cause you to have to undertake an active response.
  • It’s saying NO when you would normally say YES but really want to say NO. Probably the hardest thing for a pleaser! It’s that fear of the sky falling down and yet when you have a passive response, the sky just falls down in another way.
  • It’s stating or asking for what you want. My mother used to say stuff like, “I wish this house didn’t look like it does” and then would descend into a mood. We learned that this was her way of saying “I’d like you to clean and tidy the house.” She’s also said stuff like “I wish I had a radio that did this and this and this” and then looked at us pointedly and if that gift didn’t show up…
  • It’s not making the ability for you to make a decision about something you can make a decision about, be based on whether someone else makes the decision. You don’t need the ‘OK’ from someone to do what is best for you. If I had a pound for every person who has hinged their next move regarding a breakup from a relationship that's not working, on the other party... Don't even get me started on the number of Other Women / Other Men 'waiting'....
  • It’s doing small things to make you feel good instead of starting each day looking around wondering, “Who’s going to make me feel good today?” It's got to be, "How can I help me to feel good today?"
  • It’s saying NO because you don’t agree to something that doesn’t respect you and your values, nor do you say NO to things that bust your boundaries.
  • And you don't change your mind about what you're saying NO about to 'keep the peace'. You register the fact you are in a situation where you need to step up and address the issue instead of avoiding it.
  • It’s saying “Sorry, NO I can’t” and not giving some long-winded reasoning as if you’re apologising for having a limit or just not wanting to. It's also not listing a laundry list of all of your commitments or telling white lies to make other people feel good when you have to decline them. They feel good knowing where they stand!
  • It’s about making choices and recognising that you have options instead of defaulting to one option, the passive route. This means seeing assertive options as options for you and considering the outcomes of past passive behaviour and opting not to take a ride on the disappointment cycle.
  • It’s walking away / distancing yourself from crappy behaviour and situations.
    I used to hang around or try to be the one who made everything better; now I step back and recognise the code amber or even red warning that I must be vigilant in protecting my energies. If you feel uncomfortable with something, you have to take the primary action to help you to feel better because if you put it all in the other person's hands, you will soon become super frustrated and hurt. Also, the active response here is actually allowing you to feel your feelings, acknowledge and recognise what's going on, and do the loving thing for you that keeps you in the zone of self-esteem.
  • It’s asking your manager for feedback to help you improve at your job or seeking out training and resources to excel. I know people who work in companies with very little training support who go online, or purchase books, or seek out people in the company who want to share knowledge. This is assertiveness.
  • It’s saying “I’ll get back to you”, and letting them know when you’ll let them know by, so that you have time to consider whether you want to do something instead of agreeing in haste.
  • It’s asking yourself what you think, need, and want instead of assuming that what others think, need, and want is what you will.
  • It’s allowing feelings to surface and pass by instead of automatically shutting them down.
  • It’s returning something that is not what you want or expected or isn’t working to the shop instead of having a house full of stuff that you don’t want and feeling ripped off.
  • It’s speaking with more authority, or certainty, or firmness, so for instance, when you want the taxi driver to take a different route, you get in the taxi and say, “I’m going to X and I need you to go this way, this way and this way please.”
  • It’s saying that something isn’t OK.
  • It’s speaking up when something is wrong instead of hoping that your sad face or the tension will let them know.
  • It’s saying what you’re expecting instead of hoping that your sad face, tension, buying them something, going into giving and doing overdrive, will create a tipping point where your desires and expectations crystallise before their eyes.
  • It’s asking, “Is there something wrong?”
  • It’s asking, “When you said X [repeat what they said as close to verbatim as possible], what did you mean by that?”
  • It’s asking “When you did Y [give a short factual description], I took it to mean Z – is this correct?”
  • It’s making a suggestion. Remember that your ideas cannot be put forward for consideration... if you don't speak up. The key is not to expect that because you've 'put yourself out' by making a suggestion (read: got out of your comfort zone), that your suggestion must be taken. It's also not assuming that because you've agreed to everyone else's suggestions in the past (even when you didn't truly want to), that you're now 'owed' your turn.
  • It’s voicing your opinion even if it might not be the popular one.
  • It's saying that you don't like something. If there's one thing I've learned it's that even if a person has an awareness that they have done something wrong and even sees to some degree how upset you are, they don't know your opinion or the ins and outs of your feelings if you don't express the fact that you don't like it. It is also safe to say that much as you may still feel quite wounded by it, once they start to move on from it or do what they feel is something 'pleasing', they also move on from any perception of your reaction hence if you don't like what someone has done, speak up, do something about it. Fear not - there are some handy classes coming up for dealing with variations of this situation.


Here are some very common examples of passive responses:

  • Hinting and going ’round the houses’ about stuff is one of the biggest examples of passiveness and truth be told, it can be incredibly annoying and straddles the fence with passive aggression. Unless you’re hinting about a surprise - “I’ve got a special surprise for you. I’ll give you three hints…” - you don’t hint about what your needs, wishes, expectations etc are – you communicate them – because the likelihood is that if you drop hints or try to say it in an indirect manner because you’re afraid of conflict and rejection, the point will be missed. If you are a hinter or indirect communicator, you are wholly and solely responsible for the effectiveness of that communication and are causing you a great deal of unnecessary anxiety. E.g. You're pissed off with your mother-in-law and rather than say to your partner, "I've been upset because she said __________ and did __________ which has given me the impression that ____________", you hint at your now growing resentment and anger with comments that suggest all is not well without saying, "All is not well." You're too focused on looking 'good' and pleasing others. The comments are likely to hint at whatever difficulty you have with her or hint that you're wary of her. You're saying, "Do something about it to make me feel better. Validate my feelings and thoughts" and of course if you don't get the reaction you want or your partner tries to call you out on your true opinion and feelings, you'll become upset and defensive. Unless you speak up, you and others involved will not know where they stand or be able to address, resolve, and move on from something. Hinting in this way is also a huge source of misunderstanding and tension that can grow into something much bigger and damaging if it isn't nipped in the bud.

 Note: I am not suggesting that you charge around like a bull in a china shop but stop expecting people to be mind readers and decoders of your vague communications.

  • Being involved with someone on their terms and feeling that you can’t assert yourself and ask what is going on or ensure that your needs are met as well as theirs. Why on earth is it down to the other person to decide what happens in this relationship that is in your life that has you in it? You count too. The trade off of allowing another person to direct or even control your life is that 1) you don't have a stake in it and 2) because they are now in control, you'll experience increasing anxiety because you're relying on them to tell you what yours (their) next move is.
  • Avoiding any and all situations where you think you may experience conflict, criticism, and rejection which is actually an unwillingness to receive feedback, even when you stand to learn from the insights gained. Someone said to me recently, “I don’t have many friends. People just don’t seem to like me.” I asked her if she was going out in social situations or ever made the effort to join in on conversations – NO. That is a passive response.
  • Doing lots of things and giving a lot (over-giving) with a view to what you think you will get back (bit like calling in a favour or a debt) and then feeling unappreciated and unloved.
  • Not having an opinion on something or anything – there’s a vagueness and an avoidance of having a stake in anything. You may also be very malleable and tend to go along with whoever you’re currently besotted with or idolising.
  • Preferring to be instructed and directed and freaking out when you have to do your own thinking.
  • Being unhappy in your job and not doing anything or much about it while feeling resentful of your boss and colleagues.
  • Waiting for someone to leave their husband or wife.
  • Feeling like you’re on the outside of a group that you haven’t really made an effort to be part of. It may be that because it feels like a big deal for you to ‘show up’ and you’re so aware of your own so-called ‘inadequacies’ that you think they should somehow know this and make more effort to be inclusive and if they’re not, it’s because there’s something ‘wrong’ with you (not true).
  • Having a long list of people who you feel have done you wrong, yet these people don’t seem to know anything about it, nor have you addressed any of the situations.
  • Doing your job but not sticking your head above the parapet and then feeling passed over and unrewarded for doing your job while people who are ‘louder’ are progressing.
  • Sitting there time after time after time while the same person says inappropriate stuff and crosses the line, but going back again.
  • Having desires to be or do something but waiting for the right opportunities to come by – you could be making opportunities.
  • Knowing that you’re in a poor relationship and that you should end things but waiting for the other party to end it.
  • It’s saying that you value assertiveness in others and actually having it as a value while lacking it yourself and then complaining about people not being direct, flip-flapping, and not making decisions. An example of this is, two people falling out because one feels that the other should have known not to ask her to do something so many times. They took the attitude that because they were asked, they felt obliged to say yes. Their friend however, took to the attitude that she had given her X amount of times to say no and felt that because they were both friends, she could ask but her friend should feel equally comfortable in saying no.
  • It’s saying, “I just want them to tell me that it’s over and that they want out of the relationship”, after the person has showed you that it’s over and that they certainly don’t deserve another moment of your time by treating you without love, care, trust, and respect.
  • Hoping that someone who has treated you badly will eventually give up on treating you badly and poking in your life after the breakup without you having to do anything ‘mean’ like distancing yourself and doing No Contact. "Can't they see how much they're hurting me?" Erm, NO!
  • Trying to ‘nice’ people into being what you want. A friend of mine and an acquaintance fell out because it turned out that the acquaintance was being nice to her so that if and when she wanted or needed anything, my friend would be expected to say (or show) yes even if it was inappropriate.

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