In our Trump-bold world of high-octane emotions, we often misdiagnose assertive syntax as knee-jerk responses. They need to know where I stand; I can’t let people walk all over me. Fine. Stand up for truth. Stand up for yourself, but don’t confuse assertive qualities for just being asinine. For example, some would argue that to make my position clear, I have to humiliate and nearly threaten who someone is and what they think. Such a perspective limits our understanding. People are not either timid or tearing your head off. Believe it or not, we can be audacious and gracious.
Are you firm, direct, clear, and decisive? If so, then you are assertive in your conversation.
No where does Webster state that assertive people must threaten, coerce, yell, or harass their listener. Be firm, but polite. Be self-assured, but loving. Be bold, but calm.
Remember that you are addressing another human being too, not just a glob of contrary cells.
Many times Christians have found themselves on the opposing front culturally. Often misunderstood, we attempt to validate our position by cutting the legs out from underneath the naysayers. Not only does this offensive strategy put our listener on the defensive, often shutting them down to what we desire for them to hear, but we’ve proven we only care about being right, not about speaking the truth in love.
I have a long way to go in this approach, but I’m learning that many people get offended just being hearing an absolute statement.
“How dare you say x,..y…z…”
Somehow we are to hold fast to our convictions without offending the sensitivities of those who demand tolerance, which accurately stated isn’t what they clamor for: it’s complete acceptance without question. Tolerance says I will forebear your contradictory position, but what many want is a full endorsement.
When I confront someone, contending my rival viewpoint, I should always employ these three techniques (I’m a work in progress here):
1. It’s not about you. Let them speak first. Listen and repeat back to them what you believe they are saying. When they know you are attempting to understand, they will be more prone to hear you out when your turn comes. This principle of respect doesn’t always hold true, of course. Some people can’t stand to be contradicted and won’t abide friendships with people who disagree. Even so, engage and speak the truth in love. “We see, then, that the gentle can be assertive, but they do not assert themselves. We can be strong and assertive, yet gentle if we leverage power not to assert self, but to promote the cause of God or the needy. Jesus was forceful, even confrontational, yet gentle because he used his powers for others. The same holds for us.” Dan Doriani
2. Speak boldly, firmly, and concisely without demoralizing the other person. Some months back, I watched a video clip of a Q/A session involving Ravi Zacharias and some other great minds; they were answering questions college students posed to them. Although often attacked and belittled for their worldviews, Zacharias always responded with the balance of kindness and directness. He spent a few minutes showing the illogical position of a student’s theory without making the student look stupid. And then asked this disgruntled student if he’d come and have a conversation with him after the evening session was complete. When we are confident in what we believe and why we believe it, we aren’t threatened by the other person’s questions and we don’t need to bite off their head to make ours look more intelligent. The truth is about benefiting the other person, not about elevating ourselves.
3. Don’t apologize for the truth. We don’t rely on “Well, I feel like…” or even, “I think that…” phrases. Our position should come from God’s Word. He’s already declared truth; we don’t get to change it on cultural bias, emotional instability, or the whim of the moment. What He says we merely agree with. And for that, we should never apologize. Whether someone wants to believe and agree is between them and the Lord, so don’t take it personally when they declare you a bigot, narrow-minded, or hateful. Assess your motives, clarify your position, and then tenderly bow out. [It should also be said that just because we are Christ-followers doesn’t mean we are inerrant in our belief system. We should always be reading Scripture and weighing our position against the Word of God–not tradition, denominational preferences, or experiences].
Remember that gentleness is a fruit of the spirit, not a personality preference.