Five ways to stand your ground. Be assertive: Stop being a doormat (walkover), or an ugly aggressor.

January 24, 2016 Gustav Gous

Five ways to stand your ground. Be assertive: 
Stop being a doormat (walkover) or an ugly aggressor.


There are two kinds of people on earth: Those who get ulcers, and those whogive ulcers. 


The first group submit all the time – they always give in and they allow others to trample on their rights. Let’s call them the ‘submissive walkovers’.  The latter group are the aggressive ones, who try to impose themselves and their will on you all the time. They don’t have respect for your boundaries and they invade your territory all the time.  Let’s call them the ‘aggressive invaders’.

But there is a third way:  The assertive way, where you have the stomach to say YES when you want to, and NO when you have to. 


The assertiveness pendulum:




Many people say: I don’t want to be the aggressive type,  but they then err to be the submissive type, and vice versa.  People find it difficult to stop the pendulum in the middle where it should be. Why? Because, it takes energy and skill to engage creatively in an assertive way.  It is the way of least resistance,  the easier way, the lazy option, to just give in, or try to win in a ‘blitzkrieg’ of fury.


See if you can recognize some people (family members, people at work and perhaps yourself) in these typical behaviours:


  1. Typical Submissive behaviour:  

-          Qualifying statements  such as: “maybe”; “I think …”; “If it is not too much trouble”; “would you”; “never mind”, … etc.

-          Stop words such as “uh”, “well”, “you know” …

-          Self-undermining words such as “it is not really important”, “don’t go to any real trouble” , “only if you really have the time” …


  1. Typical Aggressive behaviour:  

-          Threats such as: “You better”, “you must”, “you better be careful”; 

-          Words that ridicule such as “Oh come on”, “you can’t be serious”; etc

-          Judgemental statements such as “stupid”, “bad” … (Typical  ‘You are’–messages).

-          Racist or sexist language such as “typical female / male”; and other derogatory race words that I do not want to type here …..

Obviously there must be a third way - a better alternative to the above two options: 

  • Submissive behaviour is about: I lose – you win
  • Aggressive behaviour is about:  I win  – you lose

The third way is the assertive way:

  • Assertive behaviour is about: I win – you win, and if we have to lose, then it must be a      fair 50/50 deal.


  1. Typical Assertive behaviour:  

-          I-messages such as : “I think”; “I would like to”; “I prefer that”

-          Collaborative words such as “let us”; and “shall we”

-          Words indicating interest such as “what do you think?” and “what is your opinion”

How do we move from the two bad alternatives to the better alternative of assertiveness?  


The good news is that assertiveness is a skill that can be learned. Here are 5 steps in the right direction:




Step 1: Realization of Self-worth and self confidence

Only if you realize that you are worthy, and that God created all people equal, then you would be able to defend your own integrity. Self-confidence will result in positive self-projection and self-defense. You do not defend something that you do not regard as worthy.


Step 2: Get rid of bad beliefs and bad theology

Some cultural beliefs such as ‘women has a specific role’, or ‘young people must be seen and not heard”, must be discarded. Bad theology: Thinking the text of ‘turn the other cheek’ must sentence you to a lifetime of abuse or being trampled upon, must be brought into perspective.  The same Bible says you are an ambassador of Christ and a worthy human being (Psalms 8). The truths of the Bible must be balanced. The whole ministry of Jesus was to defend the helpless and the marginalized.




Step 3: Non-verbal assertion

You must learn to stand your ground non-verbally with body language, and tone of voice. The shy ‘Lady Dianna-look’ and the ‘adam-and-eve pose’ with hands in front of the crotch, will not do the trick. Submissive behaviour has a shy demeanour and a soft voice. Aggressive behaviour is loud and into your face. Assertive behaviour is to take a strong but comfortable pose in front of people or an audience.


Step 4: Verbal assertion

The strongest of the verbal assertion tools would be to give “I-messages”:  First ask: who owns the problem, i.e. who’s  rights has been violated. That person must master the art of giving “I-feel“ messages:  It works like this: “When you  (then you describe behaviour) …,  I feel ( then you express your feelings or the consequences of the behaviour on you) …,  I would prefer (then you describe the desired outcome). These skills must be practiced to become part of your communication DNA.




Step 5: Reach out (say YES) when you want to; and defend your rights/territory (say NO) when you have to.

I once saw a person I respect very much and always wanted to meet, walking in front of me at the Dubai International airport: It was mr Gary Player, the iconic South African Golfer. That night I had the energy and assertiveness to walk up to mr Player and say to him: “Sir, I always wanted to meet you, may I have the privilege to say hello. “ (It was the time before selfies – otherwise I would have had the selfie to prove it). 


On another occasion I didn’t have my energy and self-confidence in a row, when I saw Bono , from the band U2,  walking alone in front of me at Cape Town International airport. I still think it sad that I didn’t walk up to him that night, and spoke about how we both try to work to continue the legacy of Nelson Mandela. (He with Madiba as a personal friend, me with my Short Walk to Freedom workshops on Robben Island). Missed opportunities are very often the result of a lack of assertiveness.


Obviously it will take more than a blog to acquire the skill of assertiveness:   For team, personal coaching interventions  - feel free to contact me;


Remember: Lack of assertiveness reap havoc in personal relationships and teams. It is not a question of: Can I afford the money or time to do assertiveness training for myself, my children, my team?  It is a question of : Can I afford not to do it? You will pay a huge price without the skill of assertiveness in your life and in your business.  


My call to action is: Be assertive and help others to be the same:  Help your people not to get, or give ulcers, but to have the stomach to stand your ground!  


Definition of the word:  

Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. In the field of psychology and psychotherapy, it is a learnable skill and mode of communication.

Assertiveness is a skill regularly referred to in social and communication skills training. Being assertive means being able to stand up for your own or other people's rights in a calm and positive way, without being either aggressive, or passively accepting 'wrong'.



If you want more information on how to make counselling/coaching appointments or book dr Gustav Gous for motivational talks, contact 

If you want  interventions for your team: Contact +27 12 3455931   or email to discuss possibilities. 

Disclaimer:    Important notice to you as the reader:  Although the life coach (dr Gustav Gous) provide certain recommendations, the sole and final responsibility for decision-making remains your own and that the life coach or anybody associated to him and his company Short Walk Seminars Pty Ltd cannot be held responsible for any of your choices and reactions. You, the reader, must take full responsibility for your life, reactions and choices.  



Dr Gustav Gous  is an International Motivational Speaker and Executive Life Coach with experience on 5 continents. He 

was the in-house counselor for the petro-chemical company Sasol for 9 years. He is known for his Transformational leadership programmes on Robben Island, titled the “Short Walk to Freedom”. 

He is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and past President of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa and a member of the APSS (Asia Professional Speakers Singapore).  Currently he is heading up the Diversity Intelligence Institute, specializing in rolling out Diversity Intelligence interventions for 

international companies. His leadership caps does for leadership what De Bono's thinking hats did for creativity and problem solving. His Coaching programme on national Radio in South Africa RSG FM 100-104 "Fiks vir die lewe" touches the lives of many South Africans. , ,