Words of Wisdom

Back to all blog Posts

Is it better to be confident or assertive?

I recently had a long conversation with a fellow mom about our 11 year old daughters. We were discussing how chatty they are with us, and each other—but in school, they are quiet. We quickly attributed it to the, shall we say, unruly boys in their 5th grade class that they find a bit overwhelming.

With my single-sex education background, I quickly got on my high horse about the virtues of all-girls’ schools where, without the influence of boys in the classroom, girls are able to grow, express themselves without fear of judgment and ultimately gain confidence.

But is confidence the same as assertiveness? We both agreed that, while our daughters are not very assertive in school, they are confident. So, what’s the difference? And, is it better to be assertive or confident?

To me, confidence can be loud or quiet. Confidence is the belief in yourself, your intelligence, character, skills and other qualities. Wikipedia (my go-to source of information) defines confidence as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Self-confidence is having confidence in oneself.

Assertiveness is an ability to communicate your confidence or your position in a variety of ways. Wikipedia defines it as the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. It goes on to say that assertiveness can be a learnable skill and mode of communication. Wikipedia expresses no opinion as to whether confidence can be learned.

I found it interesting that the definition of assertiveness actually used the word confidence. I believe that confidence and assertiveness can be mutually exclusive. One can surely be assertive while lacking confidence. Haven’t we all seen that person who tries to cover up their lack of confidence with bravado? (See 5th grade boys.) And, you can definitely be confident without being assertive—sometimes, that’s a sign of even greater confidence.

We concluded that confidence, especially in girls, is key. We also concluded that our girls’ confidence will carry them farther than just possessing the ability to assert themselves (in the way that the boys in their class do). Of course, do not mistake this conclusion for a statement that assertiveness doesn’t matter. One needs to be able to effectively communicate one’s position, and advocate for oneself. This by its very nature means that one must be able to make oneself heard through the “noise.”

But the real conclusion of the conversation was that our girls will be fine. As 11 year olds battling rambunctious 5th grade boys on a daily basis, they may be thrown for a temporary loop. But, their confidence in themselves and their brains will get them where they need to go. When those boys quiet down and listen, they will surely find that our girls have many interesting things to say.

Please share your thoughts with me here.