by Andrew Lawless, John Quinn, Sue Wilcox

Your rights

Get up, stand up,
Stand up for your rights.
Get up, stand up,
Don’t give up the fight.

Bob Marley

What is a right?

A right is something to which we have just claim. Rights are a central issue in assertiveness. One definition of assertive behaviour is standing up for our rights without violating the rights of others. If we are to behave assertively for any given situation we need to

  • Be clear on our own and the other person’s rights in that situation
  • Have confidence in our own rights.

We should also be aware that there may be some debate as to what rights we actually have. These vary with culture and custom. We may baulk at what we see as abuses of rights in other cultures, but these behaviours may seem totally appropriate to the people of those cultures, who may well baulk at things we do.

The point here is that we should not assume that it is a universal truth for all people to regard something as a natural right. People’s beliefs about what is right and just vary, so if you are assertive you will respect the rights that others claim for themselves and not just those rights that you think they ‘should’ have.

Key point

Having confidence in your rights means being willing to stand up for them in a given situation and not feeling guilty about it, even when your assertion is resisted.

Some general rights

Although rights will vary with the situation, it is possible to identify some general rights that follow from the basic right to behave assertively. They include the right to

  • Have your own opinions, views and ideas (which may or may not be different to other people’s)
  • Get a fair hearing for these opinions, views and ideas
  • Have needs and wants (that may be different from other people’s)
  • Ask (not demand) that other people respond to your needs and wants
  • Refuse a request without feeling guilty or selfish
  • Have feelings and express them assertively, if you so choose
  • Be ‘human’ (be allowed to make a mistake from time to time, for example)
  • Decide not to assert yourself (for example, choose not to raise a particular issue)
  • Be your own self (this may be the same as or different from what others would like you to be – it includes choosing friends, interests and so on)
  • Have others respect your rights.

Job rights

These will vary from one job to another, although there may be common rights:

  • Rights laid down by government legislation
  • Rights formally acknowledged in the policy of the organisation.

Some rights that go with a job may be verbally agreed between a job holder and their manager, while others will remain undefined, at least until a problem results from this lack of definition. Below are some examples of rights that can go with a job.

Government legislation

The right to a contract of employment; redundancy payment; safe working conditions.

Organisation policy

The right to an appraisal of job performance at least once every 12 months; time off in lieu; flexible hours.

Agreed between manager and managed

The rights to have a say in selecting the people who are to work for you, to be consulted about decisions that affect you, to make a mistake from time to time.

If you want to behave assertively in your job, rather than non-assertively, you need to be clear on and willing to stand up for your rights when these rights are not forthcoming.

Balancing rights and responsibilities

If you want to be seen as assertive rather than aggressive when standing up for your rights, you need to accept the responsibilities that go alongside any rights you accept for yourself.

The prime responsibility in assertiveness is to accept and respect the rights of others.

Right Responsibility
  • To have a say in selecting people who are to work for you
  • Not to abuse this right for personal ends (for example, vetoing a person whom you see as a threat to you in your job)
Right Responsibility
  • To make a mistake from time to time
  • To acknowledge the mistake
    To put it right, if possible
    To learn from the mistake (not go on repeating it)