Everyone should be treated equally and fairly and assertiveness means standing up for our rights without violating the rights of others. It means tactfully and clearly expressing our preferences, opinions, needs, and feelings. The opposite of being assertive is being unassertive, often defined as being passive, weak, compliant, self-sacrificing and sometimes in extreme cases, being aggressive also described as being hostile, self-centred or demanding.
Some people feel they would just rather be “nice” and “don’t want to cause problems” or “don’t want rock the boat” and so they suffer in silence, and perceive or assume that nothing can be done to change their situation. They may feel insecure or suffer from low self-esteem. We all can appreciate easy-going, agreeable or accommodating people (or people-pleasers), but whenever a passive, kind person allows a dominant person or self-interested person to take advantage of her/him, the passive person is reinforcing their unfair, self-centred behaviour, besides cheating themselves out of what they need by minimizing the truth about how they feel. Some family systems thrive on dysfunction because behaviours are comfortable and any slight changes towards healthier ways of relating can sometimes cause instability too so it is important to develop skills for change and coping strategies.
Assertiveness skills can be a solution to disempowerment, shyness, fear or frustration and managing anger, so there are many advantages to learning/developing assertiveness which can be useful when applied to an amazing array of life situations, especially personal relationships or work situations.
Assertiveness requires several kinds of behaviours:
Admit / accept there is a problem, a change is needed and you will overcome your initial fears to be more assertive.
Identify your feelings, speak up, ask questions, make requests or ask favours and insist that your rights are acknowledged and respected as a significant, equal human being.
Express negative emotions (desire to be left alone, frustration, resentment, complaints, criticism, intimidation, disagreement), and to learn to say “no”, to refuse requests.
Show positive emotions (hope, joy, pleasure, being attracted to someone), and to appreciate and/or accept/give compliments to people.
To initiate, maintain, change or end conversations easily. Share your opinions, feelings and experiences with others.
To be able to ask why or constructively question traditions/norms or authority; not to rebel or demean, but to take responsibility for your share of control of the situation, to improve matters.
To address or deal with minor irritations, monitor your feelings before your anger builds-up and escalates into intense resentment or explosive anger.
Steps towards Assertiveness
There are basic steps that can help you to become more assertive in everyday interactions with others:
1. Recognise where changes are needed, have belief in your rights.
Most people can feel they are being taken advantage of and/or have trouble saying “no”. Others might deny being unassertive yet feel apathy, depressed or unsatisfied. They might experience lots of physical ailments too like backache or have complaints about work issues yet they are resigned to their boss, parent or partner having the right to demand whatever she/he wants from them. Nothing will change until the passive person (victim), recognizes her/his rights are being denied, and she/he decides to take action to address the situation. Keeping a diary helps you identify and evaluate how compliant, intimidated, timid or frustrated you feel or how demanding, infuriating, upsetting or aggressive you feel others are towards you.
Most people can name instances or situations in which she/he has been too outspoken or aggressive yet they would disagree that they were being unassertive in any way. Many of us do not feel able or strong enough to just say “no” to a parent, child or friend. Some of us cannot even accept a compliment; we feel awkward and uncomfortable! Sounds familiar? We let people control our lives, we don’t speak up (remember as a child in class not speaking up?) or, we are nervous or scared to disagree with others? The list can be endless. Ask yourself if you want to continue being passive, complaint or unassertive?
The good news is that you can change your behaviour! Talk to someone about being more assertive in a particular situation that concerns you. If you are terrified, try role-playing with someone you trust or if by yourself, rehearse by talking into a mirror, to reduce any underlying anxiety. If your anxiety feels too great you may need to deal with the ‘anxiety associated with changing’ so that you can resolve any conflicts within your own belief/value system or thinking structure, to assess the consequences of being assertive, or prepare others for any changes they might notice in your attitude and behaviour.
2. Think about appropriate ways of asserting yourself in each specific situation that bothers you.
There are many ways to plan fair, tactful and effective assertive responses. Think of someone you find assertive and observe or model them. Talk about your situation with someone maybe a friend, mentor, supervisor or a counsellor. Find out how others tackle similar situations to yours, and ponder whether they are being unassertive, assertive or aggressive.
Assertiveness trainers often recommend that an effective assertive response should contain 3 things:
Describe situation (to the other person involved), as you see it. Be very specific about time and actions, do not make general (you, you, you!) accusations like “you are always dominating... you are hostile... or you are always busy etc.,” Be calm and objective; do not suggest the other person is a total moron. Focus on her/his behaviour, not what you think is her/his apparent motives.
Describe your feelings, using an “I” statement which shows you take responsibility for your feelings. Be firm but kind, look at them, have confidence, and do not get highly emotional or aggressive. Focus on good positive feelings related to your objectives/outcome if you can, not on your brewing resentment of the other person. Sometimes it is helpful to simply explain why you feel, so your statement becomes “I feel … because …..”
Describe the changes you wish for; be specific about what should stop and what should replace it. Be sure any changes are achievable and reasonable; consider the other person’s needs too, and be willing to make changes yourself in return – a win/win situation is best for both parties. In some cases, you may have in mind consequences should the other person make changes and if she/he doesn’t. If so, these should be clearly described too but do not make threats like you are leaving the relationship or job, if you cannot or won’t carry it out or it leaves you in an even worse position than before. Remember to keep the communication channels open, not to shut it down or back someone into a corner.
3. Practice assertive replies and preparing for counter-responses/attacks.
Using the responses you have developed, role-play the problem situations with a friend or, if not possible, imagine interacting assertively. Start with real life but easy to handle situations and work up to more thought-provoking, challenging ones in the future.
You will discover if your friend plays the role-play realistically enough, besides rehearing, you need to prepare assertive responses. You will learn that no matter how calm and tactful you are, it may still sound like a personal attack to the other person. Depending on who you approach they may not be aggressive (if you have been tactful), but be prepared for a slight possibility of strong reactions like anger, counter-attacks or name-calling, criticisms, threats, seeking revenge, or being ill, or suddenly to the other extreme saying “sorry” to you, or being compliant themselves! Perhaps you and a friend can role-play likely reactions. In most cases, simply explaining your behaviour and standing your ground will handle the situation; this is just in case you standing your grounds may not work at first.
Generally in most situations, it is not only one person assertively asking for changes but sometimes two people wishing to express their feelings/opinions, clear the air (or maybe get their own way). So both parties should take turns being assertive, and listen to the other person with empathy. That is good communication if it results in agreeable, satisfactory compromises and changes for the better.
Broken Record Technique
Another technique to try when confronting difficult situations or people is called the broken record technique. You calmly and firmly repeat a short, clear statement over and over again like a broken record until the other person gets the message. For example, “I would like you to be home by 10pm,” or “I do not like this product and I would like my money back please,” or “No, I don’t want to go out drinking tonight as I want to watch the TV”.
Repeat the same statement in exactly the same robotic, broken record way until the other person hears it regardless of reasons, emotional blackmail, guilt-inducing tricks, persuasion, or arguments they present to you.
4. Practice being assertive in real life simple situations.
Look for ways of developing your assertiveness skills. Start with less stressful, easier situations. Build up confidence, modify your behaviour gradually, and make tiny adjustments in your approach as necessary.
Ask a friend to lend you a book or CD album.
Ask a stranger for directions.
Ask a shop manager to reduce the price of a soiled / slightly damaged item or exchange a returned item for another one.
Ask a supervisor or instructor to help you understand a point, find extra reading, or explain what you missed in a test or exam.
Practice talking to people, make small-talk, give compliments to friends, co-workers and family or make a minor complaint over the telephone if something is inefficient or praise for a job well done. Tell a friend what you achieved and keep a diary of your successful interactions. Practice... practices... practice!
Remember you are entitled to your own feelings so ask for what you want - it is your right and responsibility.
Love & light xxx