Thought for the week:   Assertiveness 

Many struggle with assertiveness, often feeling it is closely related to aggressiveness and unattractive or rude.  In fact, Wikipedia defines assertiveness as “The quality of being self assured and confident without being aggressive.”  Based on mutual respect, being assertive means being upfront about your rights, wants and needs while considering those of others as well.  Being assertive is a balance between self and other.  It means listening to the views of others while being willing to be open about your own.  It means being able to admit when you are wrong and apologize while showing empathy when another is acknowledging their mistakes.  It means behaving as an equal to others while you maintain self control whether you agree with them or not.  

There are a number of reasons people find it difficult to assert themselves.  For example:  Some people suffer from low self esteem and feel they will cause conflict if their opinions differ.  Some may fear rejection, judgements,  or loss of relationships if they express their own needs, beliefs or opinions.  Some have an internal belief system that subscribes to the notion that being nice means going along with everything.  Some people learn from early on to be polite or “go get em” depending on our gender or the family we were raised in.  Females are often raised to put the needs and care of others in front of themselves.  Males often learn it is not only acceptable but desirable to be aggressive.  

Finding the balance in being proactive for yourself can be tricky, but the good news is that assertiveness is a learnable skill.  All it takes in practice!  (and maybe a little internal work around the edges of your belief systems).  Better to begin by practicing healthy assertiveness skills in small ways and slowly increase to larger, more sensitive situations.  For example:

  • Begin by expressing your opinion regarding your preference of where to eat or which movie to see.
  • Look for hidden perfectionism and people pleasing, two attributes that keep you trapped in cycles of wasted energy and non-productivity, as well as not feeling “known” by others. 
  • Understand you are equal to others and entitled to your emotions.
  • Accept compliments and stop apologizing for everything.
  • Let go of the guilt in speaking up for yourself;  if you don’t speak up, who will?

  • Use “I” statements rather than assume others know what you need, how you feel or what you want.
  • Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements to minimize defensiveness in others as you communicate your needs.
  • Use empathy, expressing your willingness to understanding where the other is coming from, but get your point across:  “I understand, however….”

  • Apologize with agreement: “Yes I am very late.  I apologize.  I am usually on time.”
  • Clouded apology:  “You may be right; I probably could be more thoughtful”.
  • Become a “broken record”, calmly repeating your point without getting sidetracked (prepare ahead if possible): “I cannot take on any more volunteer projects right now” .

  • Delay:  Put off a response to a challenging or triggering request, statement or issue until you are calm and able to deal with it:  “I will have to get back to you on that” or “Let me think on this”.
  • Defuse by ignoring the content of another’s anger and delay the discussion until they have calmed: “I can see you are upset; Let’s discuss this later on today”.
  • Verb shift:  “I don’t think this will work out”, becomes: “I appreciate your interest in my being involved, but I am unable to do this”.

Some of these techniques are very useful in preventing being manipulated into a task, commitment or discussion you were not prepared to take on.  While, in the short run, it may seem easier to keep quiet, scream or shove your feelings deeper inside, assertiveness adds a component of mutual respect to the situation.  Although it will take time to incorporate, assertiveness is a solution focused, win-win strategy that reduces stress in the long run as your confidence, self esteem and effectiveness increase.