A friend recommended a book for me, “Getting to Commitment”, I bought it out of sufferance not thinking I have commitment issues, until my best friend laughed hysterically at that comment. So read the book I did….and…
This book is life changing. Whilst there were many things that were resonating, one that was a true epiphany was letting yourself be known. Your self being thoughts, feelings, opinions and in doing so having courage to allow others to do the same.
It was my normal behaviour to keep my inner thoughts, feelings and opinions to myself letting them simmer until I would “explode”. Then the rare time I did bare my soul and speak up, it cost me what I thought was a close friend.
This only added to my hesitancy to share my thoughts, feelings and knowledge because I am scared if I speak my truth I will loose another friend/s. However as difficult as it is for me I realise that if speaking my truth (with love and respect) costs me a friendship, so be it.
Noting this is a two way street which meant whilst I don’t have to agree or like what others say it is important to also give them the space to “be known”.
Assertiveness, in communication, is having the confidence and courage to speak up for your self and/or others. To express your feelings, opinions and needs in an honest, calm, positive and appropriate way.
To be assertive means to treat yourself, your needs, your thoughts and feelings as equal to others. The purpose of which is to ensure that your rights and needs are met, as well as ensuring your boundaries are maintained and that you are not being taken advantage of. All whilst respecting and consider the needs of others, however not at the expense of your own.
For most being assertive has not been encouraged and therefore it is not a skill which comes naturally to them. However with self awareness and practice it is a skill than anyone can master.
Reason people aren’t assertive
Up until recent times the adage was that “children should be seen and not heard”. Along with this most were taught to put others before themselves, as this is the “right” thing to do. Whilst it is a wonderful quality to honour and respect others, never would I encourage this to be done at the expense of one’s self.
Also most people have an innate desire to be liked. Fearing the rejection of another, they reject themselves rather than displease another. There is a perception and assumption that when we voice our own wants, needs or opinions it will cause unpleasantness. Which it is usually does; 100% of the time with ourselves. As to whether it will with another; maybe or maybe not.
In the long run the result of this behaviour is that you’ll feel taken advantage. Which results in you becoming resentful. Paradoxially by not asserting ourselves we end up jeoparising our relationships.
Clarifying assertiveness v’s Agressiveness
As explained above being assertive is being respectful to your wants and needs as well as being mindful of another rights and needs. It is communicating this in a way which is respectful of another.
Whereas when someone is being aggressive they tend to have their wants and needs met in a disrespectful way which violates the needs of others. Typically their behaviour is hostile, demanding, blaming and punishing. They may get what they want via “threats”, sarcasm, catty comments, gossiping and perhaps even via physical means.
Ways to assert yourself
- Fundamental Assertion: Using “I want” or “I feel” statements we express our wants, needs, feelings, beliefs and /or opinions.
- Empathic Assertion: This statement incorporates your sensitivity of the other person’s feelings and/or situation followed by your feeling and/or needs and wants.
For example: “I know that going to the movies is really important to you and whilst I also want to see the movie I’d prefer to do it on the weekend when I can really relax and enjoy it with you.”
- Magnification Assertion: This technique is typically used when you have used one or both of the previous methods and the person continues of disregard your needs and wants.
When using this method you’ll become increasingly firm. Lowering / deepening your voice can also assist at this stage. Usually you will also state a consequence should the behaviour continue. Please know if you use this method and give a consequence you must be willing to follow through with the consequence.
For example: “John, I’ve explained previously when you speak to me like that it upsets me. I feel quite disrespected and that you don’t care for my feelings. If you continue to speak to me like that I am going to hang up the phone”.
- I-Language Assertion: This method can support you to constructively express your feelings when a situation is leaving you extremely upset, frustrated, even to the point of anger. It involves a 3-part statement:
- When you do . . . (describe the behaviour).
- The effects are . . . (describe how the behaviour concretely affects you).
- I’d prefer. . . (describe what you want).
The structure of the statement endeavours to seek a solution to the situation rather than blame another and/or get caught up in the emotion.
For Example: “When you didn’t buy the groceries like you said you would, I couldn’t make the kids lunches. I feel hurt and angry with you. Next time, I’d like you to follow through when you agree to do something like that.”
Tips on being more Assertive
1. Have courage and bravery along with other values and beliefs which support you in asserting yourself. Give yourself permission to say “no”, to make mistakes and to ask for help.
2. Don’t allow others to interrupt you, ask them to wait to share their viewpoints until you have finished.
3. Be aware of and cease self-limiting behaviours, such nodding too much, tilting your head, or not having eye contact.
4. Be decisive when you say no. Don’t explain why and don’t be overly apologetic.
5. Use “I want” or “I feel” statements. Acknowledge the other person’s situation or feelings followed by a statement in which you stand up for your rights. E.g. “I know you’re X, but I feel…”
6. Use “I” language declarations (see #4 in ways to be assertive).
7. Practice effective listening skills. Listen to what is and isn’t being said. Ask questions if you need to clarify and know it is OK to communicate your observations. E.g. “when you say x, I notice you are seeming angry”
8. Practice! With the help of friends and family members you trust, practice being assertive. Start with less anxiety-evoking situations and build up your assertiveness muscle. If there are situations you aren’t assertive, consider where you could have done better and what strategy you’ll implement the next time.