How Assertive Are You?Assertiveness consists of appropriately expressing your own rights and feelings, without infringing on the rights and feelings of others. It might include learning to say “no” to someone, expressing an unpopular opinion within a group, or providing constructive feedback to someone. Being assertive is an essential tool for success in life. Having the right amount of assertiveness can get you a promotion at work, bring balance into your relationships and help you react appropriately to difficult situations.
Assertive vs Aggressive
Two destructive tendencies exist at the opposite ends of assertiveness. They are submissiveness and aggression, or hostility.
It’s very common for people to confuse being assertive with being aggressive. There are three criteria that determine whether or not an assertive exchange has taken place:
1. The event has created the desired results.
2. The event is relatively satisfying for the person being assertive, i.e. feels a sense of accomplishment.
3. The event is relatively satisfying for the target of the assertiveness, i.e. feels respected and does not feel the need to be defensive
THE HOW-TO OF BEING ASSERTIVE
There’s no magical formula that can change you overnight into being assertive. The following points, however, will help you to become more assertive. Keep in mind that assertiveness is a habit, a learned behaviour. It’s like losing weight or quitting smoking – it takes a focused effort and time.
Being assertive means believing in your right to stand up for your needs while respecting the rights of others. It can help to talk this through with family members, friends and co-workers. For a comprehensive look at learning to become more assertive, we recommend Your Erroneous Zones, by Dr. Wayne Dyer.
2. Be specific, relevant and honest
Try not to use generalities. Phrases such as, “You always leave things to the last minute”, or “You never look at things my way” don’t lead to establishing good relationships or solving a problem. Be prepared to be honest about what is relevant and specific.
3. Focus on the problem, not the personality
Don’t get drawn into slinging matches, even if the other person gets angry. Stay calm. Listen to what the other person is saying. You can empathize with someone else’s feelings without necessarily agreeing with him or giving in to the other point of view. Concentrate of the finding a solution to the problem rather than trying to “win” the argument.
4. Negotiate as equals
Take the point of view that you each have rights, discuss the situation calmly. Look for solutions where you can both get what you need – which may not necessarily be what you both want. Ideally, both parties should feel positive about the outcome even though it may not be exactly what each of them originally wanted.
5. Choose your words carefully
Your goal is to maintain receptivity. The other person should be listening to your message or point of view. Once receptivity is lost, resentment, hostility and other negative emotions creep in, and the chance of a solution evaporates.
“Yes, but…” This is a combative phrase, not a conciliatory one. An alternative might be, “I just wonder if there are any alternatives you might consider?”
“No, I won’t.” This is an absolute rejection of someone’s idea or suggestion. You are not demonstrating a willingness to cooperate. Simply changing “no” to “if” offers alternatives and keeps the communication door open.
“You made the same mistake before…” This is a failure-based comment. You’re saying to the person, “You’ve failed and I’m superior to you.”
6. Stick up for yourself
Decide what is negotiable and what’s not. Make sure you know how far you will go in conceding and go no further.
BEING ASSERTIVE MEANS KNOWING HOW TO SAY “NO”
There are a number of constructive ways to refuse a request and not create ill will. Here are some of them:
Listen attentively and show that you’re listening before making an understanding response.
Explain why you cannot do something, making it clear that you understand why the request has been made.
Let it be known beforehand that you cannot or are not willing to do it.
Express enthusiasm for the request, and offer to think about doing it the next time.
When people simply won’t take “no” for an answer, stick with your original answer – don’t give “better” reasons. Give the same reason over and over again, perhaps slightly re-worded. The message will get through eventually.
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