We have all, at one point or another, found ourselves in situations where we have to say ‘no’. By saying no you simply tell the other person(s) that you and your needs are important. Saying ‘no’ is an important step to create boundaries with the outside world and to show others how to treat you.
For many, being assertive doesn’t come naturally, and can be thought of as having a negative connotation. When someone firmly says no we often label them as aggressive without paying attention to any details. The reality is that it’s impossible to go through life without learning the assertion skill. Gaining this knowledge is important for us and those around us.
Author Hauck describes assertiveness as ”standing up for one’s rights without anger”. Being assertive means you also recognise other people’s rights and by acting so you hope for a positive outcome for both sides (win-win).
The reason why so many default to ‘assertion with aggression’ is that some are used to using aggressive tactics to achieve what they want (like intimidating, demeaning, controlling, manipulating or demanding) and they label that as being assertive.
In order to identify whether you are defaulting to ‘assertion with aggression’ is to ask yourself these questions:
Are you offering your opinion to others or are you trying to enforce it?
What outcome is likely to emerge as a result? Compromise or humiliation of the other person?
By being unassertive you violate your rights to express honest feelings, thoughts and beliefs. It could also mean you do express them but in a way that is simply disregarded by others.
Through learning and training, you can develop effective assertiveness but firstly you need to understand the following misconceptions surrounding assertiveness behaviours:
Automatically getting what you want
You need to act this way all the time
Other people will respect or like you
By being assertive you are a strong person
By being assertive you are a good person
By being assertive you will solve all your problems
What can stop you from being assertive?
Hauck identified five blocks to assertiveness, viz:
Fear of injury
Fear of failure
Fear of hurting other people
Fear of rejection
Fear of financial insecurity
From the above, for example, you may have identified situations in your own life when you were not assertive because fears of something or someone stopped you from doing so.
Another obstacle we might face on the way to developing effective assertiveness could be emotional blocks. It could be due to past experiences when we displayed anger and troublesome emotions. There is a range of different coaching techniques that can help you break through those blocks and develop new helpful thoughts and behaviours that will support your wellbeing.
According to Hauck, there are 8 steps that can help in leading to healthy self-assertions:
Get the attention of the person - make sure there is no distraction and you can comfortably engage with the other person.
Express in the objective way the other person’s behaviour that you have difficulty with - avoid personalising, accusations and interpretations of that behaviour. Stick to facts!
Communicate your feelings constructively - it is ok to show your annoyance and disappointment but try to avoid anger, hurt or jealousy. Take responsibility for your feelings and use “I feel” statements in your conversation.
Understand what is your interpretation and then invite the response - you already stated the facts (step 2) but you want to convey what is your interpretation of the person’s behaviour. Remember that interpretation is NOT a fact so do not frame it as one (for example don’t say “You know how this makes me feel”).
Listen to the response of the other person and provide your feedback - remember to stay open-minded and do not dismiss the response the other side is providing. Express your satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with the reply. Be honest.
Communicate your preferences in a clear and specific way - what you want (or what do you want collectively) must be stated in a clear and concrete way. You can also point out the positive consequences that can occur as a result.
Get the agreement for the other person - if for any reason the consensus cannot be achieved, discuss the alternatives i.e. what changes the other person is willing to take.
State what are the consequences if the situation will occur again - that is a very important step that cannot be forgotten. It sets the tone for any future actions.
Assertiveness is a skill that can be learned and it is life-changing for any situation in life (for example work, friendships, romantic relationships, etc.).
If you would like to work on your emotional blocks to assertiveness, I will be running a training session on 21st March 2021. It is going to tremendously change the way you think about assertiveness and communication. More details to follow on my social media!