Secrets of Assertiveness 101:
Sometimes I’m asked why assertiveness is important and I say that assertiveness is important to learn because it is a fundamental life skill which is needed to be successful. Also, it’s important to talk about being assertive because it is such a misunderstood concept. Many associate assertiveness with aggressiveness or being obnoxious. In fact assertiveness is simply the ability to make a reasonable response, (i.e. a response which is neither a hostile nor a give-in give-up) to a frustrating or stressful situation. And here is the surprising fact. Assertive behavior can look quite different depending on the situation. To demonstrate this, I have some examples of situations from everyday which life I’d like you to consider and think about how you would handle them.
Example 1: You are having a problem with your smart phone and you call for tech support. ( This really just happened to me.) After describing a problem to a representative of the company from whom I gave recently purchased the phone, I was told that he could not help me.
Non-assertive responses: Either get angry at the representative or just give up and hang up.
Assertive response: Press for more information, ask questions, ask to speak to supervisor.
Lesson: Press your case civilly with I-statements and if you’re not getting anywhere ask to speak with a supervisor. (BTW- the supervisor although unable to help initially called me back and the problem was fixed quickly.)
Example 2: Imagine a conflict with your spouse. She wants to have sex but you don’t.
Non-assertive responses : Just give in and do it. or Get angry and attack your partner, get into a fight and the issue is lost.
Assertive response: Just say no but note that it does not mean a lack of love or that you’ll never have sex again but that now is not a good time.
Lesson: It’s OK to say no and you don’t have to be nasty about it and you don’t have to be manipulated into doing something you don’t want to do.
Example 3: Your boss drops what feels like an impossible assignment on you.
Non-assertive responses: Lose it and panic or respond as if there is no problem.
Assertive response: Say nothing. Take some time before responding.
Lesson: Assertive responses require a calm reasonable perspective. If a demand has blown your reasonable circuits, wait and don’t respond until you’ve had a chance to hit the reset button and think about why you feel the assignment is unreasonable and what your options are. Being assertive is not just addressing the other but also examining and reality testing one’s own initial reactions to see if they are exaggerated.
A final thought : Assertive responses aren’t magic but they at least give you the best chance to negotiate to a better outcome to a frustrating situation than either hostile/aggressive or passive/giving up reactions will. Also, you will feel better knowing that you acted in a civil way and stood up for your point of view.