Assertiveness – a quick guide
Being assertive is not the same as being bossy or looking for fights. I believe it is about being unashamed to show others that you care about yourself as a human being.
So where to start? Start by learning more about yourself and your values. What things in life do you value the most? To help you do this you might think about the peak moments in your life; the highs and the lows. When have you felt happiest? Saddest? Most confused? Most helpless? Most angry? Think about these times and about what was actually going on. What was it that made you happy, sad, confused, angry? What values lay behind this?
How do you hope to be treated by friends? By family? By colleagues? …shop assistants? What is acceptable and what is unacceptable for you? Set clear boundaries in your mind of what you expect and also of what is less than you would like but still within the ‘OK range’. This process will start to show you which kinds of behaviour are unacceptable in your personal value system.
The reason for getting it clear in your own mind is that you can successfully communicate boundaries to others when you are clear about them. You can then work on how you will respond when other people do not treat you in a way that feels OK. It is often when we stay unclear about our values that communication is confusing or may come across as aggressive to the other person.
If you are treated or spoken to in a way you find upsetting you could start by checking-in with yourself: how do I feel at this moment? Once you have a better idea of how the comment or action made you feel you can ask the other person if they realise they spoke to you in a way that made you feel dismissed, unimportant etc. Words can and do hurt and all of us have been hurt at some time by something said to us by another. The key thing is to own the hurt feeling as your own response and to decide from there the appropriate action you want to take. You may want an apology or it may be that a sense of the other person knowing they did wrong is enough, regardless of whether or not they apologise. Or it may be that you decide things have gone too far with this person and you want to end your communication with them.
‘When you said… I felt …’ is an assertive way of communicating disappointment without becoming angry or criticising the other person.
Learning to say ‘no’.
We need to say ‘no’ sometimes so that we do not take on too much. When we say ‘yes’ to more than we can manage the result is anxiety and stress overload. Saying ‘no’ is just a way of managing our well-being and our time.
If you are a person who nearly always says ‘yes’ to invitations, to favours from friends, demands from your family even when you would rather say ‘no’ then saying ‘no’ will feel odd at first. You may feel as though you are being rude! For your own well-being, you could do with learning to say ‘no’ to things you would prefer not to do. After all, other people do and they don’t seem to mind!
Here are some gentle ‘no thank you’ phrases for those of us who struggle with the word no:
‘Another time I’d love to, but…’
‘I can’t do that today because…’
‘I’d rather not as…’
‘it’s thoughtful of you to ask, but…’
‘No, thank you’
Thank you for reading and I hope this has helped. I welcome any questions or comments you have about this article.
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About Caroline Brown
Caroline Brown is a person-centred counsellor based near Lincoln. She has a special interest in clients with anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.