A word we hear a lot about being mentioned in the media (newspapers, television and radio), and even spoken about between individuals. Yet very few seem to actually know what it is and even fewer it seems know how to actually be assertive.
As a start point let’s gets some clarification of what the actual term ‘assertiveness’ means. When I ask individuals what this word means, I often get various responses ranging from speaking your mind, standing up for your rights, through to it always leads to conflict so should be avoided.
Research has actually come to show that assertiveness can be defined in a number of ways:
As a communication style where an individual is able to express their feelings, thoughts, beliefs and opinions in an open manner without violating the other individual
By being assertive you actually are valuing yourself and others, in almost communicating what we call a level of mutual respect.
In a more practical way, by being assertive leads to more win-win situations between you and the other individuals concerned.
So at this point I ask you to reflect on how assertive you think you are yourself on a scale of 1 to 10?
1: Completely unassertive/a walk over up to 10: Always assertive, I love to create win-win situations.
Ok hold that score in your head and keep reading
A good way of trying to understand assertiveness is to think of individuals who you may know of (could be dead or alive) who you see as assertive individuals? Have any names in mind?
When asked, I have had names such as Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Churchill, Ghandi and Martin Luther King.
Now we have our list of names (including the ones you have thought of), what is it that these so called ‘assertive individuals’ do that makes them… assertive?
Again various responses I get back include, they have strong beliefs and values, demonstrate conviction for their actions and get what they want. Some have even said that they are ‘fearless’. Hmm, I don’t think they are fearless, what they are actually very good at is ‘feeling the fear and doing it anyway’. I think fear is almost part of the natural human condition that I really don’t think its possible to have an individual who never feels fear.
So now by this point you should be clear about what is meant by assertiveness and what qualities are needed to demonstrate assertiveness.
Ok, let’s try a little visualisation experiment. I want you to think about a time when you were assertive with someone else in your life. How did it feel?
Were you proud of yourself, feel empowered, gained a sense of achievement, satisfaction. (You may even have felt scared but you did it anyway). You got similar feelings to these right?
Now try another little visualisation experiment, but I want you to think of a time when you were not assertive with someone else in your life. How did it feel?
Did you feel a sense of anger, frustration, regret, weak. Some have even said that they felt ashamed. You got similar feelings to these right?
Now moving on in our journey into assertiveness, research has shown that individuals are less likely to demonstrate assertiveness with significant others (partners, husband, wife) and family members compared to strangers and individuals in authority. Same for you?
The question at this point I want to ask you is this: So what stops you from being assertive with everyone you know including significant others and family members.
The truth seems to be that we feel strong emotional connection to these sorts of individuals and because we care for them so much we don’t want to upset them. We want a quiet life and will do anything to avoid conflict. On a deeper level of what may be going on for a lot of us, is that we will avoid being assertive with them because we are deeply afraid that they will leave us and even to some degree they know too much about us. Sound familiar to you?
However here lies the source of the problem to many situations of conflict that occurs in many relationships. The fact that you don’t try to be assertive in your relationship, what you actually fail to do is to express to the other individual your true feelings and values in any given situation. Inevitbly this leads to you building up unexpressed emotions and feelings whilst the other individual will naturally keep on taking from you or expecting you to never say no (can you blame them for coming to this conclusion if you have never spoke to them about your boundaries?)
As a further point to ponder on, who is the most important person in your life? Who is responsible for you in your life? The simple answer IS YOU! By taking responsibility for yourself is equivalent to having power of your own wellbeing. Consequently when you are not being assertive with others, what you are actually doing is giving up responsibility of you, whilst at the same time giving up the power of your wellbeing. No wonder individuals feel drained when they don’t express their own views, values and opinions with others.
So how are you feeling now?
It’s really important for you as an individual to take back your power of wellbeing and to take responsibility of yourself as an individual. It is important for note here that individuals are not born assertive, so there is no hiding behind that excuse of ‘I just was not born to be assertive’.
Every one of us has the potential to become more assertive individuals. All it needs is a bit of courage to start you off and a bit or practice. As with any skill, yes assertiveness is a skill it takes practice. So here are a few steps you can take to develop your ability to become more assertive:
1 – This idea has been around for a long time and that is ‘think – talk – act’. If I think and believe that I am an assertive individual, I will talk more confidently like an assertive and consequently this will be reflected in my behaviour of that of an assertive individual. Why not practice this in front of a mirror. It be seem strange at first, but with practice you will get
better at it.
2 – When you may find yourself faced with a situation of potential conflict, why not adopt what is commonly known as the broken record technique: Work out what you want to say Devise a short phrase Repeat calmly and persistently without raising your voice or altering your tone Deflect any side issues that the other individual may raise Be prepared to compromise and as they say this is the best situation to be in
3 – Here are a few tips suggested from the NHS choices website in regards to assertiveness: Pay attention to your body language Try to express your feelings clearly to other person if you have been upset It is ok to say NO to unreasonable requests Don’t enter the blame game with the other person and speak in the first person ‘I’ than ‘You’ If you need more time or support don’t be afraid to ask for it
4 – Assertive Modelling Visualisation For this technique I want you to first think about an individual that you believe to be assertive The next thing I want you to do is just to relax where ever you are and just breath When you feel as calm as can be I want you to close your eyes and just breath As you are doing this you may find that thoughts keep coming into your mind. What I want you to try and do is put these to one side When you are ready I want you to bring to your minds eye the individual that you believe to be assertive and almost see that person in front of you Imagine that you have a remote control and I want you to make the image that you have in front of you of the other person as clear and sharp as possible. Why not imagine turning up the colour and sound (if there is any). When you have done this I want you to step inside of the person that you have in your minds eye and become them How does that feel? I want you to really appreciate those feelings as you now become that assertive individual.
Ok when you are ready, I want you to become yourself again and open your eyes feeling relaxed and revitalised
So how did it feel to become that assertive individual? You can do this visualisation technique anytime to bring that those incredible feelings of being assertive.
5 – The assertive rampage This is a great simple technique that will not only put you in the mood to be more assertive, it will also change your current mood state for the better. I want you to read out the lines below three times and after each time, put a bit more effort, enthusiasm into it:
I am assertive
I love creating win –win situations
I am always assertive with everyone
I am never afraid to share my values, beliefs and opinions with others
I feel great when I am assertive
So how do you feel now? I am confident that with a bit of practice of the techniques above as well as some reflection about some of the keys points I have outlined here, I am sure that you will be more willing and able to become a more assertive individual! Good Luck!!