Being More Assertive
Today's challenge in the 31 Days To A Less Stressful Life Challenge is to take some action to improve your assertiveness. The task is to:
- Identify an issue that you think would benefit from a little more assertiveness on your part;
- Take an assertive action on that issue today.
Some people have no problem with assertiveness — it comes naturally to them.
I have to confess that I seem to be wired to try and please people — which can sometimes interfere with being assertive. My drive to please means that I’ve had to learn how being more assertive protects me from taking on everyone’s problems and challenges.
Assertiveness, of course, is not the same as being aggressive. It’s totally possible to be assertive in a polite and friendly way.
One of the tests of your assertiveness is to ask yourself this question:
'When was the last time I said no to someone, without making either me or the other person feel bad about it?'
4 Steps To Being More Assertive
Psychologists recommend that you build assertiveness using these four steps.
How To Be More Assertive
Identify the situation which you’d like to change and then internally, recognise your right to suggest that a change is required.
For example, if your boss makes unreasonable demands on you, you will eventually become exhausted, angry or depressed. You have the right not to have unreasonable demands made of you and you it's OK to suggest that a change is needed.
The reason why so many people don't respond to situations like this is for fear of the consequences. Maybe you'll get fired, or perhaps your boss will think less of you? And so on.
Some of these fears may, in fact, be realistic.
If so, you're in a situation that isn't going to improve and your best course of action is probably to find a new job. Most commonly though, your situation is occurring through neglect rather than by design.
I don't recommend taking on a problem like this as your first experiment in being more assertive. The stakes are usually too high. It is far better to find a less challenging situation and try out your assertiveness skills on these. Some examples:
- You notice someone is using your milk in the office without asking you.
- The food you've ordered in the restaurant isn't hot enough.
- Your friend wants you to go somewhere you would rather not.
- You've been working on a problem but you're stuck and now you need to ask for help.
Rehearsing assertiveness takes the potential sting out of situations that you would otherwise grudgingly accept. As David Allen reminds us, when it comes to problems:
'You can deal with them when they show up or when they blow up' — David Allen
Decide how to present your request. Describe the situation that’s bothering you. Now isn’t the time to personalise the issue by making assumptions about why this issue is happening. You’re being an objective observer — you can't know with any certainty the motivation for someone's behaviour without asking them. So, to your unreasonable boss you might say:
'I noticed that you’ve asked me to do X'.
Then you tell the person how that makes you feel, using the ‘I’ word to demonstrate that you’re taking responsibility for your feelings. It might help to explain why you feel this way. You don’t need to apologise and you should feel confident because you’re just being honest and objective.
'When you ask me to do X it makes me feel anxious because I’m not sure I’m going to have time to do everything as well as you or I want'.
Say what changes you’d like to see happen. The key here is to be reasonable and to be prepared to negotiate if necessary.
'I’d like to suggest that I postpone doing X until I’ve cleared my other priorities. If that’s not possible I’d like to discuss re-ordering my priorities to accommodate this request'.
I had to learn how to do this with a particularly thoughtless superior early in my career. I didn’t jump straight into a face-off with my boss though — I experimented with some different assertiveness techniques first. That's why Step 4 is so important.
Practice assertiveness. Practice using the 4 Steps until you get the hang of it and managing an assertive discussion is no longer a problem.
What was surprising was when I did finally pluck up the courage to have the conversation with my thoughtless boss, was that it went surprisingly well. Not only did my boss understand my concern, it was clear that she’d also lost sight of all the tasks I was working on. It led to a series of further discussions about how I could help her more effectively and our relationship never looked back.
The alternative would have meant long hours, in an anxious and miserable state of mind, delivering work outputs that were average at best. Lose-lose.
So, for today’s challenge, pick something low-key that you think you could be more assertive about. If you've not practised being assertive much, then I wouldn't pick a 'do-or-die' type issue as your first experiment. Choose something a bit less risky and try out the four-step technique.
Work your way through how you would tackle the issue you want to change.
There’s plenty of additional reading you can do on assertiveness. Here are some useful links.
Doing some additional training is often very helpful for people who struggle with being assertive. Here are some useful links for you to explore.
I’d be fascinated to hear about how you get on. What issue do you want to be more assertive about?
How did you get on? Share your experience to encourage others to tackle their issues too.
Other Posts In This Series
- Day 0: Introduction
- Day 1: Are You Ready To Face Up To The Challenge?
- Day 2: How To Accurately Identify Your Stress Signals
- Day 3: The Best Way To Deal With Feeling Overwhelmed