Assertiveness is a helpful skill in life, yet most people do not have it. They do not have it because they could not learn it at home or from anyone else except professionals. You see, the people who teach assertiveness must be very confident and not afraid that you might use assertiveness with them, and these people are hard to find.
I learned about assertiveness as part of my emotional intelligence studies and had a chance to practice with professional help. Assertiveness exists in the delicate space between what we need and want and what others need and want.
Am I assertive all the time? No, not really. Sometimes, I choose avoidance or aggression, and every time I use them, I feel uncomfortable. They either hurt me or others, which is not very good. Still, I aim to use assertiveness in my communication with others and most of the time, I do.
Assertiveness requires confidence to express your own thoughts and feeling without fear and without the need, desire or intention to hurt anyone else. It is important to distinguish between having the intention to hurt and actually hurting someone else.
Let’s say someone asks you to lend them some money and you say, “Sorry, I can’t give you that money”. This is an assertive way of responding, because you are true to your position and you state it without judgment. You express your own thoughts without justification and without explanation. All good! At the same time, the other person needs the money and is hurt by your decision not to give it, but that is the other person’s problem, not yours!
Here are some examples of alternative responses to the same request. Let’s examine which ones are assertive and which are not:
- “What an outrageous request for me to give you money” – Not assertive, because it contains judgment
- “I can’t give you money because you still owe me / I don’t have it / you don’t deserve it / I need it to fix my car – Not assertive, because it contains justification
- “I won’t give you the money. I have a rule that I don’t mix money with friends/family” – Assertive, because you state your rule as it is and stick to your own standards
- “Do you think I am stupid to give you money when you spend it on…?” – Not assertive, because it contains judgment
- “I can’t give you the money, because I have other plans for it” – Assertive, because you did not provide the details of your plans for the money. It is also honest, because it is always true
If others feel hurt because you did not meet their expectations, that may still be assertive. Remember, you share your own thoughts, feelings and needs and you say nothing about them. If they feel hurt, it is their choice. Often, if they feel hurt when you do something to serve your own interest, it means the request was manipulative and their feeling is meant to put pressure on you.
The best way to be confident about yourself is to live up to your own standards. In order to do this, you have to know what your standards are. A good activity I do with many of my clients is taking stock of their beliefs and assessing whether each one of them is good and how strong it is.
If you have good, strong beliefs, it is easy to be assertive about them. The more confident you feel about your own beliefs, the less you need others to share them.
There is a poem, written by Kent M. Keith in 1968 as part of a booklet for student leaders, and later changed by Mother Teresa. I have it hanging on my walls, in the toilet and in each of my kid’s albums. I love it and call it “the assertiveness poem”, because it teaches how to develop your own standards of living.
Do it anyway – Mother Teresa
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
Again, it is a good idea to pay attention to your own thoughts, feelings and beliefs, to strengthen the beliefs, actions and thoughts that are good for you and to eliminate those that do not serve you. This is a process best done by yourself or with a help of a professional with no personal interests.
This week, I shared with my clients several stories from my life when I followed my own standards of honesty, job ethic, friendship or other values, expressed them assertively and confidently and felt very good about myself, even though there was pressure for me to do something else and others did not agree with me. Think about your own life and find similar events to inspire yourself.
Here is a list of assertive expressions you can use in different situations. Remember, you state your position without saying anything bad about others and that’s it. No details, no explanations, no justifying and no judgment.
- “Thanks, I have other plans”
- “I understand”
- “I need time to think about it”
- “Let me get back to you on this”
- “I need to check my timetable”
- “I accept that this is your opinion”
- “I prefer it this way”
- “It is what I chose to do. I am happy with my choice”
- “Can you please…” and accept their right to say “no”
- “I would prefer it if…” and accept their right to prefer something else
- “Thank you, I am not interested”
- “I need time to myself now”
- “I will pass on this one”
- “I can’t make it this time”
- “This is not my thing”
- “I would like to hear everyone’s opinion”
- “I have a rule… e.g. to have dinner with my family, so I will join you after dinner” – No one will argue with this!
- “I have a policy… e.g. of lending new books only after the previous ones have been returned”
- “I would like to…”
- “I am not comfortable with this”
- “I think…”
- “In my opinion…”
- “I believe that…”
- “I appreciate…”
- “I like…”
- “I see it differently”
- “My suggestion is…”
- “In my personal experience…”
- “This worked for me”
- “I see what you mean”
- “I get your logic about this”
The number of assertive expressions is small and if you practice them, you will become more confident using them. Some of my clients change their lives by using only 3 of them. Start with a few that you feel comfortable with and practice saying them aloud to hear them in your own voice again and again.
Join me next week for a post about your rights in communication and how to stand up for them, because if you do not stand up to your own rights, no one will.