Last week we uncovered three boundaries relevant to us using the technique of self-reflection. In order for us to communicate our boundaries effectively we first need to become assertive. When we act assertively we protect our boundaries and prevent others from taking advantage of us.
Generally those of us that are passive confuse assertiveness for aggression. In truth, there is a wide gap between assertive and aggressive behavior. Aggressiveness violates others boundaries and, in contrast, assertiveness sets out to respect others boundaries whilst also protecting our own personal needs.
There are four essential points to assertive communication. The first is to acknowledge what the other person has said. This helps them feel understood and makes them more receptive to what you have to say. For example, you could start using statements like ‘I understand you think…’ or ‘ I understand you believe…’.
The second is to state the facts surrounding the situation. When doing this, it is important that all divisive and biased language is avoided. Likewise, it is crucial to stick to very neutral and simple language which states an accurate portrayal of the facts. For example, ‘you have given me two days notice and I have already made plans’.
The third point is to state what impact the situation has had on you. This could be something like ‘I find your request inconsiderate and that has made me annoyed’, for example. Notice how I avoided words such as very and really in this example? As always, it is critical to avoid divisive language which could encourage the other person to become defensive. Naturally, the statement of impact will be different according to the impact it has had upon you personally.
Initially, the idea of stating the impact a situation has had upon you may make you nervous. If this is the case, start with asserting small boundaries that have only had a minor impact upon you and work your way up to stating larger boundaries which have had a major impact.
The fourth point to remember is to ask for what you want. When asking for what you want it is critical to make your request reasonable, as then it is most likely to be considered and taken seriously. For example ‘I will need more notice in future’.
To give a more comprehensive idea of what it is to be assertive I shall give you a more in-depth example and contrast it with possible passive and aggressive responses. Let’s say my friend wanted me to dog sit for her whilst she was away on holiday and only gave me two days notice. When she asked me I had already made plans for that week that were important to me.
A passive response in this situation might be “I have some plans but it’s ok, I’ll cancel them and dog sit for you.” This silently communicates my plans are less important than my friends – which is not the case as my plans are important to me – and so this response should be avoided.
In contrast an aggressive response may be “How on earth can you ask that of me? I’ve already made plans! There’s no way I can help you.” An assertive response neither invades my friends boundaries by attacking her, nor fails to take my boundaries and needs into account.
With this in mind, an assertive response might be “I understand you want me to dog sit however you have given me two days notice and I’ve already made plans for this week. I find your request inconsiderate and that has made me annoyed. If I have two weeks notice I might be able to dog sit for you in future, but it depends on how busy that week is and how I am feeling. I wouldn’t be able to make any guarantees at the moment.” Did you notice how the assertive response was not only honest but respectful too?
Contrary to popular belief, being assertive is not about winning, it is about both parties feeling understood and valued and reaching an acceptable compromise. Sadly, others may not share your desire to understand the other person or to reach a compromise, choosing rather to ignore you and refusing to back down. If we anticipate a negative response there are more assertive techniques we can use. These are all designed to keep the conversation assertive when the other person may respond in a non-assertive way. Next week we will examine these more advanced techniques in more depth, stay tuned!
Are you mainly passive, aggressive or assertive? Is there a specific area of your life where you are more passive when compared to other areas of your life? (I’m more passive in the workplace, for example.) Have you ever used the four principles of asserting yourself without realizing? What has been your experience of asserting yourself in the past? Please comment and share your experiences with our community to gain insight, encouragement and support.
- Choose one of the boundaries you discovered from self reflection last week and using this week’s entry as a guideline write down how you would acknowledge what the person had said.
- Write down how you would state the facts about the situation.
- Write down how you would state the impact the situation has had on you.
- Write down how you would state what you want.
‘A Woman In Your Own Right: Assertiveness and You’ by Anne Dickson, available on Amazon