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Assertiveness: The Art of Getting Your Way Nicely

Assertiveness Training For The Non-Assertive

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“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Shakti Gawain taught us, “You create your opportunities by asking for them.” In this section of the book, I’m going to show you how you can become more assertive and more in control of your life.

We will concentrate on assertiveness training that will help you in your career and other types of social encounters. Non-assertive people encounter many difficulties when it comes to their business or careers. People grapple with the right words on the right situation and would not have any idea on how to fast track their climb in the corporate or business ladder.

The first part of the assertiveness training is geared towards showing you how to get control of yourself, how to be less shy, and become more expressive towards others. The second part of the training will show you how to influence others and how to have better understanding of other’s behavior towards you, particularly those that mistreat you or take advantage of you.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Assertiveness enables individuals to act in a bold and self-confident manner.” Whether it is on the job or at home, you are dealing with people. These people include customers, co-workers, supervisors, boss, doctors, dentists, nurses, repairmen, installers, teachers, principals, banker, etc. that you encounter on a regular basis. Lack of assertiveness can cause a number of problems, as you may have discovered.

Maybe you are tired of always saying “yes” to everyone and feeling resentful later. Maybe you are tired of everyone taking advantage of your good nature. Maybe you are just plain tired because nobody is listening to your opinions and thoughts, as if you are not even there.

If you identified with any of the above situations, there is a solution. The steps are easy to follow, but you will need to practice every day. Repetitions are necessary for you and for those you deal with on a regular basis.

Once you have mastered the basics of assertiveness, you will notice a difference right away. People will listen to you more closely, once you have grabbed their attention assertively. You will start to gain the respect you know you deserve. Best of all, you will feel better about yourself. You will feel less shy and confident about yourself and your abilities.

You will no longer fear confrontations and learn to say “no” with ease and without guilt. You will learn to stay calm, even when people are arguing with you. You will realize that you need not be rushed into making decisions. You will avoid agreeing to things you do not really want. With more confidence in your own assertiveness, your stress level will drop dramatically.

First of all, we will work on your self-confidence. Self-confidence is built by undergoing a series of experiences that affirm your self-worth. Every time you try something new, you gain a new experience and perspective in life. It does not matter if what you experienced resulted to failure, you will still come out as a winner as long as you learn something from it. Always keep in mind that a failure or mistake is temporary. For the experience to become useful, you must learn from it.

Everything that you will learn from this assertiveness training should be practiced every day, possibly with a supportive friend, until you feel comfortable with the responses. Only then will you be ready to jump out into the real world and experience the assertive you.

Next, we will work on your negative self-talk. It is important that you refrain from putting yourself down. You will meet enough people willing to do that for you! Instead, start focusing on what you can do and not what you think you cannot do.

As the new assertive you emerges, remember to keep your emotions in check. Being emotional will not help you in staying in control. You must remain calm at all times, especially if you want to be taken seriously in your encounters.

How do you do this? Realize that you have absolute control over your reaction. You can change and re-learn your reaction over your emotions. Let us try one exercise. This can help you relax before a stressful meeting. Imagine yourself in a happy and comfortable place. Others imagined themselves in a Zen-like garden, a room that evokes soothing atmosphere, in an open field, or in a nature scene. Breathe in deeply as you see yourself part of the whole atmosphere.

Exhale as you bask in the beauty of your surroundings. Breathe in through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth. Do this breathing exercise three times. You can also include meditation if you have sufficient time to enjoy the lasting effect.

If you have been in staying at home for too long or have limited contact with a variety of people, dealing with the outside world can sometimes be daunting. Career professionals may make you feel inferior, ignorant, or less than adequate. You can overcome these feelings with a little preparation.

Preparation is the key. The more prepared you are, the more in control you will feel, and the more confident you will be. Preparation means being aware of the particular situation that needs attention, knowing the person you need to talk to, and having an understanding of the message that you want to communicate. Writing it down will help ensure you cover every aspect and not miss a thing.

Having it on paper in front of you will help keep you focused on the issue and minimize confusion and flustered feelings. It will also help if you will anticipate any responses or objections and plan how to address concerns.

Part of the preparation is your overall projection. As trivial as it may seem at first but you have to plan what you are going to wear. Make sure it is appropriate for the occasion. They say that clothes do not make the person. However, knowing that you are dressed nicely and you look good will give you more confidence.

Keep in mind that you do not need to justify every opinion or statement you make. Never apologize for being yourself. Some people can easily sense if you try to mask the real you. This is a major turn-off for majority of the people.

Okay, so the script is ready and you are dressed to the “nines”. It is now time for a little dress rehearsal. Stand in front of a long mirror so you can see yourself clearly from head to toe.

While in front of the mirror, practice your body language. Stand straight. If this encounter is going to be in an office and you will be seated, pull a chair over to the mirror and practice how to gracefully sit down. Look straight and smile. Practice maintaining eye contact and look alert and interested. Do not frown, for you do not want to appear angry. You want to look determined, not daunting.

Watch your posture and remember to use easy gestures with your hands. Keep your voice intonation even. It is okay to sound determined, just do not overdo it. You should be passionate about the subject, but not emotional.

No matter how passionate you feel about the subject, keep your emotions in check all throughout the conversation. Negative emotions, such as anger, will only muddle the message that you are trying to communicate. The other party will end up confused and focused on your anger.

Make sure you have the right timing for setting up a meeting. Everyone should be relaxed and hopefully no one in a bad mood. Now practice what you are going to say in this encounter. Remember to use assertive language -- that is, use clear and powerful words. Assertiveness counselors call them “I” statements. Examples of this type of statements are: I think…I feel…I want…The way I see it…In my opinion…What I need is…

You will discover that individuals generally behave in one of three ways:

1. Non-Assertive

A distinct trait of these people is they automatically withdraw from an encounter. They deny their feelings only to wind up allowing others to make decisions for them, then feel guilty or resentful when it happens. They let themselves be trapped into doing things they do not want to do or go where they do not want to go. Later on, they get angry with themselves and the ones who led them to the trap.

They are good at putting themselves down. Even their language is non-assertive:

  • It doesn’t matter

  • Oh, that’s okay

  • I didn’t have a very good plan anyway, I’m sure yours is better.

2. Aggressive

These people have the tendency to over react to just about everything and are highly emotional. They tend to be domineering and controlling. If you will allow them, they would make decisions for you. They get hostile and defensive, making others feel hurt and humiliated. They will even resort to name calling, blaming, insults and sarcasm.

Their language reflects their aggressiveness:

  • We’ll do it my way

  • I don’t need to hear any more from you

  • You don’t even know what you’re talking about!

3. Assertive

These people are open and direct. They are usually good communicators and negotiators. It is no wonder that compromise comes easily to them. They are able to view both sides of a situation, but they won’t be made into doormats. They know what they want and they are not shy about letting you know. They are all about getting what they need and protecting their rights, but without stomping all over the other person’s feelings and rights.

As you can see, assertive behavior and responses allows you to get your point across the person, get what you need, and negotiate a good deal for yourself. You do not need to suffer through a hurtful relationship, attack someone else’s self-esteem, or make someone defensive in any way. You can even persuade difficult people more easily by remaining calm, laying out your points and reasons, and acknowledging their side as well.

As you stand in front of a mirror, practice what you want to say and anticipate probable responses. Practice will make you feel more comfortable and confident when you approach the person in a real meeting.

When you feel you are prepared, walk out of that comfort zone. Be confident in meeting that important person and put everything you have learned. Make sure you look sharp, stand up straight, shake his hand, and smile. Take a deep breath and start making your points.

Speak slowly and clearly. Do not mumble and dash through your prepared script. Your notes are just there to keep you focused and to help you remember important points. Do not just read it; let it be your guide to what you want to say.

Listen and graciously allow the other person to respond now and then. He may want to discuss certain points and negotiate with you about your needs. Hopefully, you will reach an agreement at the end of the meeting. If this is not the case, allow him time to think. He may need to consider all you have said before making a final decision. It is okay to give him time to think. Pushing him to make a snap decision could work against you.

If it goes as well as you had hoped, you will feel a sense of elation and excitement. If you achieved your goal, you should definitely celebrate. You stepped outside your comfort zone and did something you have never done before. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Your confidence level just jumped several points and you probably feel like you could take on the world.

When another time comes, allowing you to jump out of the comfort zone and display your newly acquired skills of assertiveness, remember this day and remind yourself, “I did it before and I can do it again.” The first time is always the most difficult and each succeeding time will get easier and easier.

Assertiveness In Times of Conflict

Another example of using assertiveness effectively is in the area of conflict and problem solving. This often happens in the office, since you are dealing with so many diverse personalities. There is bound to be some conflict at one time or another. This book can help you recognize the problem and resolve it peacefully and fairly. There are certain steps you must follow to successfully resolve a conflict with another co-worker.

  • If you have a problem with a co-worker, you should take it first to them in the hope of having a quick resolution. The problem could be as simple as a misunderstanding and a private chat could clear things up immediately.

  • Whatever you do, speak with that person privately; never criticize in public. Always praise in public and condemn in private. Humiliation will not help your cause. Speaking in private allows the other person to save face, especially if it is just a simple misunderstanding. The rest of the office need not know anything about it and you can lay it to rest quickly and with finality.

  • Try to speak to the person as soon as you encounter the problem. Problems left on their own and unresolved just grow bigger and bigger in the imagination. Go for a resolution as soon as you can.

  • Keep calm as you speak to the person and avoid getting defensive. At the same time, do not apologize for the issue you want to complain about.

  • Stick to the one issue that is bothering you. Do not begin by complaining that they always do something that is irritating or they never do something you think they should do. Focus on the complaint and do not deviate from that issue.

  • Before you decide to speak to the person about that complaint, ask yourself if it is something that can be changed. The saying goes, “Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and avoid the unacceptable.” Pick your battles. If it is a lost cause, move on. It is not worth beating your head against a brick wall.

  • Start by complimenting the person for something he accomplished in the past. Keep in mind that no one likes criticism. He will be more likely to step forward and solve the problem, if you show that you appreciate his hard work in other areas.

If it appears that you have a hand in the conflict, own up to it, and become a part of the resolution as well. This will do a lot towards cementing relations in a large office. Always take the high road; do the right thing. Compromise does not mean you are not being assertive, it just means you know how to play fair.

Assertiveness In Dealing With Negative People

Assertiveness will also help you deal with the people who constantly put you down. Instead of dealing with a problem and coming up with a resolution, they opt to insult and hurt your feelings.

Jules Feiffer calls these situations as “little murders” as these are intended to insult, humiliate or embarrass others. These people attack your self-confidence and your self-esteem. In the process, they “murder” what you have worked on so hard. Most of us just put up with these humiliating put-downs, but that only encourages them. We learned earlier that we teach people how to treat us, so we need to teach them that these “little murders” are painful, humiliating, and need to be stopped.

C. H. Spurgeon said, “Insults are like bad coins; we cannot help their being offered us, but we need not take them.”

Sometimes the only way to avoid these put-downs is to avoid those delivering them. Remove yourself from their presence. Assert yourself and tell them it is an unacceptable behavior, then leave. The barbs only work if you react and show them how upset you are.

Speak your mind, then leave. It leaves them with nothing; you have taken the wind from their sails. Eventually, they will learn that you cannot be drawn into their little insults any longer and they will lose interest in you.

So, you have learned how to:

• Grow more assertive, not aggressive.

• Adjust your behavior to get what you really, really want.

• Protect yourself and your rights.

• Say ‘no’ and not feel guilty afterwards; you can cure this disease to please.

• Be respected for your actions and decisions.

• Bring up assertive children and teach them to be strong.

• Teach people how to treat you.

What is left for you is to practice, practice, practice. Build up your self-confidence and self-esteem.

Use your mistakes to your advantage. They will teach you wisdom. “Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment,” said Rita Mae Brown.

Put all the knowledge and wisdom you have gained into your everyday life and see what happens. Still unconvinced of the benefits of asserting yourself? Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to me if I learn to be assertive?” Now ask yourself, “What’s the best thing that could happen to me if I learn to be assertive?”

Imagine yourself in the position of assertiveness. You have learned to stand up for yourself and people are no longer taking advantage of your good nature and willingness to help.

You have gained a brand new position of authority at work doing only your own work. Your spouse has a newfound respect for you. Even your kids are more respectful, since you taught them how to treat you. You are not being mean to anyone, just firm about how you intend to be treated from now on. Elbert Hubbard said, “To know when to be generous and when to be firm -- that is wisdom.”

Remember, being assertive is about standing up for yourself and your rights, but without stomping on the other person’s feelings and rights.

Your attitude, behavior, beliefs, and values are now in line with who you really are: an assertive, no-nonsense, action-oriented, take-charge kind of person!

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