Assertiveness takes some practice
Sweet talk. When we want something, it’s easy to reach for the butter and spread it on thick.
Often, we don’t actually ask for what we want. Instead, we pussyfoot around it, leaving hints and clues to what we’re after, hoping the other person will pick up on our subtlety and magically deliver the goods.
Except people aren’t mind readers. What is obvious to us may be completely misinterpreted by others, or overlooked all together. I once flashed a fella my best “come hither” look, and he responded, “What’s wrong, you look in pain?” My bedroom eyes were mistaken for trapped wind ... great.
That shining example aside, when we don’t have the courage to speak our truth or ask for what we want, when we want it, hard feelings can arise. We might think the other person is ignoring us, not listening, being unfair, or any number of misconstructions when, in fact, they simply have no idea what’s going on for us. Resentment can build until it erupts, often in a fit of aggression — the telltale signs of which I detailed here last week.
Once again we see how passiveness and aggression loop together and ultimately serve no one. We might think that passivity is being polite or demure but not when it doesn’t get us what we were looking for, and all we get is mad: lose/win. Meanwhile, bullying our way to success just makes others mad: win/lose.
Assertiveness, however, is about communicating clearly and directly with someone whilst concentrating on developing and maintaining our relationship with them, aiming for a win/win result from our communication.
When we take responsibility for our own behaviour and feel confident about what we are saying and asking for, others know where they stand with us.
When we seek collaborative solutions that meet everyone’s needs and gather more information about any situation, others engage more fully, feel more able to talk about what’s going on, feel empowered, take more personal responsibility and issues get resolved. Sounds good, right?
Assertiveness is less of the “I want. I think it should be like this ... You should do that …” of aggressive communication. And it cuts out all the long-winded, “maybe, perhaps, sorry, could you … I always get it wrong” waffle of passivity. It sounds more like, “What do you think? Tell me more about that. How do you feel about …? Have you considered …? I would like some time to think about this.”
Assertiveness involves active listening and curiosity about how others are viewing the world, and how that view is impacting their choices and decisions, then finding common ground with your own views. It uses short, clear sentences and lots of open questions in an even tone that is sincere and genuinely interested in the other person. The body language is open and upright with reassuring, but not overbearing, eye contact. Assertive people smile when they are pleased and frown when angry.
Yes, it is OK to be angry. Anger is healthy emotion when expressed assertively with emotion and reason. “I feel hurt because … I am annoyed when …” A far cry from the aggressive, “You make me so mad! You are so INFURIATING!’ What? Who? Me? Is that how I said it? Sorry, screamed it?”
Assertiveness takes some practice. Especially if we have been conditioned by a lifetime of reacting in lesser ways. It starts with the core beliefs that:
• We all perceive things in unique and valid ways.
• The meaning of our communication is the response we get.
• We can maintain our relationships while solving our issues together and voicing what we are hoping for.
If you’d like to work on your assertive communication skills, get in touch. Will being assertive magically get us everything we want? No, not exactly. But it will get us heard — which is something we all need — and it will open the doorways to achieving our goals, together.
• Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com.</i>