Are you able to have difficult or honest conversations in a calm manner or tell someone what you want or need from them? Being assertive isn’t the same as being aggressive — it requires confidence, openness and a win-win approach says trainer Jodi Goldman.
How assertive are you?
We asked the everywomanNetwork how they would react if the boss asked them to stay late to produce something they could have asked for ages ago. Here’s how our members responded.
If your boss asks you to stay late to do something that they could have asked for ages ago, do you...
Apologise and tell them you have plans you can’t change
Say ‘yes’ and be secretly mad about it
Say ‘no’ and tell them they should have asked earlier
Just stay and do it — it’s best not to rock the boat
Where would you benchmark yourself? It’s pretty easy to spot the ‘assertive’ response to among the options here. Even if that would be your honest response, you can probably think of examples where your reaction has been more aggressive, passive aggressive or accommodating — most of us have.
So let’s look a look closer at those three ways of (mis)communicating...
Aggressive communication: I'm okay, you're not okay.
You’re confident in what you believe, your right to believe it and in telling others what you believe. You’re not open to what others think or their wants or needs.
Passive-aggressive communication: I'm not okay, you're not okay.
You’re not confident in what you think, feel, need or want, or in sharing it, perhaps worrying about how someone might react? In this lose-lose situation you don't get what you want, and you create an undesirable environment for the other person.
Accommodating: I must be wrong; you must be right.
You’re not confident in what you think or feel but are too open to what other people think and feel. This comes from a lack of confidence in yourself, and a ‘parent-child’ like reverence for the other person(s).
The magic of being assertive… ‘I’m okay, you're okay’.
Assertiveness is having confidence in what you think and feel and need — and confidence in sharing it.
With an assertive mindset you are clear that: ‘it's okay for me to think this and okay for you to have your opinion. I am allowed to protect my boundaries, and you have every right to yours, but this is what I need and want.’
‘When we choose to say ‘yes’ to something or to say ‘no’ to something and we do that calmly and confidently we are being assertive,’ says Jodie.
‘Being assertive is also contextual and situational. We can often find it easier to be assertive with certain people, strangers perhaps, or our family, and harder to be assertive with others such as our boss for instance.’
Nevertheless, being assertive is a powerful skill to practice in order to live authentically and with real self-confidence.
In order to communicate your needs and wants and respect your own boundaries you need to remember to:
1. Watch your mindset.
Remember the mantra, ‘I’m okay, you're okay’, and consider how you can approach a situation in an open way. You don't need for somebody else to be wrong to win — you can get what you want without others needing to know that they didn't do it right or that it wasn't how you would do it.
2. Let the body help
If your arms are folded in a defensive pose, your mindset will automatically shift into fight or flight. This will result in passive-aggressive, accommodating or aggressive responses. Open your arms and take a deep breath; relaxing your diaphragm automatically relaxes your nervous system and turns off the ‘fight or flight’ response.
3. Use ‘I’
Using ‘I’ is assertive phasing — ‘You shouldn't ask me to do X, Y, Z’ or ‘You could have asked me earlier’ is aggressive or passive aggressive, whereas ‘I’d appreciate it if you asked me earlier in future’ is the same message, but from an assertive mindset of openness and control.
4. Stop using ‘always’ and ‘never’
Using language like this will usually result in aggressive or passive aggressive responses. For more open flow, rephrase your observations with less finality, for example — ‘You sometimes do X and when you do I feel like Y’.
5. Get comfortable with uncomfortable
It is not your responsibility to make somebody else feel comfortable when you're coming at something from the ‘adult’ mindset of ‘I'm okay, you're okay’. You may be saying something about your needs that might be uncomfortable for the other person, but it's up to them how they take it.
6. Respond rather than react
When we pause before we say anything, we go back to our breath, body language, and remember that what other people think, feel or need is not in our control. The only thing in your control is how you show up and the energy you bring to an interaction.