The reason we've been asked this is that assertiveness training has been around for some time, and people wonder if this art of saying no business isn't just more of the same. We believe the very term 'assertiveness' is limiting. For instance, people say you should be assertive rather than aggressive as if assertiveness is the only way to deal with a difficult situation.
It isn't. If you are being attacked or abused, then aggressively fighting back may well be an appropriate thing to do. The key word here is appropriate. So yes, aggressiveness may be appropriate, assertiveness may be appropriate, but there's a greater range of choice of behaviour than those two types that could be equally appropriate.
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Before we discuss them, though, we want to talk about some of the things that happen to people when what they think and feel is different from what they do. Many 'unassertive' people recognise that their pattern of behaviour is to be nice or compliant for far longer than they really want to until they reach the point of no longer being able to hold it in; then they explode nastily and inappropriately all over whoever happens to be around. There are three ways this 'explosion' can happen. The first is that the rage happens inside the head and remains unexpressed. The second is that it is inappropriately expressed, and someone not involved, like a work colleague or secretary or even a bus conductor, becomes the recipient.
The third is properly directed at the 'offending party' but is out of all proportion to the probably small, but nonetheless final-straw-event that unleashes it. This leaves people with the impression that there are only two states or behaviours they can do: Nice or Nasty. When, in fact, they have forgotten a whole range of behaviour that lies between Nice and Nasty that can be termed Not-Nice or even Not-Nasty.
What we've seen with assertiveness, is that it is often seen as a single form of behaviour: just say no, stand your ground, be a broken record - all quite difficult if you are truly unassertive, or in our jargon - simply too nice for your own good. The concept of asserting yourself, getting your voice heard, being understood, being taken into account, getting your own way needs to be broadened to include all forms of behaviour.
It can include humour, submission, irresponsibility, manipulation, playfulness, aggressiveness, etc. The key point here is that the behaviour - nice, not-nice, nasty - is chosen. We emphasise the word key because until people are able to choose behaviour that's free from the limiting effects of their fear of possible consequences, they will not be able to act no matter how well they are taught to be assertive. They will still feel overwhelmed in difficult situations. It needs to be acknowledged that the strong feelings associated with changing behaviour are real and valid.
Once people do that, then these usually difficult feelings can be looked upon as a good thing, a sign that something new is happening. At this point, people can start to 'choose' to have these feelings rather than having to endure them or trying to pretend they are not happening. The idea of choice is very important. If people feel they have a real choice about how they behave, they start to realise that it can be OK to put up with something they don't like.
They can choose it because they want to; it is to their advantage. They then avoid the disempowering tyranny of always having to assert themselves. Which is almost as bad as the feeling you always have to be compliant or nice. Many people think that in order to be assertive, you need to ignore what you are feeling and just 'stand your ground'. In fact, you ignore those feelings at your peril.
Often the magnitude of peoples' feelings is way out of proportion to what the situation warrants. They may well reflect a previous difficult event more accurately. But because that previous difficulty was so difficult, it feels as though every similar situation will be the same. It is only by beginning to experience and understand how crippling these feelings can be that people can start to do anything about changing their behaviour. Many people know what they could say; they know what they could do.
Most 'unassertive' people have conversations in their heads about how to resolve a conflict they're in; but still, their mouths say 'yes', while their heads say 'no'. Knowing what to do or say is not the issue here. Therefore, in looking at practising 'the art of saying no', it is wise to broaden the brief to so that it isn't about becoming more assertive; rather it's about changing your behaviour to fit the circumstances. While in many circumstances assertiveness can be a straightjacket of its own often creating resistance and resentment , the full lexicon of behaviour can be freeing, because there is a choice in the matter.
Using charm, humour, telling the truth or even deliberate manipulation, may well get you what you want without having to attempt behaviour that may go against your personality. If you add a dash of fun or mischief, The Art of Saying No becomes a doable prospect, rather than another difficult mountain to climb. If you're saying something serious, notice whether you smile or not. Smiling gives a mixed message and weakens the impact of what you're saying. If someone comes over to your desk and you want to appear more in charge, stand up.
This also works when you're on the phone. Standing puts you on even eye level and creates a psychological advantage. If someone sits down and starts talking to you about what they want, avoid encouraging body languages, such as nods and ahas. Keep your body language as still as possible. Avoid asking questions that would indicate you're interested such as, 'When do you need it by? It's all right to interrupt!
A favourite technique of ours is to say something along the lines of, 'I'm really sorry; I'm going to interrupt you. If you let someone have their whole say without interrupting, they could get the impression you're interested and willing. All the while they get no message to the contrary, they will think you're on board with their plan to get you to do whatever As soon as you see someone bearing down on you and your heart sinks because you know they're going to ask for something , let them know you know: 'Hi there!
I know what you want. You're going to ask me to finish the Henderson report. Wish I could help you out, but I just can't. Pre-empt two. Meetings are a great place to get landed with work you don't want.
Developing Your Assertiveness Skills
You can see it coming. So to avoid the inevitable, pre-empt, 'I need to let everyone know right at the top, that I can't fit anything else into my schedule for the next two weeks or whatever. Any of these little tips can help you feel more confident and will support your new behaviour.
Below is the table detailing where people usually have problems with healthy assertiveness. In the next step, what you can do is to practice transferring your healthy assertiveness from one area to other areas where you have problems being assertive. You can model your assertiveness best in order to use it in all the life situations that require assertiveness.
The best way to achieve that is with practice. The best way to become more assertive is to practice assertiveness. A great example is advice for guys to become more assertive in dating. The most common advice is to start small with self-exposure. Exposure therapy is a very popular cognitive-behavioral treatment for anxiety disorders.
As you begin to face your fears, your anxiety naturally decreases during exposure. A very important part of this step is to work on your communication skills. How you communicate your needs does matter a lot.
Health, Brain & Neuroscience
Many times, we assume that other people know our needs, that they can read our minds. You can often be misunderstood as well. Good communication skills come with healthy assertiveness and vice versa. As we said, under-assertiveness is often based on guilt and shame, and over-assertiveness is based on need inflation and escalation. Guilt and shame are especially sneaky emotions. The purpose of guilt is to meet your moral standard.
But false guilt, with an overly strong superego, is always looking for people to please and rules to keep. Shame is even worse. With strong feelings of shame, it often even comes to emotional substitution, and you prefer to feel anger with other people rather than shame with yourself.
Deborah Dalley & Associates » Developing Your Assertiveness Skills
If you are a very angry person, you probably have strong issues with shame. When practicing self-exposure before doing an assertive act, you will probably feel fear and doubt. But fears are the compass for where you need to grow in life, and doubt kills more dreams than failure or rejection ever will. With fear and doubt, you are constantly caught in an emotional cage.
So expose yourself to the point where fear and doubt are still manageable. You must get yourself out of the comfort zone into the learning zone, not the panic zone.
And after doing an assertive act, you will probably feel shame or guilt. There are two things you can do. First, with every small exposure, you will feel less fear, doubt, shame or guilt. Thus, be patient and persistent and give yourself a tap on your back every time you expose yourself and show your vulnerability.
Even more importantly, feeling shame or guilt is an excellent opportunity for self-reflection and healthy self-talk. If you find that the feelings of shame, guilt or fear are too strong, you might even decide to enter a professional therapy. But if feelings of shame, guilt or even greed are too strong, absolutely get professional help. Your assertiveness is expressed not only with words, but even more so with your body language. That means that by improving your body language, you can also improve your assertiveness. As you probably know, your inner state and body language are closely connected.
You can always practice body language in the mirror or with your close friends. Model people you admire. Read articles on body language. Improving your body language will have a great positive impact on your assertiveness. In sports, if you're too aggressive towards your body, you get injured. There is a basic, primal trust in yourself and life on the emotional level that you can only develop in your youth or over time with hard work on yourself in the adult age; and then we also have the trust that comes from mastering a specific skill.
When it comes to assertiveness, social skills are the ones you need. The basic rule is that any skill can be developed. Logically, you can become more assertive by developing your social skills. The abundance mindset can also help you a lot with healthy assertiveness. Today we live in the best times ever, where your needs can be met in thousands of different ways. You can connect with so many people, choose so many different hobbies, there are so many ways of making money, and so on.
Thus, most of the time there is no need for you to be in a huge conflict after all. The opposite of the abundance mindset are the scarcity mindset and oneitis.