Dr Eddie Column: Assertion is win-win

Over the weeks we have looked at the benefits of being assertive. I hope we have an understanding that being passive - where you lose and others win - is not good, for example having trouble saying no, even when you want to.

Over the weeks we have looked at the benefits of being assertive. I hope we have an understanding that being passive - where you lose and others win - is not good, for example having trouble saying no, even when you want to.

Being aggressive is not a good place either, as in when you have something to say but you lose your temper. Being assertive, where you win and others win, is a good result for all.

Unassertiveness can cause

Depression - From anger turned inward, a sense of being helpless, hopeless, with no control over your life.

Resentment - Anger at others for manipulating or taking advantage.

Frustration - How could I be such a wimp? Why did I let someone victimize me?

Temper or violence - If you can’t express anger appropriately, it builds up until it blows.

Avoidance. - If you avoid situations or people that make you uncomfortable, you may miss out on fun activities, job opportunities and relationships.

Poor relationships - Non-assertive people are often unable to express emotions of any kind, negative or positive. It’s destructive for a relationship. No one is a mind reader. The same is true for friends and work relationships.

Illness - Headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure. We all know what stress does to our bodies, and assertiveness is a great stress reliever.

Parenting problems - Kids are born knowing how to test the limits their parents set for them. If parents aren’t assertive, their kids may walk all over them.

A common situation

Mary is getting ready to go out. Pat is shouting at the door “hurry up”. Mary gets flustered and takes even more time. By the time Mary and Pat get into the car there is a row.

Assertive Mary says: “From now on, let’s be sure we know what time we want to leave, and if you’re ready before I am, will you please just go and watch TV? If you come into the bedroom or bathroom before it’s time to leave and start asking me to hurry up, I’m just going to remind you of the time, ask you to go and watch TV, and close the door until I’m ready. I bet we’ll enjoy our outings a lot more in the long run.”

Basic techniques

Empathy: Try to say something that shows your understanding of the other person’s feelings. This shows them that you’re not trying to pick a fight, and it takes the wind out of their sails. From the above example, Mary says “I know that you get annoyed when you’re all ready to go and I’m not….”

State problem: This describes your difficulty, tells why you need something to change. For example, “…but when you do that, I get all flustered and take even more time. By the time we get in the car, we’re mad at each other and not much in the mood to have a good time.”

State what you want: This is a specific request for a specific change in the other person’s behaviour. For example, “From now on, let’s be sure we know what time we want to leave, and if you’re ready before I am, will you please just go and watch TV?”

Body language: Face the other person, stand or sit straight, don’t use dismissive gestures, be sure you have a pleasant, but serious facial expression, keep your voice calm and soft, not whiney or abrasive.

Use “I” statements: Keep the focus on the problem you’re having, not on accusing the other person. “I’d like to be able to tell my stories without interruption.” instead of “You’re always interrupting my stories!”

Use facts, not judgements: “Did you know that shirt is dirty?” not “You’re not going out looking like THAT, are you?”

Express ownership of your thoughts and feelings. “I get angry when he breaks his promises.” instead of “He makes me angry.” or “I believe the best policy is to…” instead of “The only sensible thing is to …”

Make clear, direct, requests. Don’t invite the person to say no. “Will you please ... ?” instead of “Would you mind … ?”

Top 5 tips

1. Broken record: Just like a scratched record, keep repeating your point, using a low level, pleasant voice. Don’t get pulled into arguing or trying to explain, so you can ignore manipulation, baiting, and irrelevant logic.

2. Fogging: A way to deflect negative, manipulative criticism. You agree with some of the fact, but retain the right to choose your behaviour.

3. Shift from content to process: This means that you stop talking about the problem and bring up, instead, how the other person is behaving RIGHT NOW. Use it when someone’s not listening or trying to use humour or a distraction to avoid the issue.

“You’re getting off the point. I’m starting to feel frustrated because I feel you’re not listening.”

4. Defusing: Letting someone cool down before discussing an issue. “I can see that you’re upset, and I can even understand part of your reaction. Let’s talk about this later.”

5. Summarise: This helps to make sure you’re understanding the other person. “So what you’re trying to tell me is...”

Specify: It’s important to be clear about what you want. . “What I really want is that you pick your clothes off the floor.”

Final Thoughts

It can be scary to start being assertive. Try it first with people you don’t know. Think of someone you know who is assertive and pretend you are that person. Once you become comfortable in less threatening situations, you can crank it up a notch and use it all the time.

The nicest thing is that after you’ve become truly assertive, you probably won’t need to use these techniques very much. That little spark of self-respect, takes hold and bursts into flame. People can sense it when you respect yourself, and they will respect you. That is the ultimate goal of assertive communication.