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Assertiveness Training

Do you ever feel that you are being taken advantage of, walked on, abused?  Would you like to learn how to feel better about yourself and maybe even get your way sometimes?

Being assertive is about standing up for yourself.  It's about expressing your thoughts, your feelings and your needs.  If we look at behavior on a continuum: assertive behavior sits in between being passive and being aggressive.

There are plenty of times in your daily life that assertive skills can come in handy.  You'll use these skills at home, at work, with friends, with family and with your significant other.  When should you not be assertive?  Well, if a police officer is giving you a ticket, I'd advise you to just sit back and take it - don't practice your assertiveness skills in that situation, being passive may be called for.  When should you you be aggressive?  Well, possibly when you are physically threatened, but usually I think it's better to just get out of there!

You might find that you are pretty assertive in some situations, that there are other times when you are passive, and still others when you are aggressive.  This mini lesson will help you to improve in the areas that you are weaker in.  Take notice of how you act at work, with your parents, etc.  You might note differences.  Lots of people have a tendency to act like they are five years old when they are with their parents, or with their siblings, yet are perfectly assertive with coworkers. Take an inventory of your behavior in all your interpersonal relations and then get to work on being more assertive where appropriate.

We can all learn to be assertive.  Most of us weren't born with these skills.

Let's look at where some of our passive behavior comes from. You may have learned to be somewhat passive. Maybe you were told to be seen and not heard, or that it's selfish to ask for what you want in life.  Perhaps you consider it rude or disrespectful to say "no" to people when they ask you to do something or go somewhere.  Maybe you don't know how to set limits.  You let people make decisions for you and take advantage of you.  Is this what you want to be doing?

Maybe you  don't readily express your opinions, you go along if someone asks you to go somewhere (even if you don't want to) and you most likely end up regretting that you did, but you don't know what else to do.  You are definitely not in control of your life.

On the other hand if you use the aggressive style, you are able to speak up for yourself, but at the expense of others' feelings.  You blame others, you make them feel guilty, etc.  In the end you make others resent you and you end up losing.

An assertive person expresses his or her thoughts, feelings and needs directly, while taking into account the rights and feelings of others.  You are able to say "yes" or "no" to the offers of others.  You are able to accept rejection of your offers without taking them personally.  You state your desires, but don't necessarily get what you want.  Being assertive doesn't guarantee that you get what you ask for, but you have the satisfaction of having asked, and having made yourself clear.

Let's talk about some of your basic rights as a person:

  • You have a right to say "no".
  • You have the right to say "I don't know".
  • You have the right to say "I don't care".
  • It's ok to put your own feelings, thoughts and needs first.  In other words it's not necessarily selfish to think of yourself first.
  • You're allowed to make mistakes.
  • You're allowed to change your mind.  It's not always best to stick with a plan, a relationship, etc.  Live and learn.
  • Your feelings matter.  In your childhood perhaps you were taught that your feelings were wrong so now you don't trust yourself.  Your feelings are telling you something.  They were put there to help you.  Pay attention to them.
  • You're allowed to have your own opinions.  You don't have to agree with others, even authority figures.
  • You have a right to be alone sometimes.
  • It's ok to interrupt others sometimes.  You might need a question answered or something.
  • It's ok to ask for change (and I don't mean nickels, dimes and quarters).
  • It's ok to ask for help or support.  You don't have to do it all alone.  You're not necessarily bothering other people if you ask for help.  It's ok to let others know that you are in pain.
  • You don't have to take the advice of others.
  • It's ok to want some recognition for your achievements and good work.  It's not necessarily showing off.
  • You don't have to justify your decisions to others.
  • You have the right to make decisions which seem illogical to others.
  • You are not responsible for other people's problems.  You don't have to take responsibility for them.
  • You don't have to read minds.  You don't have to be able to know what other people want.  They need to tell you.
  • You don't always have to respond to other people's questions. Just because someone asks you a question, doesn't mean you have ot answer it.

Being assertive means making yourself and your opinions known.  There's no pussyfooting around.

Let's say you want to go to a movie with a friend.  A passive statement might be something like:  "Hey dude, I heard that new Julia Roberts movie is really good, it's playing at the AMC."  You want to go, but you don't exactly say so.  If you are lucky your friend might follow up with "Yeah, let's go."  If you aren't, your friend might just say, "Yeah."  You didn't make your feelings and wants known.  You just sort of passively hinted around.

An assertive person would say something like:  "Hey man, I heard that the Julia Roberts movie is really good.  I'd like to see it.  Would you like to go see it this afternoon?"

An assertive statement states your opinion on something, your feelings about it and your needs or desires or wants related to it.

It does this without putting blame on someone else or making the other person feel like they have to comply or they are a jerk.  It's about you and what you think and want.

State what you think and what you want.  Then the other person can make an informed choice.  They can say yes or no to your request, but at least they know that you are making one!  There's no confusion about whether or not you asked them to go.  You know, in the first example above the guy might have thought that he asked his friend to go to the movie, when in fact he never did.  Some guys think that they've been rejected by a  girl for a date, when they never really asked.  Be direct.  Be assertive.

Special assertive techniques:

Responding to Criticism using Negative Assertion

If the criticism is right:  Acknowledge it. - "Yes, I do have bad spelling, "  "Yes, that chicken was burnt."

Don't automatically apologize.  Don't make excuses.  Don't get defensive.  Think about the situation and decide if you want to apologize.  You might need to in order to save your job, but in other situations you might not owe the other person an apology.  You might have made an honest mistake.  You are human.  This technique disarms your critic making him or her less angry and less hostile.  It's a good way to avoid fueling the fire of an argument.

If someone is criticizing you and part of what they say is true, but part is mostly trying to put you down or manipulate you-- use Clouding.  Clouding is done in three ways:

1. Agree with the part that is right and ignore the rest.   For example: if someone says "you watch too much TV, you are going to miss out on so many things in life."  You might say, "Yes, I do watch too much TV."

2.  Agree in probability: "Yeah, perhaps (or "it could be" ,"it's possible that") I do watch too much TV"  , or...

3. Agree in principle: "Yeah, if I do watch too much TV, I will miss out on life".  In this last one, you are agreeing with the principal, but not that you are doing it. This strategy disarms the critic and may end the conversation.  It works way better than the passive or aggressive strategies.

You can also use Probing.

If you don't know if the criticism is constructive or manipulative, or if you need more info--  Use this one: Ask "What is it about my... that bothers you?"  Example: "What is it about my TV watching that bothers you?"

This will help the person explain more about their feelings.  You can then respond with either acknowledgment, clouding, or more probing.

My favorite assertive technique:

The Broken Record

For those of you who don't remember records, they look like big black CD's.  They used to skip when they got scratched.  They would repeat the same words over and over.  Hence the name of this technique.

To use this one you have to know what you want.

You use this when you want to say "no" to someone, and they don't want to take "no" for an answer.

For example.  Let's say a friend invites you over to their home to watch a TV program.  You have other plans or just plain don't want to go.  You know that this person is going to try to change your mind!

1.  Decide what you want to do.
2.  Make up a one sentence statement about it.  Don't get into excuses or explanations. These just give the other person ammunition and loop holes for trying to manipulate your decision.  Don't say "I can't."  It's better to say "I don't want to."  Of course if you wanted to you could, couldn't you? The other person knows this and will use it.
3.  Repeat your message as many times as necessary.
4. Don't get sidetracked by the other person's requests or statements.  It is ok to acknowledge what they are saying: such as "I hear you saying that... but - repeat your statement here."

K:    "I'm having a girl's night of watching Providence.  I know you have better things to do, but please come over."

D:    "No thanks.  I'd rather make plans with you to do something else another time.  I don't watch Providence."

K:     "You never want to come over."

D:    "No thanks.  I'd rather make plans with you to do something else another time.  I don't watch Providence."

K:    "I don't think you want to be my friend anymore.  You always have other plans."

D:    "I'd rather make plans with you to do something else another time.  I don't watch Providence."

K:      But, it's important to me for you to be there.  It's gonna be fun."

D:      "I appreciate that it's important to you that I be there, but-- No thanks.  I'd rather make plans with you to do something else another time.  I don't watch Providence."

This may sound robotic and inhumane, but the fact is that K is the one who is being rude.  D has a right to refuse an offer without being manipulated.  D has a right to say "no", and K needs to respect this, and not take it personally.

You can also offer a compromise.

D:    "How about if we make plans to get together next week?"

Never offer a compromise that would damage your self worth or self-respect, that's not what compromising is about.  A workable compromise is one where both people get their needs met.  For example: If you want to eat mexican food and your friend wants chinese food, you decide to have one tonight, and the other the next time you go out.

There are many other assertiveness techniques that you can learn.
The basic principals remain the same.  State clearly want you think, feel, and want.
Remember, this does not guarantee that your request will be granted.
Being assertive isn't about always getting what you want.  It's about clear communication and taking good care of yourself.

For an appointment with Dr. Helen, call 310/393-8783

This article was prepared using a book titled

Messages : The Communication Skills Book by Mckay, Davis and Fanning.

Many other books on Assertiveness are Available Including:

Your Perfect Right by Robert E. Alberti and Michael L. Emmons

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith


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