It is FINALLY time to wrap up our discussion on assertiveness. To date, we have discussed basic assertive rights and the different communications styles (passive, aggressive, and assertive). Given all this information, it is time to discuss some tips on how to BE assertive:
- Get in tune with your body. This may sound silly, but it is a very important part of being assertive. Your body sends you all sorts of cues when you are becoming angry or upset, e.g., increased breathing, tensing of the muscles, feeling hot, etc. Increasing your awareness of these body messages can help you keep from reacting in a volatile or emotional way if you follow the next tip...
- Breathe. Do some deep breathing when you notice you are starting to get upset. I've discussed why and how this works in a previous post.
- Do some self talk. Okay, you don't have to do this out loud, but try to do it in your head. When you recognize that you are getting upset, talk it out in your head, e.g., I need to calm down; I better keep my mouth shut or I'll say something I'll regret; I think I better excuse myself until I calm down, etc.
- Use "I" statements. Assertive individuals use "I" statements when communicating their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. When we use "I" statements, we decrease the likelihood that others are going to get defensive. After all, when we use "I" statements, we are talking about how WE feel about a situation. Others may not understand HOW we feel that way, but they certainly cannot negate our feelings -- they are ours after all! Here's an example: "I feel hurt when you make comments about my family" versus "You always put my family down" or "I feel angry when you talk to me in that tone of voice" versus "You always use that condescending voice and I hate it!" Do you see how the "I" statements are much less likely to put the other person on the defensive?
- The broken record technique. This technique comes in handy when you have already stated your position on something. For example, say that your kids have asked you for a snack and you have already told them not right now. You simply (well, it sounds simple but is sometimes hard to do) restate your position in a calm and assertive manner, e.g., "not right now" "not right now" "not right now" etc. This technique is often used when dealing with telemarketers, i.e., "I'm not interested" and so on. The key is keeping your cool and sticking to your guns.
- Fogging. This technique allows you to accept criticism or feedback without getting upset. You acknowledge any truth that there might be in what the other individual is saying, e.g., "You are right. I don't always do a good job of listening to you." This allows the other person to see that they may have some valid points and that you are hearing what they are saying. I used this one a lot when I worked in the prison with angry inmates. They were intending to rile me up by being accusatory, but when I accepted and acknowledged some of their valid points, they were much more likely to de-escalate and be more reasonable.
- Meeting in the middle. This step is really about compromise. I recently saw a poster that said "The hardest thing to give -- is IN!" Isn't that the truth! Assertive individuals are willing to compromise. Sometimes this can't be done in the heat of a situation. It is sometimes better to recognize this, give both parties a chance to re-group and return to the discussion when you are both in a better state of mind, e.g., "I agree that something has to be done about this. I'm feeling too frustrated right now to think clearly. Can we discuss this in a half hour when I've had a chance to think more clearly?"
I know this has been a somewhat lengthy series, but it is one that I feel is very important. The old adage "we teach people how to treat us" is so true. And how we allow people to treat us plays a large role in how our kids will allow people to treat them. If we model assertiveness in our interactions with others, we will likely raise assertive children. I can't think of a more important skill that we as parents can pass on to our kids.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you have any tips, strategies or situations that you want to share? Post your comments!