Assertiveness is about getting our needs met, and our feelings recognised, whilst appreciating the needs and feelings of others. It is affected by how we appear, how we speak, and how we respond to others.
In order to be assertive we need to remain calm, relaxed, and determined to get our point across, whilst being respectful. We need to keep control of our body language by breathing steadily, maintaining eye contact with the person we are addressing, and acknowledging that we are listening by nodding appropriately.
If we have become accustomed to behaving in either aggressive or passive ways, we may need to practice the art of assertiveness. When we behave assertively, others are more likely to be respectful to us.
When talking, stick to the point, reaffirm the point if necessary, and bring the conversation back to the original point if the other person takes it in a different direction. Ensure that you don’t behave in a subservient manner. Unless there is a specific thing you have done that requires it, don’t apologise. You don’t need to be sorry for feeling a particular way, or thinking differently to the other person. Behave as an equal if you are talking to a superior, for example, at work, because as a human being you are equal.
Listen, and let the other person know that you are listening. Don’t interrupt or try to guess what the person is thinking. Be prepared to accept criticism.
Be open, and allow others to be open about in expressing their thoughts, feelings and needs. Try to negotiate to a win-win situation.
Don’t attack. Using the word ‘you’ only makes the other person defensive. Using the word ‘I’ in the sentence makes it less aggressive. Blake Flannery says,on the Hub Pages website,
“I” statements that start with “I feel.., I would like… I am worried about…” are not arguable because no one can argue against you “feeling” a certain way or “thinking” at certain way.
These “I” statements make for great conversation openers because blame is avoided, and may allow the other person to save face or take responsibility before becoming emotional.
However, as Craig Malkin PhD says on the Psychology Today website,
Don’t assume that sticking “I feel” at the beginning or end of a statement means you’ve stated your feelings or asserted yourself. Example: “I feel like you’re a lousy listener when you just say uh-huh all the time.”
This sentence still has an accusatory feel about it. Assertiveness needs empathy; we need to be able to see the conversation from the other person’s point of view.
We need boundaries to ensure that those around us know how we feel. We should be able to say ‘no’ without feeling guilt. For example, ‘I wonder if someone else is free this time as I worked overtime on Monday.’ (I wish I’d used this one more when I worked for the NHS). Don’t be afraid to negotiate – it can help to achieve that ideal win-win situation. For example, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not free tomorrow. If someone else could work the shift tomorrow, maybe I could work a shift for them later in the week’.