Recently someone said to me that she thought some people in her team were being too assertive and they needed to modify their behaviour.
I thought we wanted people to be assertive, as opposed to passive or aggressive or even worse, passive aggressive. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were all sorts of training programs on how to be assertive. I facilitated quite a few and watched participants put into practice strategies that enabled them to communicate clearly and confidently and better manage aggressive bosses. I dug around in my files and found these notes about assertiveness and suggest that we re-acquaint ourselves with exactly what it means.
Assertiveness is about
- Open honest communication
- Feeling at ease in social situations
- Having the social skills that help you form closer personal relationships
- Being able to express your feelings, thoughts and emotions without experiencing a lot of anxiety or guilt and without violating the rights and dignity of others
- Taking responsibility for what happens to you in life, making your own decisions and free choices
- Being a friend to yourself and maintaining your own dignity and self respect
- Recognising that you have certain rights that need not be sacrificed
- Being able to protect yourself from being taken advantage of by others.
I remember an exercise that trained people how to be precise, succinct and direct about what they wanted. It was called “Basic Stance”. Rather than saying something like “Um, is anybody else in here feeling hot?” you say, “I am feeling hot. I would like the window opened, please”. Clear. Succinct. Precise.
Or my favourite assertiveness technique – the level statement. The purpose of a level statement is to make a clear, open statement about your experience of an event, incident or behaviour in a way that another person can understand and respond to. The structure of a level statement is as follows.
When you ……
(make a neutral and precise description of behaviour)
I feel ……
(state your emotional response clearly and succinctly)
What I’d like is that you ……….
(state what you would like to happen or how exactly you want the other person to behave)
When you stand up and lean forward over the desk towards me I feel intimidated and I’d like you to be seated while you are speaking to me.
When you interrupt what I am saying, I feel frustrated and I’d like you to listen without interruption until I have finished.
When you listen carefully to what I’m saying without interrupting, I feel really pleased so I would like you to do the same thing next time we talk.
In my experience they work a treat! I watched people make significant changes to relationships using these techniques.
Of course it is equally important to know when to be assertive and when it is best to do nothing, at least for the time being. Participants in my workshops had no trouble in describing such situations and called it common sense.
I wonder how often these skills are taught in schools, universities and TAFEs these days as part of essential employability and life skills?