It’s a beautiful, sunny warm day and you’ve made it a point to take the day off for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. You’re about to leave for the beach, sunscreen in hand when the phone rings. You look down at your cell phone and it’s one of your closest friends. You reluctantly answer. They ask you in desperation to please help them move because they don’t want to move tomorrow in the rain. Now what? You say, “Sure, why not”, however, you’re mad as can be since you wanted to go do something for yourself for once. But it’s the right thing to do, yes? NO! The healthy boundary you set for yourself is now nonexistent. We’ve all done it at some point in our lives, but being assertive is a balance that can be achieved.
When people hear the word assertive, negative connotations often come to mind. Negative words like pushy, nag, jerk, and the best one…selfish, are common. In reality, being assertive means that you communicate your own needs and wants in a way that is respectful to others. People confuse assertiveness with aggressive behavior, which is getting your own needs and wants meant at the expense of others. Often, to avoid being aggressive or selfish, people revert to passive behavior, allowing others’ needs and wants to always come first.
The Continuum of Behaviors
Everyone falls along the continuum from completely passive behavior to very aggressive behavior. Often, this may vary. We may behave passively in some situations (e.g. at work) and aggressively in others (e.g. with family.) Ideally, we would all work to balance our needs and wants with those of others. Where do you fall on the continuum? If you find yourself at one extreme or the other of the spectrum and not right in the middle of balance and healthy boundaries, then let’s look onward to change with four simple techniques.
How to Change
Being perfectly assertive all the time can be a challenge today. Sometimes, you might not feel like you can stand up for what you need or want. Other times, you might not take the needs and wants of others into consideration. Here are some communication strategies that can help you communicate more assertively:
1. Know Your Rights
You have the right to say “no.” You also have the right not to have to justify your decisions to others since silence is bliss. You have a right to express your feelings in a loving and compassionate manner. Moreover, it is not up to you to take responsibility for the behavior of others. Mistakes are a learning process that some would really benefit from and you have a right to make them too. You have the right to expect others to do/pay their fair share because your name most likely is not Frank who owns a bank. Finally, you have the right to expect honesty from others and not manipulative lies or half-truths. What other rights might you have? Right now, in this moment what rights do you feel are being infringed upon? Are there any situations in which you aren’t respecting the rights of others?
2. Express Yourself Clearly and Repetitively if Needed
When you’ve identified a situation in which you need to be more assertive, try to phrase your request in a simple, fact-based way. For instance, a common situation for parents is having a child whose room is consistently a mess and the child thinks they’re going out somewhere with it in that state of chaos. A simple phrase could be, “I asked you three days ago to clean your room. I need you to do your fair share of chores to help in this house.” Often, the child will start making excuses. At that point, you can repeat yourself, “I still need you to do your fair share to help.” If the child doesn’t at this point turn around to go clean their room, you may need to give a consequence. “I need you to help out and clean your room, or you will not be allowed to have any friends over until it is done.” End of story.
3. Use “I Statements”
When we try to resolve a conflict, we often turn to accusations and name calling. By taking this approach, we make it difficult for the other person to hear our point of view. Rather than focusing blame on the other person, focus on describing the situation and your feelings. For instance, if your friend often leaves you waiting, you could say, “When you arrive later than we said we would meet, I feel hurt and disrespected.” Or if you’re on the other side and are consistently late everywhere you go you may take the initiative to say, “Thank you for waiting for me, I appreciate it.” Acknowledgment and communication are key to keep the balance.
4. Say “No.”
One area that can be difficult is turning down requests. People can find themselves overwhelmed with activities and a long to-do list simply because they find it hard to say “no.” You may find that you feel like you have to justify why you are saying “no,” but this is not the case. A simple “no” or “no, thank you for asking” is enough. If you are prone to saying “yes” too easily, you may want to start by saying, “Let me give that some thought.” That will buy you the time you need to really decide if you have room in your life for one more activity. Some may say learning to say “no” is a skill that takes practice. You decide how long you think it will take you to master it. Practice makes perfect.
Dr. Sonia V. Manganello is a bestselling author of The Perseverance Diet, a health/life/nutrition coach, an interfaith minister, metaphysician and co-owner of Enlightened Health Partners located in Glastonbury. Enlightened Health Partners at 99 Citizens Dr., Glastonbury, CT.