2 June 2019
Do you end up doing things you don’t want to do? Is it because you find yourself saying yes to things when you want to say no? It might be taking on more than your fair share of the domestic load, accepting more demands being placed on you at work, or taking time to listen to your friend talking about her break-up and then having to work late into the night. If this is you, don’t worry, you are not alone. We all need help to be assertive from time to time.
Most of us find it hard to ask for what we want. We don’t want to upset or anger the other person, cause inconvenience or seem demanding or unreasonable. If we do ask for what we want, we often end up feeling guilty about putting ourselves first.
So, we avoid anything we think might cause discomfort or tension, putting other people’s needs before our own. If we do ask, we do it in such a roundabout way, the other person isn’t clear what we are asking for. Often our hints, expressions and hidden meanings don’t get understood. We end up feeling disappointed because our needs haven’t been met. So we withdraw and keep silent, leaving others to guess what it is we want. Over time, not asserting ourselves can lead us to feeling angry and frustrated, building up resentment that makes it even more difficult to act assertively. What starts as a passive reaction, can end up as an explosion of anger as we gradually reach boiling point and explode.
Being assertive is a key life skill. It is about becoming more effective in communicating what we want to say, without upsetting the other person. Being clear about what we are asking for reduces misunderstandings and makes it easier to listen to the other person’s point of view.
The good news is assertiveness is a skill that can be learnt and practised. The more we practice, the easier it becomes. Try using the tips below to help you become more assertive and spend more time doing the things you want.
When I work with clients who want to become more assertive, we work together to develop the skills and strategies they need to become more self-assured. We look at the lifelong beliefs clients hold about assertiveness, and develop ways to change them into ones which give choices in the way they communicate. If clients know how to be assertive, but get stressed at the thought of communicating so directly, we work on ways of managing the anxiety and reducing the physical symptoms in the body. Check out understanding how your body responds to stress for more details.
Here are five ways to become more assertive.
Try saying “No, I’m sorry I really can’t at the moment” aloud, and use it next time someone asks you to do something you don’t want. You may need to repeat yourself a few times. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Think about someone you respect and who you think communicates effectively. Choose someone who is assertive, warm and friendly, and shows respect for others and themselves. This could be someone you know, someone famous or someone fictional. Imagine them dealing with a particular situation. How would they do it? What would that look like? Imagine yourself acting in a similar way. Then do it. Keep practicing.
Start to re-programme your mind to help you become more assertive. Close your eyes and relax your body completely. Stay connected with the feelings of relaxation and imagine a situation in which you are acting assertively. Notice your posture, expression and tone of voice. Notice how it feels to be assertive. Keep the feelings with you as you go about your day.
Changing the way we communicate is not easy. Really acknowledge every little improvement as you make it. Small differences will lead to long-term change. Notice, recognise and reward your efforts to change. Remind yourself what a good job you are doing every time your respond in a more assertive way.
Try not to conduct a postmortem analysis after a situation that didn’t go well. It is more helpful to briefly review how assertive you were and plan how you’ll handle it next time.
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