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8 Steps to Being Assertive

This week my colleague, Catherine Doucette, BPR, MEd, CTDP, offers insight into the value of  being assertive in difficult conversations. Catherine is a Training and Performance Consultant who makes a measurable impact on organizations by delivering customized business communications, leadership, and training for the trainer (facilitation, learning styles, etc.) programs in the classroom, one-on-one, and online.

When I ask any group of adults – from business professionals to health care workers to university students – what assertiveness is, the range of answers is surprising.  It is viewed as everything from being meek and mild to telling someone off.

Being assertive is actually built around respect. Every interaction we have, in a personal or professional setting, has the potential to make that relationship stronger, so understanding and practicing assertiveness is essential to growing and maintaining relationships.

When we choose not to act assertively, our choice is usually centred around fear and we default to:

Passive – Saying yes when we want to say no, to avoid further conflict; or

Aggressive – Trying to control the situation by intimidating or blaming the other person because we need the situation go our way; or

Passive-Aggressive – Being manipulative (i.e. using “poor me” examples and language), then switching to intimidation and blaming. This is also about wanting/needing to control the outcome.

On the other hand, assertiveness is about being respectful and confident. But what does that look like? These 8 steps will help you embrace assertive communication:

1 Breathe

Few situations—no matter how greatly they appear to demand it—can be bettered by us going berserk.”

I love this quotation from Melody Beattie’s book Codependent No More.  She’s so right! Breathe. Walk away if possible; take a moment before you respond. This also helps you maintain a polite tone of voice. Know that it is perfectly acceptable to take time to avoid saying something you’ll regret,  or to gather your courage: “Alison, I need to go. Can we deal with this together in an hour?”

2 Solve

While there is a satisfied buzz to being right, it’s short term. The old saying is absolutely correct – being right will not make you happy, and it eats away at all relationships. Focus instead on solutions. When you do this, the other steps fall into place more easily.

3 Focus

Remember to focus on what is happening now, in this moment. Now is not the time to bring old conflicts or other issues into the conversation.

4 Listen

Stop preparing your response in your head and really listen to the other person. Wait for the other person to finish talking before you speak. Stay open to changing your opinions with a sincere and cooperative attitude. (I know – it’s more difficult than it sounds.)

5 Paraphrase

Tell the other person what you heard them say, and ask if your understanding is correct.

6 Respect

Speak your truth in a respectful manner. No insults. No name calling. No swearing. No threats. No guilt trips. Talk about what happened, without making any judgments about the other person. Avoid words like always or never.

A good way to start your sentences is with I instead of You. You statements tend to inflame situations. Here are some examples:

No         You’re trying to rip me off. You’re billing me for 50% more than the estimate.

Yes        Mack, I am confused by your invoice because according to an email from you last month, we agreed on a price of $100, not $150. Please explain to me why there are additional costs.

No         You were late again this morning.

Yes        I am frustrated when you are late for meetings because we have limited time for the group to work together. What can we do to fix this?

No         You’re always sending me the wrong addresses.

Yes        I received the wrong client addresses today and Monday. What can we do to ensure we all have the correct information?

7 Compromise

Compromise on a solution, not on your values, i.e.:

No         That’s not the policy, but I’ll do it this once. Don’t tell anyone.

Yes        Sarah, I think there’s been a misunderstanding about the deadline. It was last Monday according to my paperwork. I can have it ready for you by Friday. Will that work?

8 Request

Ask for what you want, instead of demanding or begging, i.e.: Moe, I’d like that print job delivered to me by Monday at 9 am. 

Does being assertive ensure that you will always get your way? Absolutely not, but it does improve your chances of achieving your goals and finding a solution that works for everyone. Resolving a conflict assertively improves relationships because others learn that they can trust you to respect and listen to them, no matter the issue. Being assertive does take practice, so start using these skills in everyday situations. Soon they’ll become natural.

And remember on those tough days ~ no matter what anyone else does, you are in control of your own actions.

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