Why do you need Assertiveness Training?
You can master skillfully asserting yourself with practice. Perhaps you'd like to assert your needs in some social setting in a more natural, skillful way, without cowering or going kaboom! Assertiveness is somewhere between submission and aggression, but it is not passive-aggressiveness.
All animals have submissive and dominant potentials that are triggered in different situations. But with humans, assertiveness is a social skill that must be learned. Without it, you stand to be taken advantage of on one hand or exploding inappropriately into a rage on the other. Not healthy. Not good.
Assertiveness is the single most important social skill in business and family life.
To master assertiveness, first master your emotions. Every thought or image flowing through your mind has an emotional feel to it. Sometimes positive, and sometimes negative. It’s your feelings that determine what's desirable or not. How you feel about something that motivates you to move toward rewards, and away from pain, real or imagined. Your emotions need the training to avoid being scooped or flying into a rage during everyday situations where you have wants and needs you need help from others to fulfill.
How to become more skillful at asserting yourself
Here are a few ideas to help develop a healthy assertiveness in those situations:
Observe your tendencies towards passivity or aggression
People who struggle to assert themselves typically hold a belief that it is somehow wrong or dangerous to state a need. They are afraid that something terrible could result if they do, so they tend to tighten up, explode, or use passive-aggressive tactics. To get beyond this kind of limiting belief, it is crucial to examine yourself and ask what's beneath or behind it for you.
Think of a time and place where you've had needs and had to negotiate. Have a look at this table and ask yourself how you have often tended to feel and react.
|Too Passive||Assertive||Too Aggressive|
|Too nice||Open but Firm||Closed and Mean|
|Sucks it up||Sends Clear Messages||Explodes|
|Holds it in||States Needs and Why||Displays Arrogance|
|Low Self-Esteem||Self-Confident||Denigrates Others|
|Holds Grudges||Holds Accountable||Holds Hostage|
|Weak Boundaries||Clear Boundaries||No Boundaries|
|Needs Validation||Validation from Facts||Needs Power|
Do you tend toward being too passive, or too aggressive on the whole? Do you react one way with your boss, and another way with a shopkeeper, and yet another way with your partner?
Get in touch with the emotions that cause you to shrink or explode. Give those emotions a different name. What happens to your emotions when you interpret butterflies as enthusiasm? What happens when you interpret anger or fear as simple urgency? What happens when you apply compassion and humor to the whole experience?
Start small, right from where you are
In a calm and safe setting, start by visualizing and embodying a more calm, secure, and confident you are standing before the person or people you may ask something of. Notice where in your body or voice in your head where this seems scary, or ungenuine. Notice whether you are leaning backward, forward, or straight up. Notice any tension or clenching. Ask those feelings to explain themselves and allow you to continue practicing while you continue to loosen up.
Next, repeat your practice in front of your reflection in a mirror or a smartphone screen. Pay attention to your breathing, your tone of voice, and your posture. Introduce a genuine smile, and even laugh a bit, while compassion blankets the whole thing.
Next, practice your skills with someone you feel comfortable or safe with. Notice how you speak, breathe and stand when you ask them for a favor or speak your mind about something mildly important to you. You can also ask a friend or colleague how you could have handled a situation better, or how they would handle a similar situation.
In these safe settings, see and feel yourself becoming more comfortable saying what needs to be said. See and feel your levels of passivity or aggression diminishing while your assertive self grows more comfortable and skilled.
Build up repetition and develop the requisite variety
Next, practice assertiveness in new situations with new people.
Practice a variety of ways of approaching those difficult people. As you practice your approach, remember to breathe from your belly rather than from your chest. Remember to speak slowly and in a low, calm voice. Remember to stand straight, with your shoulders slightly back. Practice calmly and logically explaining the reasons behind your need without shrinking or invoking unnecessary power or authority. Smile genuinely. Remain curious. Be a student.
Twenty times makes a habit. Forty times is the beginning of skill. Mastery is when your skills work across a wide variety of situations and people.
Be patient, take your time, and keep your needs in perspective
One of the biggest challenges to mastering assertiveness is time pressure. We often wrongly approach every situation as though there is only one chance to satisfy every demand. But it‘s far more likely that you’ll have time to work out your needs with the other person.
Is your demand as urgent as you feel it is? What are you willing to change or give up receiving your demands?
It can take time to develop the confidence to assert yourself. People who have already achieved mastery may be no more talented than you, but they have been at the game longer.
For guided practice, please download Assertiveness Training.