Becoming more assertive takes practice, but there are a number of things you can do to start today. Being assertive is a skill that most people have not been trained for. We certainly see little of it in the media, and most of us did not see our parents behave assertively when we were young, or our teachers either, so most of us commit the mistake of being either too aggressive or too passive.
Being assertive requires you to be a nice mixture of the two. While developing this critical skill will take time and patience, there are a number of things you can do to start becoming more assertive today. The first step in becoming more assertive is to be clear and concise when it comes to listening to others.
I believe becoming assertive means that I create a belief in my head, a value if you will that each person deserves to be heard.
That does not mean that I will agree with them, or disagree, or agree to what ever request I might be asked, it simply means that I will listen because I have committed to this value.
The act of listening, and reflectively listening by repeating their words in my head, and offering a summarization is a very important part of becoming assertive, especially when someone is aggressive with me.
An aggressive presentation often is based on the experience of not having been ever heard before, so the communication starts loudly, and if I listen calmly the individual oftentimes will calm down, and the conversation can go on in a more relaxed manner.
An individual who is passive-aggressive presents a different kind of assertive quandry, and here is where I might ask questions, or report my experience by making a comment along the lines of, "I am hearing you say that you do not feel angry, yet you are scowling, and your teeth are clenched. I am not sure what message to pay attention to, your verbal or your nonverbal message. Can you help me out?"
To become assertive means that I am aware of how I am feeling in the face of an aggressive or passive aggressive communication, or even when I am hearing a frightened or sad message.
My feelings, if I am not aware of them, may motivate a behavior which is not being requested. In other words, expressions of pity or contempt may be inappropriate when what is being asked for is the listening.
I need to be particularly aware of how fast my physiology changes when I perceive nonverbal communications, particularly facial expressions.
Paul Ekman,Ph.D. reports that we can change from relaxation to stress in 1/25th second (over twice as fast as I can blink)in response to an expression of contemtp.
So I need to be able to maintain an assertive physiology and my commitment to listening in order to become assertive, and those particular assertive attributes can change in very short order.
My favorite tool for maintaining a cooperative and affiliative physiology is the HeartMath emWave, either the handheld or the PC versions.
I have used HeartMath personally and professionally since 2000, with excellent (not perfect) results.
I recommend it highly, because I can regulate my heart rate variability coherence and my feelings in a heart beat.
It is much easier to use my assertiveness skills when I am calm.
To become assertive may also mean that I need to be able to ask for what I want from someone else, and I need to be prepared for the consequences.
The first consequence may be anxiety about the conversation. I do my HeartMath at this point because I am already good at anxiety, no need for more practice.
Usually that means being prepared for an answer of no, or a rejection of my issue or complaint, and sometimes I need to be prepared for a yes.
In either case, I need to manage my feelings of disappointment or hurt or surprise or joy, with equanimity, and I need to manage my feeling as I respond to my listeners non-verbal communications as we speak.
Remember, I have committed to the act of listening and speaking assertively because we all deserve it, not so that I get what I want.
The Role of Humor in Assertiveness
What is the role of humor in this process? I think that a touch of irony or whimsy or farce makes the entire process much more relaxed.
I like the example of a comic from yesteryear, at least I have not heard of him for awhile, Norm Crosby, who was a master of the malaprop, and created his hilarious routines based on word play.
I look for ways to do that in situations demanding assertiveness so that everyone is more relaxed.
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