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4 Proven Steps to Being More Assertive

4 Proven Steps to Being More Assertive

Being assertive is all about putting your point across in a positive way that is more likely to get you what you want with all parties feeling happy. You generally need to use this skill when you have an opposing point of view or when you need to disagree with others, which can be socially difficult. The UK government has sanctioned numerous intervention programs to teach this skill to the group of people who need it most in society: offenders. I’m one of the people tasked with teaching this skill, as well as many others, to bring about positive changes, but it’s not just for offenders, as other people can benefit from this incredibly useful skill too.

Below I share with you a framework with four steps to being more assertive, both personally and professionally, which are research-based and proven to work. This isn’t to say they will work everytime, but they are much more effective than alternative methods (e.g., being too aggressive or passive).

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1. Describe the situation.

Start by describing the situation and giving an overview of what your understanding of it is. At first, try keep this as factual as possible, as this stops other people from being able to disagree with you. This may involve using sentences such as “the way I understand the situation is this …” You may also add your opinion on the matter afterward by using statements such as “my opinion is this because …” By justifying yourself, people don’t feel you are giving an opposing opinion just to disagree with them for the sake of it. Giving your justification is powerful, as this promotes empathy, which allows them to see things from your point of view and may also be enough to persuade them into your way of thinking

2. Express how you feel.

Once you’ve given an overview and described the situation from your point of view, you want to express how you feel about it. When expressing yourself, it is really important to own the feelings by using “I” language. What is this? This involves statements such as “I feel like this” or “this situation makes me feel like this …”

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When doing this, you want to try to avoid “you” language, where you make statements that will put the other person on the defensive. For example saying “you make me feel …” or “because of you I feel …” Statements like this are unproductive, but also antagonistic toward people on the receiving end of them. Also, they make the claim that the other person is able to control your feelings, which is not true (only you control your feelings), and it’s really important that you do not try to shift this to others.

When you express how you feel about something, this also stops other people from being able to disagree with it. For example stating “I feel upset by this situation” means the other person can’t just say “no you don’t feel upset,” as they are your feelings. If you make the mistake of using “you” language, this makes it easy for the other person to argue the point by saying “I haven’t made you feel anything.” This is a subtle difference, but a key one that can either create a collaborative discussion or turn it into hostile argument.

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3. Say what you want.

Next you want to be specific and say what it is you want to happen from the situation. Say what you would like to do and also what you would like other people to do (or not to do). Be clear and specific and avoid being vague. You can refer back to your justifications or feelings at this point to backup what you’re saying for added extra effect.

4. State how the outcome benefits all parties.

You want to end your point by stating how your chosen solution or point of view is ultimately going to benefit all parties. Too many people fall into the trap of expressing simply how it is going to benefit themselves. This isn’t persuasive nor does it make people inclined to agree with you if they see no benefit for themselves in some way. By describing how the other person can benefit as well as yourself, they now have a reason to come over to your way of thinking.

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In some situations where you have a disagreement with someone, just getting them to consider the long-term consequences can be enough for them to see things from your point of view. Another tactic is to positively reframe the situation, so instead of them seeing the situation as a loss, you can plant the seed for them to see things differently in a more positive way.

An example of this is the glass half-empty or half-full metaphor that is famously used. “Don’t think of the situation as a loss; think of it as a good experience and learning” is another good example of this too. There is always a silver lining, and you need to use this to your advantage by getting people to see it.

Assertiveness is a skill and like any skill, it takes practice to get good at it. You can start using it instantly in conversation to get better at it with close family members and friends before unleashing your new found power on the world!

Featured photo credit: Scott Swigart via flickr.com

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Saj Devshi

Psychology Teacher

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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