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).
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 …”
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.
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.
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