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Exercising Mastery in Assertive Interactions: How assertive are you?

Ever heard yourself saying; “I wish I could have said more” or “Why didn’t I say that?” or “Why can’t they just listen to me?” or “I just want to run away and pretend it never happened.”
Yes? Then chances are you were not as assertive as you could have been at the time in that particular situation.

We often choose not to be assertive in any given situation for many reasons. These could be because you do not want to hurt the other persons’ feelings, you want to avoid a possible confrontation, you feel vulnerable, you are unable to find the appropriate words or you think it will be a waste of time because the other person might not understand your point of view. Whatever the reason for choosing not to be assertive, the end result of not expressing your opinion can leave you feeling angry, resentful, inadequate, hurt, upset and even more vulnerable. This is because deep down, you might believe that you could have been more assertive, but chose not to, or didn’t feel able to.

Peoples’ experience of assertiveness and being (or not being) assertive is a very subjective, often personal experience. This is because you and others are interpreting your level of mastery over this particular skill. Assertiveness is primarily a behaviour trait and communication skill. It is about how we relate to one another through our verbal (and sometimes non-verbal or behavioural) interactions. The skill of being assertive involves secondary skills such as;

  • Persuasion
  • Advocating
  • Negotiation
  • Influencing
  • Challenging

It is crucial that professionals working with children and families with high level and specific needs to improve their ability to be assertive because this promotes effective and positive relationships. By virtue of your professional role, you are in a position to positively influence others through effective role modelling.

In the workplace, assertiveness can help colleagues communicate better with each other, can help conduct efficient and productive meetings, sensitively challenge staff members, negotiate to achieve a mutually satisfactory outcome and appropriately represent the organisation in which you work. With clients, assertiveness can help to address specific issues, uncover the truth or real meaning behind peoples’ actions and mobilise services, resources and people to effect positive changes.

Assertiveness starts with YOU.

Assertiveness Tip 1: Model effective assertiveness

The key to being effectively assertive is to be a good role model. You cannot expect to change anyone – but you can influence their communication and behaviour style by modelling effective communication and behaviour styles. Being assertive and presenting as an assertive person to others requires considerable skill as well as an injection of your own personality. In an ideal world, thinking before you speak can avoid much confusion, conflict or hostility. However, it is not always possible to have a plan of how you might respond to another person as you are experiencing the precise moment. This is because you can often find yourself in a very spontaneous discussion that requires a level of assertiveness and if you are ‘put off guard,’ you can feel unable to respond appropriately, thereby leaving you feeling frustrated.

Assertiveness Tip 2: Empathise to appreciate the value of assertiveness

In a situation that requires you to express your needs or opinions, taking a few moments to empathise with the person or people you are having an exchange with by gaining some degree of insight into why they might be saying or feeling what they are AND projecting a positive attitude to the situation, can increase the likelihood of being and coming across as assertive. The end result is that you are held in some level of esteem by others because you have acted in a responsible, sensitive, diplomatic and confident way. These actions rarely go unnoticed. Therefore, you are in a better position to positively influence others, thereby becoming a role model – or better still, an ambassador for assertiveness!

Assertiveness Tip 3: Choose your words carefully

Using words that are neutral, positive and specific encourages clarity of purpose and gives meaning to the words you use. The key is to convey a message to others that you are generally a positive person who is skilled at communicating in a way that influences how others see you – this being, in a positive light. It is also important to keep communication brief and to the point. Confusion happens when people are vague and frustration occurs when people ‘waffle’.

In other words, no SHOULDA WOULDA COULDA’S ALLOWED!
Give people the opportunity to change their behaviour by telling them how their behaviour affects you. By doing this, you will show respect and they will know where they stand with you.

3 Assertive Behavioural Styles

1. Assertive

Assertion involves defending one’s personal rights and feeling free to express one’s thoughts, feelings and beliefs in direct, honest and appropriate ways and which do not violate another person’s rights. Being assertive is about being respectful – to yourself and to those with whom you are communicating. The goal is for mutuality or a ‘win-win’ outcome.

The basic message in assertive behaviour is;

THIS IS WHAT I THINK
THIS IS WHAT I FEEL
THIS IS HOW I SEE THE SITUATION

2. Aggressive

Aggression involves defending your personal rights by expressing yours thoughts, feelings and beliefs in direct, dishonest and inappropriate ways which violates another person’s rights. Being aggressive is about being disrespectful to those with whom you are communicating. The goal is for domination or a ‘win-lose’ outcome.

The basic message of aggressive behaviour is;

THIS IS WHAT I THINK – (AND I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK)
THIS IS WHAT I FEEL – (WHAT YOU FEEL IS IRRELEANT AND NOT IMPORTANT)
THIS IS WHAT I WANT – (AND I’M GOING TO GET IT BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE A CHOICE)

3. Non-assertive (passive)

Non-assertion involves failing to defend your personal rights by either choosing not to express your thoughts, feelings and beliefs or expressing them in an apologetic and diffident way which allows others to violate your rights. Being non-assertive is about disrespecting oneself and your needs. The goal is to please others and avoid conflict at all costs.

The basic message of non-assertive behaviour is;

WHAT I THINK DOESN’T MATTER
WHAT I FEEL IS IRRELEVANT AND NOT IMPORTANT
I KNOW WHAT I WANT BUT I DON’T MIND IF I DON’T GET IT

Rebecca Stephens
MA, BSW, AASW, PTASW, MAASW
Amovita Consulting

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Rebecca – thanks so much for being the first guest poster for PeakCare’s new blog! I loved your assertiveness article as I think child protection practitioners can often find themselves and their practice wisdom disregarded. Do you have any thoughts about what someone can do when they are being assertive but find themselves being regarded as “aggressive” by those who don’t particularly like assertiveness?

    Again, many thanks for sharing your practice wisdom! We’ll be looking forward to your training in the new year.

    Fiona

    October 29, 2010
    • Hi Fiona,
      It’s all about what you say and how you say it! People can often misinterpret assertiveness for aggressiveness through the tone of voice you use or even the words you choose to use. The key word to use when responding when communicating assertively is “I” eg “I feel (annoyed) when (explain the situation). Being assertive is about taking responsibility for your own feelings and enabling others to become aware of the impact they may be having on you.

      Using words that are neutral, positive and specific encourages clarity of purpose and gives meaning to the words you use. The key is to convey a message to others that you are generally a positive person who is skilled at communicating in a way that influences how others see you – this being, in a positive light. It is also important to keep communication brief and to the point. Confusion happens when people are vague and frustration occurs when people ‘waffle’.

      And always remember. . .

      “Keep your words soft and sweet
      In case you have to eat them!”

      November 2, 2010
  2. Hi Rebecca, thank you for this blog , it is very interesting and useful especially when there are so many new workers to the field of family and child welfare. These tips would also be useful for people working with more agressive clients- after all when you are dealing with matters which are important to people , such as their parenting and children, it is important to be authentic, honest and straight forward in your interaction with them. Social workers need to have clear communication skills in order to be able to get their messages accross in difficult circumstances.

    November 1, 2010

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