Asking for what you want
Being assertive means being able to stand up for your own or other people’s rights in a calm and positive way, without being either aggressive, or passively accepting. Randy Paterson, a clinical psychologist, explains the differences among these communication styles. “In the passive style, all the world is allowed on stage but for you — your role is to be the audience and supporter for everyone else. In the aggressive style, you’re allowed on stage but you spend most of your time shoving the others off, like in a lifelong sumo match. With the assertive style, everyone is welcome onstage. You are entitled to be a full person, including your uniqueness, and so are others”.
Assertive individuals are able to get their point across without upsetting others, or becoming upset themselves. We have all found ourselves unable to say “no” when a friend asks for a favour or to complain in a restaurant when the food was of poor quality.
Some people think that by being assertive they will always get what they want but that is not the case. Assertiveness only increases that chances of getting at least part of what we want some of the time. At the same time, it is very useful to be able to determine when assertiveness can be appropriate. For example, if you are in a bar and someone begins to be very aggressive or violent, then being assertive may place you at risk as the other person is not being rational.
There are many reasons why so many of us find it difficult to be assertive such as the fear of upsetting others, or that people will not like us for expressing our needs. If we did not grow up in a family where people were comfortable being assertive, it will simply be a skill we have not picked up. The good news is that, like all skills, assertiveness can be learnt with some effort and guidance.
While learning to be assertive will take some time, there are some tips that you can try out to get you started on the right path. It helps if you identify a situation where you would like to be more assertive and rehearse what you are going to say. Start small, with something which only generates a small amount of discomfort. This will help overcome the natural nervousness of practicing a new communication style. Start out with stating clearly what you would like, use a calm tone of voice and look the other person in the eyes. More importantly, do not assume that people automatically know what you need. You will have to tell them: be specific, clear and respectful.