The opening of the United States Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, states as follows:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness
Who are we to argue with that one? (well….assuming when we say men we’re including women and children in the mix…but that’s another blog…)
And when it comes to the way we relate to other people and looking at the reasonable assertion of our rights – Jefferson’s statement roughly translates into the healthy psychological positions described in Transactional Analysis:
“I’m OK, you’re OK”
There are, of course, some not so healthy alternatives to these positions which we may adopt as we have evolved our beliefs according to our experiences of life and relationships.
They may look like this:
I’m not OK, you’re OK (tendency to feel powerless or less important than others)
I’m OK, you’re not OK (tendency to blame others)
I’m not OK, you’re not OK (hopeless and helpless – things seem futile)
It’s easy to see how any of these last three positions can result in either under or over assertive behaviour.
An under assertive person might give everyone else their choice and put everyone else first, even at own expense
An over assertive person might make all the decisions and everyone else has no choice
An assertive person might allow that they can make decisions and so can others. Everyone has a right to their opinion and choice.
So, say your colleague puts forward different ideas from yours (some might say ‘better ideas’) this doesn’t mean that he or she is a better person than you, or a more valuable person – it just means they’ve got a different view.
Straws and Camels:
If you consistently deny your wants and needs for the sake of someone else (unassertive) there may come a time where the pressure rises and at last a metaphorical straw breaks the camel’s back. You become disproportionately angry and blow up (over assertive).
So the ideal is to find assertive ways to express yourself that are pitched at the right level for the situation and the people involved in order to make yourself heard and your feelings understood whilst accepting the rights of others to do similar.
Some tips for Assertive Language and Feedback:
The key to expressing yourself assertively is to be as clear as possible about stating your own needs, rights, wants and goals while taking full responsibility for them.
In expressing this it is useful to use the simple word:
For example to express what you want, think, and feel use statements like:
“I want to…” or “I think…” or “I believe…” or “ I feel…”
This invites the other person to see things from your point of view and, unlike statements of the facts as you see them, your own beliefs and feelings can not be disputed. This is especially true when you say, “I feel…” rather than “you make me feel”.
To fully own your message, rather than saying, “You should…”, try saying:
“I’d prefer it if you…”
In feedback you may want to articulate your understanding of the other person’s situation or feelings as well as stating your own.
“I can see you find this situation frustrating. I ‘m also a little frustrated by the whole thing”.
There is no need to be apologetic about your feelings, rights or opinions. Even offering an explanation is strictly optional.
Bearing in mind that we can’t control what other people will think, feel or do it may be that we have to let people know the consequences of their choices of behaviour.
The danger with feedback is to go straight to consequences without warning people first. The warning allows them their right to choose whether to comply or not:
“If this occurs again, I have no alternative, but to apply the formal disciplinary procedure. I’d really prefer not to.”
Try to begin with the mildest position possible, getting more and more assertive as you see fit.
We are all OK
Remember we all have equal rights and are “OK” so it’s all about finding the appropriate level of assertiveness to allow for this.