The next stage in any assertiveness training programme involves identifying which particular situations or activities we would like to be more assertive in. Possible problem areas: Giving compliments Making requests, eg. asking for favours/help Initiating and maintaining conversations Refusing requests Expressing personal opinions Expressing anger/displeasure Expressing affection Stating your rights and needs.
Using the above as a checklist, identify any difficulties you have in the following areas:
- Friends of the same sex
- Friends of the opposite sex
- Intimate relations/spouse
- Authority figures
- Relatives/family members
- Colleagues and subordinates
- Sales personnel/garage mechanics
Once you have identified areas in which you would like to be more assertive, draw up a list of specific personal examples. Each item on this list then needs to be rated on a scale of O - 8 (where O represents no difficulty and 8 represents the most difficult), and arranged in order of difficulty, with the hardest at the top and the easiest at the bottom.
Now you can start to work on your difficulties in an ordered and graded way. By starting with the easiest situations we quickly gain skill and our confidence grows accordingly. This will have the effect of making the more difficult situations less daunting.
People usually lose in situations of conflict with other people because they give up, or take “no” for an answer too easily. The art of persistence is one of the most important aspects of being verbally assertive. Using the broken record technique allows us to repeat over and over what it is we want, in a calm and relaxed manner. In learning to be persistent we may also need to learn to Ignore the excess of “whys” or “reasons” or “logic” and guilt inducing statements from the other person.
To be clear about what it is you want to say and to repeat this over and over again, without getting angry, irritated or raising your voice, until the other person gives in or agrees to negotiate.
When it's useful:
- dealing with situations where your rights are clearly in danger of being violated coping with situations where you are likely to be diverted by clever but irrelevant arguments
- situations where you are likely to lose your self-confidence because you could be affected by “digs” or “put downs” to your self-esteem
For example: when saying 'no' or refusing unreasonable requests, especially when the other person is someone in authority or is not listening.
What to do:
Decide what it is you want to say and then speak as though you were a broken record - be persistent, stick to the point and keep repeating it, ignoring the side issues. Do not be detered by, or respond to, anything which is off the point you are trying to make. Just keep saying in a calm, repetitive voice what you want to say until the other persno hears what you are saying. Broken records eventually get listened to, it's uncomfortable to listen to them for too long.
Ex: 1 2
Decide on your goal- “I would like a refund” Repeat the message
“But the point is”
“The main issue is”
“I guess I'm not making myself clear ... ”
The advantage of this technique is that once you have decided what it is that you want to say its plain sailing from then on. You simply sit back and relax because you know exactly what you are going to say, regardless of how the other person reacts.
Negotiation often follows from the Broken Record and is essential when the other person doesn't give in or is being assertive back. Remember assertiveness is about standing up for your rights and not necessarily getting your own way.
There are some situations where no matter how assertive you are, you are not going to get what you want. There are no set of skills that can guarantee 100% success in every situation.
Negotiation is about empathising with the other person and coming to a workable compromise that jeopardises neither your rights nor self-respect, or those of the other person.
Follow these guidelines for successful negotiation:
try to really understand what it feels like to be in the other person's shoes. If they are showing any feelings acknowledge that you are aware of them
ex: “I understand that :”
“I can see this is important to you:”
make sure that you fully understand the other persons reasoning, their position and their needs. If not, ASK.
if possible use anxiety management techniques to help prepare for difficult situations.
do your homework thoroughly and be aware of any facts and figures that support your case.
don't get side-tracked by irrelevant issues or fall for “red herrings”. Use the broken record to bring the discussion back to the main theme.
don't be stubborn and wait for the other person to “give in” first.
In most situations, it's better and healthier to cope with assertion together with a willingness to look for a workable compromise and there is usually something, somehow, somewhere that you can do make things more workable.
Preparing For Situations — Scripting
Sometimes it will appear that assertive people are able to deal with difficult situations without thinking, reacting spontaneously. However, this is often the result of pre-planning.
Before going into situations that we know might be difficult it is advisable to think objectively about all aspects of the problem. In this way we can plan what it is we want, what we want to say, how the other person might respond and how we would deal with any potential difficulties.
The basic idea behind scripting is that you can take a real life situation and view it as a scene from a play. It entails considering all aspects of the situation — the other person's feelings, wants and needs, their motivation and behaviour. From this we can prepare our lines so that we can start off on the right foot. ie. from an assertive standpoint. It will help us to ensure that we manage to get our message across without faultering or becoming lost for words. Often if we are unassertive we can quickly lose confidence in situations, become so flustered that we forget what we wanted to say, and leave without achievi~g anything except making ourselves feel even worse.
There are four main components to scripting:
EXPLANATION FEELINGS NEEDS CONSEQUENCES
— Explain the situation as you see it, as objectively as possible
— Keep to the point and don't bring in irrelevant issues
— Be factual - describe what is actually happening
— don't make assumptions
— Be brief - keep their attention
— Acknowledge your own feelings and take responsibility for them eg: “I'm angry” rather than “You make me angry”
— Empathize with the other persons feelings, try to understand how they feel eg: “I can see that you are irritated” or “I appreciate your predicament”
This is often a good way of dealing with someone who is angry as it shows them that you are also thinking of them. This too may have the effect of reducing their anger as it will be obvious that they have got their message across.
We need to make sure that the other person is aware of what we want out of the situation so that it can be resolved.
— Be selective — only make a few demands at a time
— Be realistic — make sure the other person is able to give you what you want — don't expect miracles
— Be prepared to compromise or negotiate unless it is a situation in which your basic human rights are being violated.
Finally, we must let the other person know what will happen as a result of their co-operation.
— Outline the benefits of your demands being met, even if these are relatively small, ego that you will feel happier, that you will continue to shop at their store.
Or, if they don't co-operate:
— Outline the drawbacks, again however small.
It's best to outline the positive consequences before the negative ones!
When we first start scripting it can be useful if we prepare our scripts on paper. This can often make things easier. Consider the following example and try a few of your own.
A store manager needs to confront a young sales assistant about his perpetual lateness.
“Jim, I'd like to talk to you about the fact that you've been late for work every morning for the last fortnight”
“I'm becoming irritated with your behaviour and I'm concerned that it is causing other people more work. I know that you live a long way from the shop ...”
“... if you could make an effort to arrive on time in the mornings ...”
“... it would save other people having to cover for you and I would be very grateful”
Coping With Criticism
Learning to handle criticism is one of the most positive aspects of assertiveness training. Constructive criticism is a valuable asset in understanding how our behaviour effects other people. Developing this awareness allows us to change our behaviour in response to this feedback and to have a positive effect on our relationships.
However, not all criticism is constructive. Much of it is inaccurate, to say the least, and is often used either to “put us down”, or to manipulate us into doing things for others.
Our automatic response tends to follow one of three courses:
a) Feeling as though we are “under attack” and denying it vehemently, even if It is constructive, and missing out on an opportunity to make positive changes to our behaviour.
b) Accepting it as completely true, without questioning it, and apologising.
c) Acknowledging that the criticism is untrue but saying nothing about it and “sulking”
Whichever one ot these responses we choose we end up feeling anxious or frustrated, and our self-esteem takes yet another knock.
Learning to deal assertively with criticism therefore, involves considering it objectively, deciding on the accuracy of it, and responding in a clear and honest fashion.
Step One: Listen to the Criticism
It is essential to listen carefully to what is being said and to give ourselves time to consider the criticism. This helps us to avoid the tendency to immediately jump to our own defence, or accepting it whole regardless of its truth or inaccuracy. Sometimes we are unsure about what people mean, and in these situations we need to ask for clarification. “Can you give me a specific example?”; “I'm not sure what you mean, could you be a bit clearer?”
Step Two: Decide on the truth
Not all criticism is true. We need to check its validity before deciding how to react. Criticism may be completely true, partly true, completely untrue or given in the form of a put-down; and the form that it takes will determine how we need to respond to it. When we first start to do this we may find it difficult to shift out of old ways of responding to criticism, ie. it is all too easy to continue accepting criticism as true simply because we have heard it before; similarly, it can be difficult to start accepting that our “critics”: may have a point.
Remember That If Criticism Is Constructive, Even In Part, It Is A Valuable Way For Us To Change Our Behaviour In A Way That Will Have A Positive Effect On Our Relationships With Others.
Step Three: Responding Assertively
If the criticism Is completely true we need to agree to it without being defensive or trying to justify it. However, we may feel that we want to add a statement about how we feel about it and any plans that we have to change; “You're right I am untidy and I feel uncomfortable about it, so I'm trying hard to change”. We can also find out more and enquire how our behaviour affects the other person; “You're right I am untidy, ifs not something that bothers me that much but how does it affect you?”
If the criticism Is partly true then we need to agree with this part but add a qualification; "I agree that I'm late at times, but I'm not late all the time". We can also add a self-disclosure and an enquiry; “Yes, I was late this morning and I'm sorry, but I'm not always late. Did it really mess things up for you?”, (It is important to remember that the apology is for being late on this occasion and not an apology, and therefore acceptance, for the whole of the criticism)
If the criticism Is completely untrue then we need to disagree with it and be clear about its rejection. It is useful to add a positive personal affirmation; “No, I don't agree, I'm not lazy. I've been very active”, Again we can add a self-disclosure and an enquiry; “No, I don't agree, I've been very active. I feel hurt by what you've said. What makes you think that I'm lazy?” This approach will help us determine how other people have formed this impression of us and whether the criticism was intended as a put-down or based on false information.
If It Is a put-down then it needs to be handled in a different manner. Put-downs are subtle forms of personal attack often disguised with humour which serves to confuse us about the real message being put across. “You're a good driver for a woman!”; “If you had brains you'd be dangerous!”; “That's pretty good for you!”; “You're very young to be a manager”, When coping with put-downs it is important that we:
- Disclose our feelings: “I feel really hurt about that remark” “I'm very offended by what you said”
- Ask them what they mean: “I don't understand your comment. What do you mean?” “I'm confused by what you said. Please explain”
- If appropriate, make a positive personal statement: “I am a good driver. The fact that I'm a woman is irrelevant” “Yes, I am young to be a manager. I believe I've done well in my career”
By challenging the put-down we reveal the true intent. Either the person is making a malicious attack, in which case they will be unable to substantiate it , or they are failing to realise the insensitivity of their remark. In either situation we will, by challenging and not lying down and accepting what they say, feel better about ourselves and give our self-esteem a boost.
NB: DON'T FORGET TO INCLUDE THE BROKEN RECORD WHEN DEALING WITH CRITICISM