I might be wrong about this, but...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sometimes I think the thing I'd like to change most about myself is my assertiveness, or lack of. Sometimes, I'm perfectly capable of standing up for myself when I should, but other times, I'm caught off guard or don't want to ruffle any feathers, and I keep mum or back off. I don't like conflict and I don't like being seen as a bitchy type--I much prefer the kill-'em-with-kindness-smile-and-nod approach--but I'm afraid it's not always the best way to deal.

There doesn't seem to be any method to this madness. Sometimes I'm completely fine speaking up, like when the self-serve checkout at the grocery store ate my $20.00 and the girl "helping" me claimed it was gone and I couldn't get it back--I was ready to rip the cash machine apart with my bare hands when the store manager showed up to save the day and return my moolah. (Lesson learned: only use a swipe card in the self-serve lane).

But often, when someone disagrees with me particularly at work or in group scenarios, I completely clam up and become a nodder and an "uh-huh"-er, preferring to agree to keep the peace rather than defending myself. Sometimes it's no big deal--I like a particular movie and someone tells me it sucks and I say, "Yeah, I know it's not great, I just like it for whatever reason, heh!" Sometimes it's a bigger issue, like a client questioning a budget or a group of colleagues critiquing a design. Rather than ruffling feathers I'm quick to agree for the sake of keeping the peace, smiling and nodding like some kind of unnaturally happy simpleton.

I Googled "how to be assertive" (original search terms what!) and came up with the following suggestions courtesy of Pioneer Thinking:

1. Develop a value and belief system, which allows you to assert yourself. In other words, give yourself permission to be angry, to say "No," to ask for help, and to make mistakes. Avoid using tag questions. ("It's really hot today, isn't it?"), disclaimers ("I may be wrong, but…"), and question statements ("won’t you close the door?") all lessen the perceived assertiveness of speech. I say "I may be wrong..." or "I'm not sure if this makes sense, but..." ALL THE TIME!! That needs to stop.

2. Resist giving into interruptions until you have completed your thoughts. (Instead, say - "Just a moment, I haven't finished.") I let people interrupt all the time too. 0 for 2 so far. Boo.

3. Stop self-limiting behaviors, such as smiling too much,
nodding too much, tilting your head, or dropping your eyes in
response to another person's gaze.
GUILTY. I am the world's biggest nodder. I'm like a life-size bobble head.

4. When saying "No," be decisive. Explain why you are refusing but don’t be overly apologetic. I wouldn't know. I don't know how to say 'no'.

5. Use "I want" or "I feel" statements. Acknowledge the other
person's situation or feelings followed by a statement in which
you stand up for your rights. E.g., "I know you're X, but I feel…"
Need to start doing this, too. Way too often I preface my statements with 'maybe'.

6. Use "I" language (this is especially useful for expressing negative feelings.) "I" language helps you focus your anger constructively and to be clear about your own feelings. For example:

When you do (Behavior)
The effects are (Results)
I feel (Emotion)
Remember: Stick to the first person, and avoid "you are".
I usually say "we". I'm not in the royal family, so that should probably stop, too.

7. Maintain direct eye contact, keep your posture open and relaxed, be sure your facial expression agrees with the message, and keep a level, well-modulated tone of voice. After years of tortuous practice I have finally mastered the art of freakily steady eye contact. I need to work on my voice--it gets all high-pitched and fast when I'm nervous.

8. Listen and let people know you have heard what they said. Ask questions for clarification. I'm OK with this one.

9. Practice! I definitely need to practice. Currently I avoid situations that are potentially awkward or confrontational.

Do you have trouble being assertive? Do you think it's worse to be seen as "bitchy" or "weak"? How do you stand up for yourself without being too aggressive?

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  1. I have no problems speaking up ... NOW.

    It took about a year and a half to train myself to speak assertively and come off as calm and reallllly interested in making a design work, rather than being all angry

    It's in the tone and the delivery.. plus the words. :P But sometimes I just come off as too tough as a woman.. so it's hard to win with that in mind.

  2. I definitely have trouble being assertive. I'm getting better in most areas of my life (thanks to a secretary job which fueled my fire and made me want to stand up for myself). Still, around my father's sisters and their families I'm very passive. I'm the youngest child from dad and his two sisters by almost ten years so they like to treat me as if I am still 12 - I'm 24, have a career and am married. When I'm with them all I am near tears because they won't even let me speak! AAAAAGH!


  3. Wonderful topic! This is super interesting to me. I have gradually built on my assertiveness over the past few years of being employed at my current job. I've found that my best weapon are my facial expressions, particularly the eyes! Tone of voice, too - my co-workers know when I'm letting something slide, and when I'm not going to back down just yet... all in the voice and face. haha... i think being assertive in a non-threatening way is something that takes lots of practice! Good luck :)

  4. I think I'm overly assertive sometimes, like to the point of alienating others. Whenever I try to rein it in, though, someone makes a comment on how passive I'm being. I CAN'T WIN. I need to be careful though - mouthing off has been my specialty since I was little, and now nobody appreciates that.

  5. FB--I think it's a tricky balance for sure.

    Kim--HATE the domineering family scenarios! I get that too with some of my relatives...they are just so in your face!

    Steph--Practice makes perfect :)

    KK--I can be mouthy in a personal setting...it's professionally that I veer on the side of passive :)

  6. I'm definitely in the same boat. "I'm like a life-size bobble head" - love it, because I totally am too!! I'm the worst in groups, but I'm learning how to stand up for myself one on one. I start a new position next week which is going to whip my arse into gear; I'm going from an admin/marketing (AKA: solitary confinement) job into classroom delivery and presentations to "challenging" students. I like the "set standards for yourself" tip - and I think catching yourself in situations and asking yourself simply, "am I okay not being heard? am I okay with being a doormat right now?" to which the answer should always be no - which tends to force you more into action. I think the more you catch yourself acknowledging there's a discrepancy between what you're doing and what you WANT to be doing, you're more likely to do something about it :)