When I first started doing public events promoting my book, Irresistible Attraction, I ran into a LOT of people who were taking “Assertiveness Training” of one kind or another. Probably a function of who I was interviewing. Or maybe Boeing and Microsoft were doing these gigs then, as it was their employees I was often meeting with.
“Assertiveness Training” often transformed normal and otherwise talented, intelligent individuals into complete idiots.
I began asking about the strange behavior of people which I observed and they often proudly shared their experiences.
Had I not been told, I would have been led to believe that people were doing “How to Be a Jerk Training,” a specialization which for millenia, was reserved only for men. An overwhelming majority of the people taking lessons (at least those who were visiting with me after events) in what they called “Assertiveness,” were women.
Just what the world needs…more people behaving like men…!
Body Language, Tonality & Attitude
How did I figure out that otherwise normal people were using these bizarre, new communication strategies? It was in their body language, tonality, and attitude.
There is a big difference between hostility and certainty.
There is a big difference between aggressive and assertive.
There is a big difference between robbery and thinking about it.
The experiences these people shared, reminded me that what people are often looking for is “justice” or “revenge” instead of “being heard” and “being significant” and worthy of input.
Not every person I interviewed for the book had these newly built in characteristics. But…
The problem that people who fail to assert themselves run into, is that they confuse assertion, which is having a meaningful voice; with aggression, we will define as bullying and/or gaining revenge.
[Aggression in the scientific sense is a useful behavior, synonymous with assertion, active pursuit and so forth. The same is true when the term is used in all forms of competition. However, psychologists reference aggression as a negative trait which is more synonymous with said bullying behaviors…now we know what we are talking about.] The difficulty a lot of women face is that they believe that if they act like men, they will be more respected and feel better about themselves.
The research shows this is not the case.
The fact is that assertiveness and aggression (in the bullying sense) have nothing to do with each other.
And the research is clear, women who appear aggressive actually are much less respected by both men & women, so women lose twice.
Assertion is about “putting forward” an idea or thoughts and feelings when logical and appropriate.
Neither gender does this particularly well, so if you could find a real assertiveness training, it could be worth experiencing.
Let me give you an interesting scenario and observe how people “self and other-sabotage.”
You’ll recognize it…
How often have you experienced this?
Stereotypical Scenario: Husband/Wife. Wife wants to see movie A, Husband prefers B. Woman believes that being assertive means getting her way after “Assertiveness Training.”
That’s not assertive, that’s just not bright. That’s what jerks do.
The correct answer is that, about half the time, give or take, you subjugate (come in second to someone else) in relationships; and it’s generally a good thing to do so, as long as it IS roughly half the time.
Assertiveness trainings I looked into at the time, neglected real world, real context living and put things in these tiny frames like, “I want to see a movie and he’s coming.”
“Real world” means that there are 100 or so things going on in the course of the day, it’s very possible two people are equally splitting “who gets” and “who has to” stuff, but for whatever reason “it” comes down to something like a movie choice to trigger this newly trained aggression.
Stupid? You bet….and nothing new.
Now, let’s return to our stereotypical example that started the article….
Imagine the first person says, “OK, let’s go see ‘B’, I’ll go see it with you”, is sometimes looked “down upon,” which really is a cultural screw up.
About half the time it’s simply good judgment to go see “B” and the other half of the time the person simply should say, “Hey, I really don’t want to see “B” today, let’s go see “A” instead.”
Obviously, if the counterproposal isn’t offered, then you get a whole bunch of other problems. Then, “I really don’t want to see ‘B’ today.” turns into confusion, the likelihood of mixed messages and no good can follow dismissal.
The assertive person must always follow up so as not to be seen as being hostile.
As with all problem-solving and effective decision-making, you have to widen the scope of the context to see what the problem is.
In this case, there is no problem. The guy didn’t say he didn’t want to see “A” he just said he wanted to see “B.”
See how easy it is to read into what people say….that which doesn’t exist in reality? You must counter propose.
Now, go back and read the scenario. It’s pretty fascinating what we read into other people’s thoughts and actions….what we project that they believe or think.
The guy said he wanted to see Guardians of the Galaxy…. nothing else. He went to take a shower….but let’s say he leaves his socks on the floor.
Moving on to stereotypical scenario “B”…
Assertion simply means, “Hey honey, let’s go see your movie tonight and mine tomorrow night” or vice versa… and it really makes little difference who gets to go “first” because you aren’t 4-year-olds….you are 40 and have gray hair…or you will soon.
Aggression (in the psychological sense of the word) is, “Dammit, you never do what I want to do and we are going to my movie tonight missey/mister or I’m outta here.”
You see, assertiveness training, while well-intended, can easily become… war college …where you learn to hurt people you love.
Remember this: Aggressive behavior like this, coincides with IQ reduction. The aggressive state reduces congitive potential and increases instinctive survival behaviors. That means, you’ll survive your discussion, you’ll just hate each other afterward.
Assertion is simply stating what results you’d like to have and the help to get them, while you give help to others on the results they want.
“I want to see Guardians of the Galaxy, you?”
In this scenario, there is bliss. Let’s take a look at anti-bliss behavior.
It is indeed true that most people confuse being assertive with being aggressive.
In order to understand the difference…
Here are the definitions as described in the dictionary.
You will be learning how to assert yourself so that other people will not deny you of your rights.
Assert: to state with assurance, confidence, or force; state strongly or positively; affirm. Insist on having one’s opinions and rights recognized.
Aggressive: ready to attack or oppose; quarrelsome. (and that’s just the first part…it gets uglier…like attacking…and so forth.)
As you can see, there is a canyon-sized difference. They are on two different planes of behavior.
By being assertive, you are simply looking out for your own “rights.” You do not want to trample on other people’s “rights,” you just want to make sure yours are not trampled on.
And that is something that other people often need to be GENTLY reminded of.
BTW: Remember we still have the second guy’s stinky socks on the floor and he’s been told a hundred times this is not cool.
There is no benefit in being as big of a jerk as the person who has practiced being a jerk for decades.
Don’t bring yourself to the level of a typical guy. Use assertiveness as it is meant: Bring them UP to your level.
The Differences Between Assertiveness and Aggressiveness?
When you are assertive, you ask or declare openly and directly what you want in your everyday communication. This means:
1. I love you.
2. Let’s go see Guardians of the Galaxy.
3. I love you.
1. I want to go see Guardians of the Galaxy.
That’s all it is.
An assertive person shows confidence and reassurance when they make a request. Although you will be asking for your own wants and preferences, you always do it making sure that you respect other people’s desires.
You do not expect anyone to be able to read your mind. You are direct, detailed and thorough in expressing yourself.
Aggression is by its nature confusing.
Assertiveness leads to results, interactivity, respect.
Being aggressive means you will try to get what you want by whatever means it takes even if it causes bad feelings in others.
What Does Aggression Look Like?
A person acting with aggression may use coercion or threats. An aggressive person does not mentally prepare for the other person’s feelings. An aggressive person does not want to look at “both sides” only their own; and will use whatever means they can to get what they want.
Problem: You may get what you want in the short-term by being aggressive, but you will become known as a bad person or bully by using this behavior. (i.e. a jerk)
When you become known as an “aggressive person,” people will want to avoid you and will immediately become defensive every time you ask them for anything.
Meanwhile, the assertive person is able to motivate and direct other people to respect their rights and, in fact, in respect to EVERYONE’s RIGHTS and interests. By being assertive, you are only clearly stating what you want in order to have your desires met and your interests considered.
As an assertive person, you are able to give direction to what you want in a positive, confident fashion.
At no point are you seen as a jerk. (There’s always a risk someone will see you as a jerk of course, but most people won’t.)
And the good thing is that on most days, you don’t have to “assert yourself.”
But when you DO need to stand forward, there are a few things you can do to make it all a lot easier on yourself.
In order to develop the ability to assert, you will need to you learn how to make your requests known with intelligent communication and tonality that is perceived as calm.
Add in good eye contact, good body language and, of course, a confident voice. You should never try to belittle the other person or make them feel inferior, or you will immediately turn them to the defensive side. (If you live with someone, you already have them on the defensive side.)
Talk in a calm voice and make your thoughts clear. Ask for clarifying information so you completely understand what the other person is thinking/feeling.
If you assert effectively, you will win friends and supporters as people will realize that you stand up for yourself and others.
Do’s and Don’ts of Assertive Behavior
- Use Intelligent Communication
- Exude Calm
- Ask Clarifying Questions
- Listen so You Can Show You Understand Their Desire
- Use Good Eye Contact
- Be Aware of Body Language
- Use a Confident Voice
- Make Unreasonable Demands
- Be Hostile
- Use a Haughty Voice or Manner
- Belittle the Other Person
- Put the Other Person on the Defensive
Build Your Confidence to Become More Assertive
In order to be assertive, you will need to develop confidence in yourself. It is easier if you try to take this one step at a time. Let’s start off by just doing one small step and work from there.
Here is an example of a simple starting point for standing up for your rights …
Let’s say that your spouse never picks up after themselves. (This would drive me nuts.)
You may say to them, “Honey, would you please pick up your socks off the floor?” Now for some people this might work and they will pick up their socks. Unfortunately, there are some people who will just blow you off when you ask them a simple request like this. If you live with one of those people, you will need to take another approach.
One way to get them to pick up their socks is to make a confident statement, like, “I am no longer going to pick up your socks off the floor. If you do not pick up your socks, I will place them on your plate for dinner.” (And smile.) That’s a pretty strong image and nothing else needs to be said. You go back to work.
You could also tell them if they will not pick up their socks and you have to pick them up, they will go in the trash. If they run out of socks, that will be their problem and not yours.
Wait, isn’t that aggressive behavior?
It’s teaching behavior. It’s called negative reinforcement in Psychology 101, and it is required when people don’t THINK and need to be dealt with at the next step.
It’s not pleasant for anyone else to have socks on Dad/Mom’s dinner plate, but one thing is for sure, the point will be made. Self responsibility is crucial in a family or any setting where there are other people affected by stupid behavior.
What if hubby or wifey yells and gets all aggressive?
How to handle someone who’s being aggressive?
When the Other Person Becomes Aggressive
“What the heck are you doing throwing away my socks and putting them on the dinner plate, you xxx!?”
Nothing wrong with that response if you hadn’t told them it was going to happen first.
If you did assert yourself, wink, and tell them you are suffering from a severe psychiatric disorder, but fortunately it’s healed by having a clean partner.
A gentle but intelligent poke.
Assertive people aren’t required to react or respond to stupid behavior. You can just yawn and walk away if you like when people do stupid things.
If someone yells, who cares? Let them yell and then go put the socks in the hamper. They felt stupid. They needed to finally get it and usually that means they have to feel stupid. Now they don’t do it anymore, and they feel smart. Short term irritation, long term pleasure.
Assertion is most effective when you are calm and someone else is acting crazy and aggressive.
When people are being aggressive, you have permission to smile, letting people know they are being hostile. You can speak very softly, repeat yourself once and then walk away.
Remember when someone is being aggressive, their IQ is dropping like a rock. That means they can’t think. They can’t create. They can’t develop an idea. They can’t utilize logic beyond what is instinctive to that person.
See the Bigger Picture…
A third scenario….
We all have dreams. The problem is many of us have gotten into the habit of letting people squash our dreams. If you are serious about the things you want in life, then you need to go after them. You cannot allow other people to control you and keep you from reaching your dreams.
When you are assertive, you have control of situations instead of letting other people have control without your permission.
You can accomplish a lot in life. Having the support of someone else is nice but not crucial.
Never let other people make you feel pressured into doing things that are unsafe or dangerous. Being pressured into doing things that make sense like picking up the socks or going to see The Avengers is the kind of pressure you want to learn to yield to.
When you speak to people with confidence and assertiveness, you can persuade them to see your point of view. Hear the other person out, completely. Hear and understand.
Feed their thinking back to them so they get that YOU get what they are saying.
That’s a fundamental point.
You get them and you are NOT telling them how crazy they are.
You are telling the person what they have said to confirm that YOU GET what they are thinking. (Who knows, every now and then they might be right?!!?!)
Then, it’s your turn.
How will life be different when you become more assertive?
Live the Life YOU Choose
Once you get people to listen to your views and understand how you feel about certain things, your confidence will grow. Once you learn how other people think, you become more intelligent.
There is nothing wrong with giving yourself the chance to build your confidence and achieve all your lifetime goals. Once you develop the confidence to talk with others and let them know how you feel, you will start to feel a LOT better about yourself.
Not only will you feel good about yourself, but you will start to get along better with others as you gain their respect.
Avoid Bully Behavior
When you learn how to stand up for your own rights, you will become more confident. You get more confident when this isn’t a religious process. You don’t need to “assert” your rights or your point of view about everything that comes up in conversation.
If you’ve ever used a semi-automatic weapon, you know what confidence feels like…after you get past the fear of the confidence. But you certainly wouldn’t use the gun as a weapon in communication. You’d unload the weapon, put it away and THEN have a conversation.
Whatever that means to you, it’s your CHOICE. It’s your fault when you screw up with no one to blame but yourself. THAT is being assertive.
Assertiveness always requires responsibility and forethought. It is not reactive or resistant.
It’s not a knee jerk “reaction”, like aggression.
Aggression screws up a lot of relationships….and so does counter-aggression.
Rarely does assertiveness screw anything up because it simply means that you get that you are human and have the right to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness….
Put the weapon down and stand up.