The boss face is red with rage as he screams obscenities at the subordinate. The boss yells out words he will later regret. The subordinate focuses on breathing deeply and staying calm as he watches his boss spin out of emotional control. In the face of his boss fury, the subordinate is unruffled and able to think clearly. When the manager finishes his tirade, the 25-year-old subordinate asserts himself, I understand you are upset. It frustrates me when you yell at me. I need you to speak to me in a calm tone of voice.
Assertiveness is the courage to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right manner, despite a known risk of negative consequences. Assertiveness basically comes down to courage the courage to do what you know is right, in your heart, despite the possibility of negative consequences. Assertiveness exists on a continuum between the poles of docile and aggressive.
Think of assertiveness as a matter of degree; it exists on a 1 through 10 scale where 1 is meek and 10 is overly aggressive. For most people, assertiveness varies according to the situation. For example, the hard-nosed, results-driven executive may be highly assertive at work, yet be quite meek when it comes to dealing with his wife and teenage daughter at home.
So assertiveness is environment-specific. Usually, your degree of assertiveness is couched within a role that you play parent, spouse, boss, friend, and so on. The goal is to learn how to be appropriately assertive without being a bully. If you are assertive at work, you may roll over at home. If you are assertive at home, you might be a pushover at work. Or perhaps you could be more assertive in both settings!
Stop Being a Wimp
Most of us are wimps (at least in some situations like work OR home). Wimps are people who cannot or will not say ‘No.’
Some of us are ubiquitous wimps (which mean that you are wimpy in every situation… with everyone).
Others are situation-specific wimps. These wimps can be a tyrant at work and a pushover at home, forceful with strangers yet completely spineless with friends.
Wimpiness can vary according to the situation. Some people feel more comfortable being assertive in some areas of their life than others.
Please understand that I use the term ‘wimp’ with respect and understanding. I am a recovering wimp myself.
Being a wimp often works well in the short run because you dont risk upsetting anyone. You let others have their way and no ones knickers get in a knot.
However, in the long run, your anger and disappointment get buried deep within you. And you may not even realize it!
As you try to stuff more and more anger inside your emotional gas tank, the tank eventually overflows resulting in irritation, outbursts of rage and passive aggressive behavior. You get angry at the wrong people, people who dont deserve your wrath.
These repressed emotions also lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. In short, wimpiness is bad for you and destructive to your health and happiness.
KEY: For a meaningful, happy and healthy life, you must learn to be appropriately assertive.
So what can you do? How do you stop being a wimp?
Identify your most cherished values
What do I value?
With what degree of certainty?
Which values am I willing to publicly declare?
What ones am I willing to die for?
And most importantly, what values am I willing to live for?
Once youve identified your values, then you must figure out how consistent your words are with your actions. In other words, do you act in a manner that’s consistent with your values?
The more authentic you are, the better life you lead. Authenticity means that your values are consistent with your words, feelings and actions. The greater the consistency between your internal world and your external world, the more authenticity you have.
Values guide the whole thing, your whole life. Values give you a decision-making framework.
KEY: Values are MOST important when you are under duress.
Values are critical when you are stressed out, depressed, irritable and under the gun. However, in order for them to be any use to you at all, you have to know your top 5 values by rote. Values have to be automatic, unconscious, repeated over and over until they are known by heart. Its not enough to look at them once or twice a year. Infrequent value visits are not enough to sear them into your long-term memory.
To get you started, a list of the top 35 values that exist throughout the world is available free of charge at the Articles page at Guide To Self. This is a list of values drawn from work by the top values researchers on the planet!
Figure Out How You Want Others to Treat You
If you want other people to treat you differently, you need to know how you want to be treated. Do you want your wife to stop yelling at you? Do you want more respect from your husband? Do you want your boss to speak to you in an indoor tone of voice? Do you want your children to help pick up the house?
The first step is to figure out exactly what it is you want. Look at what is making you angry or irritated throughout the day. Make a mental note of each thing. Then figure out what youd like to change in each relationship in your life. Where are you being taken advantage of? What are you tolerating? What are you putting up with? The first step is to unearth the answers to these questions. This is easier said than done for many of us!
Ask for What You Want
After you have figured out how you want to be treated, then ask for it. This step takes courage, yet it gets easier the more you do it. And its really not as hard as you believe it is. You must learn to express yourself, the real you; what you truly want; how you truly feel, if you want to be treated with more respect. When you learn to state how you feel and what you want, your whole life will begin to change for the better. When you are asking for what you want, be as specific as possible. Keep it as short as possible and hold that thought in your mind, that way you can hold onto it even in the midst of an emotionally-charged conversation.
To stop being a wimp, act with courage. It may feel awkward at first. Every new behavior feels a little strange at first. Most new behaviors take roughly 8 weeks to take hold. After eight weeks, the authentic communication of your thoughts, feelings and needs will fit like a glove and youll be wondering why you hadnt done it sooner.
Practice Saying ‘No’
Many of us have gotten in a dangerous habit of saying ‘yes’ to everyone and everything. However, its merely a bad habit which can be changed. If you have trouble with saying ‘No’, if that is too uncomfortable, simply use the phrase, ‘Ill think about it.’ This is just a temporary stop-gap. It buys you time. Using the phrase ‘Ill think about it’ will hold off the other party for a time, but it raises your anxiety because you are only delaying giving a final answer.
So realize that the ultimate goal is to be able to say No with a clear conscience. You have a right to say No to any request that comes your way. You have an obligation to take care of yourself first and foremost.
Learn to Love Change
The next step in becoming more assertive is to learn to love change. As you begin to live by your values and become more assertive, your relationships will change. You are going to make some changes to your life and the way in which you interact with other people. In addition, the only unchanging thing in this life is the fact that change will be constant. The best you can do is learn to love it.
Identify What Makes You Afraid Then Go After It
Many of us wimps have created massive fears over what will happen if we DO say No. We get into catastrophic, all-or-nothing negative thinking. Most often, these are irrational fears that have been blown up to monstrous proportions. Odds are that none of these things will actually happen if you stand up and rightly assert yourself.
Remember to challenge your fears, your negative Gremlin thinking. Dont let them go by without speaking back to them. Check them against reality. Check your thoughts out with other people. Find out what people you trust have to say about the matter.
Assertiveness is NOT the same as aggressiveness. You dont have to be rude or impolite to be assertive. You dont have to attack someone to let them know of your thoughts and your feelings. You have the right to stand up for your rights. You have the God-given right to say No and to take proper care of yourself. Each and every one of us has rights. And you have the right to stand up and ask for what you want and need. The worst that can happen is that they say No. You cant have that.
In any case, you need to know what makes your life worth living. And THEN you have to stand up for it. Ask for it. Fight for it. Work towards it. Pay attention to it. You have to know what you want before you can be assertive. If you dont know, you cant ask.
In closing, keep in mind that assertiveness requires some courage.
Courage only exists when you feel some degree of fear.
The act of overcoming your fear is known as courage.
Assertiveness is the courage to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right manner despite possible adverse consequences.
Think of assertiveness on a 1 to 10 scale where 1 is meek and 10 is overly aggressive. Assertiveness usually varies by situation. It is environment-specific.
The ultimate goal is to learn how to be suitably assertive without using intimidation to get what you want.
About the Author
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
John Schinnerer Ph.D. is in private practice helping men master their emotions in the beautiful San Ramon Valley in California. His practice is located in the Danville-San Ramon Medical Center at 913 San Ramon Valley Blvd., #280, Danville, CA 94526. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology (so he’s smart!). He has been an executive and psychologist for over 14 years. John Schinnerer is President and Founder of Guide To Self, a company that coaches clients to their potential using the latest in positive psychology, mindfulness and attentional control (so he’s no longer an emotional idiot!). He has hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show, in the San Francisco Bay Area (so he has a sense of humor!). He has served as President of Infinet Assessment, a psychological testing company to help firms select the best applicants (so he’s been successful in business!). His areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to moral development, to sports psychology. He wrote the award-winning, Guide To Self: The Beginners Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought, which is available at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com and AuthorHouse.com (so he’s highly regarded – at least by some!).