Everyone recalls a time or a particular situation when we wish we had been more assertive. Assertive communication is all about putting our point of view over – clearly and calmly, free from the distortion of mood or circumstances – so that we can best communicate how we feel about something and what we need as a result.
If a particular situation nags at our thoughts, this can be because our response was not as we wanted it to be. Replaying the same situation through our minds, again and again – what could or should we have said differently? – is a sure sign that we have not expressed ourselves as we needed to. The mind keeps working on a solution before we can let it go.
Our options for responding to any situation are to be assertive, passive, aggressive or passive aggressive. Below are some examples of each of those responses, in reference to a situation where someone has just been told that work is going to be structured in a new way from now on. In this situation, early and late cover is required for client work, and the rota will be published in advance on a notice board or the firm’s intranet:
- Assertive: Saying, “I can see this would be good client service. I have various commitments at the moment outside usual office hours which I would need to rearrange, and I need to give at least seven days’ advance notice to change them. If I have enough notice of a rota, I can check what alternative arrangements I can make, and then I can confirm. The longer notice I have, the more flexible I can be.”
- Passive: Saying nothing or “OK then,” and going along with it (but seething internally and feeling your stress levels increase because this is going to be difficult to fit around existing commitments/plans).
- Aggressive: Saying, “How dare you impose this on me? It’s stupid. It can’t be done. I’m leaving.” This increases everyone’s stress levels and solves nothing.
- Passive aggressive: Saying nothing but then giving short notice that something else has come up which thwarts the rota running smoothly. This also increases stress levels, because your needs have not been articulated.
One way of measuring your assertiveness is to use the following simple exercise. It focuses on facts rather than emotions, and it gives us the potential to do things differently next time so that our response is more assertive. When we are assertive, we are more capable of letting go instead of feeling stress, simply because we have done all we can do in the situation to exert our influence.
So, for this exercise, write down the answers to the following questions:
- Date, time and place of the situation
- What the other person said
- Your response
- Was your response assertive, passive, aggressive or passive aggressive?
- How did the conversation turn out?
- What were your feelings afterwards?
If you decide that you were not as assertive as you would have liked to be in that situation, what would you say or do differently next time? Assertive statements are respectful of both the other person’s needs and your own. With the help of this exercise, you may realize that there were particular additional stressors for you on that day, so you can also consider how you might manage those differently on another occasion.