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Advanced Assertiveness Skills to Improve your Life and Career

Introduction

This article is an advanced one about using assertive behaviour to improve your relationships at work and in your personal life, and it can promote better mental health by reducing the stress that we can all experience when dealing with other people.

Assertiveness can be truly life changing and all it takes is an understanding of assertiveness and some time to apply it until it becomes natural.

Read on to learn more about assertiveness, and please do let me know how you get on.

advanced-lessons-in-being-assertive-take-back-control-of-your-personal-life-and-of-your-career

A Lesson from Top Performers

If you consider top performers, ask yourself the question, "How do they consistently manage to achieve success?".

You will know that they have certain skills - they can play tennis, football, they can write, they can present. And of course their skill might be phenomenal compared to your own but it is all relative.

At top championship sport there is always the possibility that there is someone who is better than yourself. So a sports person's ability to achieve success is not tied exclusively to their high level of skill, it is tied to their belief in their ability to perform well.

Now Consider the Belief-Behaviour Cycle:

Belief-Behaviour Cycle

Belief-Behaviour Cycle

What you believe about yourself will determine how you behave towards others. This will give you a certain result and experience that will reinforce your beliefs.

Let's say you believe that you have no influence at work. In meetings you do not contribute even though you might have loads of ideas. Result? Your ideas are not used and your reinforce your belief that you have no influence at work! We are very clever at reinforcing our beliefs!

If every time top tennis players throw a ball up to serve with the thought in their mind of "I bet this one won't go in", imagine the impact on their ability to serve.

If every time a top presenter looks out at a conference hall of people and down at her notes and thinks "I bet I get lost and half the audience will switch off", image the impact on her ability to communicate.

You may not consider yourself a top performer but as a human being you have all the skills you require to be an extremely skilled communicator.

If you can adopt an Empowering Belief, your behaviour will change and the results will be very satisfying

How do we Communicate?

When we communicate we use three things:

  • words
  • tone
  • body language

Research tells us that the relative importance of these three things in 1:1 communication is approximately as follows:

Relative Importance in Communication

words

7%

tone

38%

body language

55%

It is impossible not to communicate. Even when we are silent we are communicating and in this case 100% of our communication is non-verbal through our body language.

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What is Body Language

Body language is a physical sign of our mental and emotional thought processes. If we are happy we show we are happy and if we are sad we show we are sad.

Tone

The tone you use is incredibly important and it is often the tone and stress on certain words that indicates whether you are behaving aggressively, passively or assertively. The over emphasis on the word "I" is a real sign of aggression.

Active Listening

To get the most out of any conversation, meeting etc, it is vital to use the skills of active listening.

Active listening is different from hearing.

When we were born most of us had the ability to hear but we must all learn the skill of Active Listening.

Active Listening is:

Demonstrating by what we say or do that we are listening

We do this both verbally and non-verbally.

Verbal signs of Active Listening

We use open questions to get in as much information as possible. In the English language we have the 6W and 1H of questions:

  • What?
  • Where?
  • Who?
  • When?
  • Which?
  • Why?
  • How?

When you ask questions, it is important to pause to let the person respond and then show you are listening by supportive non-verbal gestures.

Beware the Why Question

Use this question with care. It is very easy for "why did you do it like that?" to have almost a sub-text of "Why you incompetent person, did you do it like that?". Instead use "What were your reasons for doing it like that?".

Use of Closed Questions

Closed questions (which are asking for a yes or no answer) are useful in conversation to get final agreement, to establish key facts, etc.

When closed questions are used badly, they have the effect of closing down the conversation, limiting the information that you are exchanging and this will mean that decisions will be faster but probably less sound.

The closed question often has in it the point of view of the questioner and they can therefore influence the response that you get. "Don't you think we should...?" is clearly indicating that you think you should and if you really do want to find out what the other person thinks then change the question to "What do you think we should...?".

Non-Verbal Signs of Active Listening

We use body language that shows we are interested and that we are listening,

Examples of this will be:

  • sitting forward
  • facing the speaker
  • nodding
  • keeping eye contact
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Building and Maintaining Rapport

Non-Verbally

To build and maintain rapport you need to show that you feel empathy with the other person, that you are on their wavelength and that you can see things the same way. You can do this by matching their body language.

You do this automatically when you are getting on well with someone. Your gestures, your body position even down to your breathing will start to match as rapport develops between you.

So if you want to talk to a colleague it is better to pull up a chair than tower over them as they sit at their desk and if your manager is standing over you, stand up too.

Verbally

Verbal rapport is indicated by matching the tone of the other person, their speed of speaking and the words they use.

Again, when you are in rapport with someone you do this perfectly naturally.

A word of warning. If you are aiming to build rapport from scratch, make sure you don't turn into a parrot and copy the other person, otherwise your efforts will obviously be totally counterproductive.

The Model of Perception

We take information through our five senses: sight, sound, hearing, taste and touch.

There is a phenomenal amount of information that we could take in but we operate a series of filters to cut it down to a manageable size.

To notice how we cut out some information consider how much sound is audible as you sit still for a few seconds and concentrate on hearing. You will notice the sound of the trainer's voice, the noise from traffic, air conditioning, airplanes, the click of a mouse, the sound of someone breathing, the sound of another write down a note. Up until that point, you might have only noticed the voice of the person you were talking to. What is true for sound, is also true for what we see and for what we feel.

Filtering

We screen information using a series of filters. There are many filters, but there are three that are very commonly used. These are:

  • generalisation
  • deletion
  • distortion

Generalisation

This is when we collect a series of facts together from the past and apply them to a new situation. For example, you do not need to be told that a chair you have never sat in before is a chair because you are capable of evaluating this object and concluding quite rightly that it is a chair and it is to be sat in.

Sadly, what is true for the chair is not true for people. We often generalise about individuals. We lump them together with others we have met and imagine that they are the same. This is in a sense stereotyping and if we do this we miss out on seeing the person for who they uniquely are.

Deletion

When we have a good belief about a colleague it can be difficult to hear and believe contrary evidence. In the same way if we dislike someone it is difficult for us to see their good points. A person may have been a complete tyrant in the past and we filter information to match our outdated belief and we delete contrary examples. This will limit our ability to build an effective relationship with this person.

Distortion

Imagine you are alone at home and you have just watched a thriller on television. As you get into bed, you hear a loud thump and momentarily imagine it is the killer coming to get you. Instead, it is the central heating system.

Distortion in relationships is when someone does or says something and you distort the meaning. Your distortion is based on a belief you hold about yourself or the other person.

For example, you arrive late for work. You were meant to be in a meeting at 9:00 and you eventually get in at 10:00. You imagine that he is annoyed at you but in fact the meeting had to be called off because there has been a company crisis.

You distorted when you saw and put a whole new spin on what was actually happening.

Generalisations, deletions and distortions can affect the amount of information you are using to make decisions and they can trigger very unhelpful behaviour. If you can become aware of which filters you are using you will maintain a lot more flexibility in your ability to communicate.

advanced-lessons-in-being-assertive-take-back-control-of-your-personal-life-and-of-your-career

Specific Tools for Being Assertive

1) Making Requests

Do you sometimes find it difficult to make requests of other people at work, or are you very tentative or abrupt when doing so? If you are not able to make requests assertively, you can often end up missing

opportunities, not taking initiatives, and not getting the best use out of available resources; alternatively, you might cause others to be resentful and uncooperative.

Any difficulties you might experience probably stem from the beliefs you hold about making requests. These may include:

  • I'll put other people in a position where they can't refuse
  • If people refuse it means they don't like me
  • It's a sign of weakness to ask for things
  • My needs are not that important/not as important as other people's
  • If people do things for me it will put me under and obligation to them
  • I have no tight to ask

If you hold the above beliefs then it is likely that you will avoid making requests or you will make them apologetically. That is to say, you will act passively. In contrast your beliefs may include:

  • Others have no right to refuse
  • A refusal constitutes an attack upon me personally
  • My needs are more important than other people's
  • Other people ought to be pleased to help me out

Then you will be hostile or demanding when making the request. With all of these you will be behaving aggressively.

With all the requests the key to behaving assertively is to believe that you have the right to ask, the other person has the right to be asked in an assertive way and the right to refuse. With this last right there are sometimes exceptions, so that a person may not always have the right to refuse.

The aim is to make requests in a straightforward, open way; not to make it difficult for the other person to refuse.

  • be direct
  • keep it short
  • give a reason for your requests
  • don't "sell" your request with flattery
  • don't play on other people's friendship or good nature
  • respect the other person's right to say no

2) Refusing Requests Assertively

A frequent experience for many managers and specialists is that, when faced with a request at work, they find it difficult to say 'No', or their 'No' comes across like a hammer blow. As with making requests, any difficulties you may have often stem from the beliefs you hold.

These could include things like:

  • Others will feel angry/hurt if I refuse
  • They'll cease to like me
  • It's rude/selfish to refuse
  • If I refuse, I relinquish the right to make requests of others
  • Their needs are more important than mine

These beliefs will lead you to say 'Yes' when you really want to say 'No' to feel guilty about saying 'No', or to give excuses for not agreeing to the request.

Later on, after having said 'Yes' when you really wanted to say 'No', you might find you have taken on more work than you can handle. You can also start to feel resentful that you, or others, are doing things you are far from happy about. In contrast to the above beliefs, you might believe that:

  • Others have no right to make such requests of you
  • Others people ought to sort themselves out
  • If I meet their requests people will soon get the idea I'm a "soft touch"

These beliefs will result in responses like 'Not likely, you've got a nerve' or 'Why ask me all the time?' which are examples of aggressively refusing a request.

The key to refusing assertively is to believe that other people have the right to ask; you have the right to refuse. Where the definition of the job limits your right to refuse, remember you still have the right to state the difficulties the request will cause. A verbal 'No' with a non-verbal 'Yes' equals confusion: ensure your body language is complementary, rather then contradictory.

How do you know when you want to say 'No'? Listen carefully, check what your body it telling you. Is it a sinking or rising feeling?

Be clear...

if in doubt, ask for more time and information

Be direct...

ensure that you use the word 'No' or 'not' in the sentence e.g. "No I don't want to" or "I'm not happy to . . ."

Be Honest...

give the real reason for refusing: do not invent and excuse, and use the word 'I'

Be equal...

acknowledge the right of the person to be upset by your decision. Be sure to emphasise that it is the request that is being rejected, not the person.

Remember

Saying 'Yes' when you want to say 'No' means short-term gain, but long- term pain.

Be Assertive, Not Aggressive or Passive

Be Assertive, Not Aggressive or Passive

3) Saying No

Many people find it difficult to say no without feeling awkward or guilty. Typically they start by intending to refuse the request and say "I would if I could but I can't .." which leaves it open for the other person to ask "Why not ?" and try to make them change their mind.

Giving lengthy or several reasons can sound like a weak excuse, so it is more effective to be brief but honest.

Obviously you first have to consider which requests you feel you have a right to refuse and then, if you really do not want to do something, try using a simple three-point model:

  • Show you have listened to the request
  • Say you can't and briefly give your reasons
  • End by repeating your refusal and use the word "no", eg. "....so no, I can't change my day off".

In this way you have effectively closed the matter and made it far harder for someone to put pressure on you. So the following exchange might take place:

"Julie's off sick so I wonder if you could change your day off and come in on Friday"

"I can see you need to find someone to cover for Julie on Friday but I can't change my day off because I've got an important appointment that day which has been planned for months, so no, I'm afraid I can't help you."

4) The Broken Record

Children are experts in the use of the broken record technique and use it very effectively. It is useful to make sure you are listened to and that your message is received.

Sometimes when people are actively involved with their own concerns or needs, they pay little attention to what you have to say or to your situation. Broken record makes sure that your message gets through without nagging, whinging or whining.

With the broken record technique, it is important to keep on repeating the message until it can no longer be ignored or dismissed. It is also important to use some of the same words over and over again in different sentences. This reinforces the main part of your message and prevents others raising red herrings or diverting you from your central message.

Example

To Insistent customer:

"We won't be able to complete all the work by the 15th. I understand it causes you problems. We can compensate some of the key items by then and the rest by a later date. What we can't do is complete all of it by the 15th".


5) Disagreeing and Stating your Views

At work and in your social life you experience different events from other people; even with the same event you might experience it in different ways. All this leads you, quite legitimately, to see things from your own point of view. This will sometimes be the same as other people's, sometimes different. You probably exchange these points of view when you meet.

Unfortunately, both casual encounters and more formal meetings can at times resemble a 'battle of wits', with enormous energy going into 'point scoring', rather like a debating society; or else they adopt a cocktail party atmosphere, where the game is to change your mind as soon as anybody disagrees with you.

Aggressive behaviour often stokes up conflict by emphasising disagreement and down-playing agreement. It puts down the other person either through sarcasm or direct hostility,

Aggressive behaviour stems from beliefs along the lines of:

  • Things are always black and white; there are no grey areas
  • Other people can only be right if I'm wrong; both parties can't be right
  • It will show weakness if I change my mind

The immediate result of people disagreeing and stating their views aggressively is that the issues can get forgotten as the emotions start to take over.

Passive behaviour dismisses your own ideas and opinions as being worthless or less important than those of other people. It seeks to avoid open conflict by glossing over any disagreements.

It arises out of beliefs that include:

  • Disagreeing always leads to conflict, which is unpleasant
  • People will think I'm just being awkward if I raise doubts
  • Other people will always be upset or annoyed if I disagree

The immediate result of being passive about disagreeing and stating views is that some quite valid difficulties are not raised and are therefore not taken into account in any eventual solutions.

Assertive behaviour involves disagreeing and agreeing openly and stating your viewpoints clearly and firmly. It means that you do not put yourself or others down. It comes from beliefs such as:

  • I and others have the right to have opinions and for these to be different
  • I and others have the right to state opinions and to disagree
  • Disagreements do not necessarily lead to conflict

The following are helpful hints for disagreeing and stating your views assertively:

a) state disagreements clearly
b) express doubts in a constructive way
c) use I statements, eg. "as I see it...", "I believe....", "I find that..."
d) state what parts you agree and disagree with
e) recognise other people's points of view

The result of disagreeing and stating your views assertively is that information, viewpoints, and ideas do not get lost; issues are not avoided or 'fudged'.

6) Giving Praise

If you are unable to give praise assertively you leave people trying to guess whether the work they do meets your expectations, or making assumptions along the lines of 'no news is good news.' People learn not only from mistakes but also from successes. So praise, especially very specific praise, gives the other person a picture of your standards and informs them when they have achieved them.

When giving praise, maintain eye contact, keep the praise brief and clear and make it specific.

7) Receiving Praise

All too often you might feel uncomfortable or foolish when you are on the receiving end of praise. This is often because, from your culture or upbringing, you have come to hold certain beliefs about receiving praise. For instance, it's impolite or boastful to agree with praise, or accepting praise means being obligated to someone.

It is okay to receive praise assertively by simply thanking the giver and accept the praise. It is also worth keeping the response short. If you disagree with the praise giver, then qualify your reply but still thank the giver.


8) Receiving Feedback

Step one - Be sure to listen carefully to what is being said

Step two - Check that you understand; if not, ask for an example

Step three - Avoid the old conditioned responses such as:

  • Direct Aggression - denying it vehemently
  • Indirect Aggression - saying nothing, sulking
  • Passivity - believing it is all true

Step four - Decide on the truth of the criticism; is it:

  • completely true?
  • partly true?
  • wholly true?

When the criticism is completely true:

  • Say so clearly eg, "Yes I agree, I am lazy"
  • Explain how you feel eg. "I feel bad about it"
  • Enquire how your behaviour affects others eg. "Does it make things difficult for you?"

When the criticism is partly true:

  • Agree with the part that is true eg. "You are right, I can be irresponsible sometimes..."
  • Deny the rest eg. "But I am a usually a sensible person"

When the criticism is wholly untrue:

  • Reject the criticism firmly eg. "No I don't agree...."
  • Ask why they think that eg. "What makes you think that?"

Step five - Consider what you have learnt from the criticism. Decide if you want to alter your behaviour as a result.

Remember
Avoid hanging on to feelings - let it go!

9) Giving Feedback

When giving feedback:

  • Check your motivation. Why do you want to give feedback?
  • Be clear about what you want to say in advance
  • Give feedback as soon as possible after the event and at a convenient time
  • Be specific
  • Focus on behaviours and observations
  • Take one thing at a time
  • Ask the other person for their views
  • Use "I" statements where possible
  • Agree what needs to be done in terms of performance
  • Concentrate on what can be changed

10) Controlling the Thinking Process

The thinking process following a situation is probably habitual, very rapid and difficult to deflect. Many feelings and behaviours are learned consciously or unconsciously. Some unproductive feelings may have some short-term payoffs, which is why they become part of one's repertoire. Many unproductive feelings are the outcome of irrational thoughts which prejudge a situation and lead to exaggeration about inevitability of outcomes.

To control your thinking process following a situation, you need to challenge your faulty inner thoughts:

  • Was it all so bad?
  • Aren't you generalising from a single event?
  • Aren't your expectations of perfection unrealistic?
  • Can't they/you be wrong sometimes?
  • Are you/they expected to know everything>
  • Are they really that powerful?

The thinking process preceding a situation is capable of being controlled and of being slowed down releasing better feeling, which can help to control yourself and the situation.

Controlling your thinking process before an event helps you to make use of:

  • Experience of similar previous situations
  • Imagining the likely outcomes
  • Anticipation of behaviour in yourself and others
  • Consideration of the consequences of these behaviours
  • Consideration of the rights of the people concerned

11) Responding Assertively to Aggression

Meet aggression with aggression and the situation will escalate and achieve little except raised blood pressure and bad feeling. The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that there is anger:

I can see that you're really angry....." and let the person respond. Try to buy time in order to calm things down and then concentrate on what the person is saying and not on the behaviour that person is displaying.

Try to remain unemotional and focus on the facts of the situation.

advanced-lessons-in-being-assertive-take-back-control-of-your-personal-life-and-of-your-career

12) Ways of Handling Conflicting Needs

You are more likely to negotiate acceptable outcomes of the win/win variety if you believe that your needs are as important as the other person's and that you do not necessarily have to lose for others to win.

So it is important to move into negotiating when someone says 'No' to you and you feel that insufficient time has been giving to exploring alternatives. you can also move into negotiating if you are not able to agree to a request from someone and you are not happy to end the conversation at that point.


Negotiation Steps

Negotiation Steps

Clarifying Needs

Ask questions to find out from the other person what their needs are. You may need to deal with excuses, hassle, and real reasons before you get to needs. Questions like the following can help you:

'What's the problem?'

'How do you mean?'

'Why is that?'

You may need to ask further questions to follow up the clues about needs that people present. In asking these questions it is important to maintain assertive non-verbal behaviours, otherwise you may be seen as interrogating or negative.

State your own needs e.g., 'Jane, can we sort out the design problem now rather than this afternoon, as I need to be away early this evening?'

You may wish to briefly expand upon your need and why it is important to you.

Accepting Needs

Once you are clear on the needs in the situation it is helpful to show the other person explicitly, that you accept their needs as valid. You can empathise and say something like "OK Jill, I accept that this is important to...", or, "I recognise you need to....".

In turn you want the other person to accept your needs as valid. For example, "so do you accept that I need to...?'". This may seem a bit unnecessary to you. However, where there is a conflict of needs, it helps you both to focus upon the issue of how to meet both sets of needs. This is in contrast to one person trying to persuade the other that he or she does not really have the need.

Resolving

This can be a creative and rewarding exchange, once the needs are accepted on both sides. Start by offering alternative suggestions. These can be new suggestions or they can be variations on ones that have cropped up earlier in the conversation. These variations can be in terms of time, quality, quantity, people. For example, if you cannot let someone have the accurate breakdown of expenditure within the timescale they require, you may be able to let them have an approximate breakdown.

Then ask for alternative suggestions by asking questions like "How can we get around this one?" or "Any suggestions for how we could....?". You could also say "I'm open to ideas on how....".

Sometimes it is appropriate to suggest that you will do certain things if the other person will do likewise, for example, "I'm prepared to spend a couple of days to investigate the problem if you will do the same".

Hopefully these suggestions have got you thinking about negotiating as a method to handle conflicting needs.


Would You Like to Learn the Basics of Assertiveness?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Mr Singh

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