Can you speak up when you have a point to make? Or would you rather avoid exchanging words at any cost? Being assertive is a skill that every woman should possess at her work or in her home. And it’s never too late to learn this essential skill writes Savia Rajagopal.
What it is: Being assertive means presenting your view point and saying what you really feel in a clear, concise manner. It is often mistaken with being aggressive or self-centred. It is neither.
An assertive person is one who can stand up and express their thoughts, while being sensitive to the feelings of others. However it does entail ruffling some feathers on occasion, so a definite attitude change is required. Stash away your cowardice and escapist mentality and stand up and be counted.
What it’s not: Some others believe that you are either born with it or not. Unlike genetic inheritances, assertiveness is a skill that anyone can learn. (Read on for more practical tips)
Assertiveness is also confused with aggressiveness, which is hostile and demanding behaviour. The intention of aggression is to force someone into submission – either in behaviour or thought. Assertiveness on the other hand is mindful of others’ feelings but still expresses one’s own chain of thought.
Why it’s important: “Being assertive helps you place your view point. There are times you have to voice your opinions and concerns and that’s the time when it really helps to have this skill,” opines Seema Hingorany, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist.
Why it’s not always easy: If you’ve spent most of your life trying to please others without causing any discomfort, learning to be assertive can be a challenge. Often in a bid to avoid nasty confrontations, we submit to decisions or opinions that we don’t really believe in. However in the long run, we tend to resent ourselves and our partners, family or friends, as there is an internal conflict.
Rules of assertion
If you’re not used to speaking out and standing up for yourself, being assertive can be a bit of an uphill task. But always remember a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So put your right foot forward and begin on an onward march towards a more confident YOU. Here are some useful tips from expert, Hingorany…
Listen carefully, but don’t give in easily if you feel others are wrong.
More often than not, our listening skills are far from perfect. “Lost in translation” often describes a common state of affairs. So listen to what is being suggested but if you feel your partner/friend or any other person is wrong, be logical and practical as you present your feelings on this.
Make sure you are not aggressive but only assertive.
Screaming matches only get you so far. While sometimes we all love a good fight to clear the system, using aggression to have your way will get you nowhere. To be assertive means expressing your thoughts in a calm manner. Resorting to theatrics and hysterics is a no-no.
Observe the pitch of your voice and tone.
Body language is the biggest giveaway when it comes to showing how you really feel. When you are in the midst of a discussion, it doesn’t take much for voices to be raised and the “discussion” turns into a full-fledged war call. Moderate your tone at all times and don’t allow your emotions to take over your speech. It also doesn’t mean that you are impassive and cold to the point of being frustrating.
Don’t be rude and defensive when placing your view point.
Another big part of being assertive is the ability to listen to what others are saying and to not hold the disagreements against them personally. While presenting your own opinions, you need not use sarcasm or derogatory remarks to get your point across. Behave and participate like an adult, instead of a child who wants to have that cherished toy.
Use assertive skills often or else you may lose its essence.
Practice makes perfect. Cliched as it sounds, that old statement is true in all walks of life. Learning to say “No” and standing up for yourself is something that needs to be cultivated over a period of time. The only way to be assertive is to keep practising those skills over and over again.
Situations where you need to assert yourself
At the workplace
All of us have faced situations where our colleague tries to challenge everything we say. It’s no wonder it’s a big topic of discussion in the after-office hours. If you are convinced about yourself, speak up and let her/him know how you feel. Again, pay attention to the rules of assertion and you won’t go wrong. Appeal to their intelligence and take the practical route in trying to make your point.
With friends and peers
How often do we get into situations where we are just not heard? If this is your story then be accurate and organised in what you say. Babbling and bursting into tears is not the way to impress. Voice your thoughts when you’re with friends and continually practice the same.
In your home
In family, children are not following discipline methods. For many women the challenge of being assertive lies in their very home. Kids running amok and refusing to obey instructions can be a contentious issue with all the dynamics at work. Be consistent in your approach and reactions so that no conflicting messages are given.
Set ground rules and stick to the repercussions should they cross the line. Very often being aggressive and screaming and nagging your child gets you nowhere other than feeling drained and frustrated. Instead opt for a calm, pragmatic yet no-nonsense approach as you tackle your kids.