In this episode Maureen talks about what assertiveness is…and what it isn’t. She also offers some tips on how to be more assertive, even in challenging situations.
Hello, I’m Maureen O’ Callaghan, founder of Beyond Money, a business that aims to change the way people do business by teaching them the art of doing business beyond money.
In this series of podcasts, I’m going to cover some key themes that will help business owners thrive in work and in life, do some good, and discover that their purpose goes way beyond money.
On today’s episode, I’d like to talk about assertiveness.
Assertiveness is being able to clearly and respectfully communicate your wants, needs, positions, and boundaries to others.
So assertive people don’t have any problem defending their point of view or trying to influence people to see their side of things.
They are also open to compliments and criticism.
Being assertive has a lot of benefits, namely better relationships, better confidence, and a greater sense of agency.
When people don’t assert themselves, they can feel insecure, become passive, or even completely lose track of what they need and want from life.
The thing about assertiveness is, even though it can seem straight forward, it’s not.
There are a lot of different factors that can impact on how assertive someone is, or isn’t.
These can include things like upbringing, gender, age, ethnicity, and other cultural factors.
From personal experience, as a girl, I was given the impression from a young age that I was expected to be compliant, and that I shouldn’t make too many demands.
Assertiveness for me can also depend on the context and setting I’m in.
For example, I found it easier to be assertive in business settings than I do in academic settings. This was mainly because I was less familiar with how things were done, how decisions were made, and the kind of language that was used in the academic world.
I think with assertiveness, there can also be ‘good’ and ‘bad assertivenes.
I’d define ‘good’ assertiveness as being when you are able to take ownership of how you are thinking and feeling. When you are able to describe the factors that have resulted in those thoughts and emotions, and when you are able to state clearly how you would like the matter to be resolved.
I will give you an example…
I have a colleague who always arrives at least 20 minutes late for any meetings. Last week I told him that when he turns up late for our meetings, I feel frustrated and felt that my time was not valued. I ended by saying I wanted him to arrive on time in future.
It is about knowing what it is you need and working to get it…and meeting the needs of others if you can.
It is also about responding and not reacting to what other people say or do.
When it comes to ‘bad’ assertiveness, I always think of this being when somebody moans about something but doesn’t take the action needed to resolve the situation.
Or when someone is aggressive.
Being aggressive is NOT assertiveness and I think you need to make sure that you’re not being domineering or belligerent and trying to pass it off as assertiveness.
However, there are times when people won’t like that you’re being assertive.
They might think that you only care about yourself and even accuse you of that.
This can be a common response to them not getting what they want.
The key to respectfully standing your ground and having your needs met is assertive communication.
When you communicate assertively, there are definite benefits.
The first is clarity; people know what you are thinking, how you feel, and what action you’re going to take.
The next is being able to express yourself. Standing up for what you think and feel feels good because it aligns with your values.
The culmination of all of this is that it boosts your confidence and self-esteem.
If like me, you grew up with the belief that it was wrong to state your needs and get them met, being assertive can feel difficult.
For example, if you’re having a discussion with someone and they seem to be denying your right to feel a certain way, this can be quite triggering.
The result is that you’ll become emotionally reactive and unable to assert your needs objectively, which can feel very unpleasant.
If you find yourself in this situation, try this:
Slow down, stop what you are taking, and take several deep breaths.
Focus on listening to what the other person is saying without your thoughts or emotions getting in the way.
Reflect back on what you think you’ve heard to check you have understood them correctly.
If you still feel emotional, then say you need time to reflect on what has been said and you will get back to them.
If you feel OK …
- Describe what you are experiencing in your body and what thoughts and emotions have arisen,
- Then explain what you need to happen for you to be OK.
So if you feel yourself getting emotional, take a break and walk away. Just moving helps me.
If I have time before a meeting where I feel I might become emotional, I practice what I am going to say.
I try to recognise and understand what is likely to trigger my emotions.
I try to prepare but at the same time, I know there could be surprises.
I tune into my body so that I can pick up on early clues about how I am feeling.
I consciously breathe…when I am tense my breathing becomes shallow.
I also relax my muscles – especially my jaw and neck.
Once you feel prepared, the next step is to think about how to express yourself clearly and concisely.
Plan what you want to say before you start speaking and be mindful of over-explaining. I know I do this and it can be down to fear of judgement.
Don’t use filler words and stick to specifics. In fact, think about who you’re going to be speaking to-what language would they understand? How will you make sure that no only you feel listened to, seen, and understood but they do too?
When you need to be assertive, try following these steps and see what a difference it makes to the outcome.
Becoming assertive has taken me a long time, but you can learn and you can get a positive outcome.
I once had a bad experience on holiday. The hotel we stayed in was in a terrible state of disrepair.
I explained to the travel company why I was unhappy… along with providing photographic evidence of the unacceptable state of the place.
I then stated what I wanted them to do to resolve the situation:
- Move me to another hotel
- Compensate me for the disruption to my holiday
- Take steps to ensure repairs were made
The result was I was moved to a 5-star hotel at no extra cost. I got compensation and I received a letter saying they had sent in an inspector to look at the hotel and renovations were in progress.
So being assertive does work, when you are actually assertive, and not just complaining or being aggressive.
Do you have any examples of when you have been assertive and it worked out well?
I’d love you to share them with me.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and you’re inspired to practice becoming more assertiveness in those areas of your life where you feel like it’s lacking.
Tune in for the next episode of the Beyond Money podcast which will be looking at building trust and how it’s the key to building a high-performing team and much more.
See you next time!