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CENTERS PIECE: The assertive advantage - Odessa American: Centers’ Piece

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CENTERS PIECE: The assertive advantage

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Posted: Monday, December 9, 2019 3:30 am

Sally’s patience is beginning to wear thin with a peer at school. Jane seems to make humiliating Sally her goal every day. Sally finally decides that she’s had enough and that she is going to stand up for herself the next time Jane says something rude. However, when the day comes, Sally loses her nerve. She continues to find herself in this situation again and again. She feels cross with herself, but she doesn’t know what else to do.

Or maybe the situation isn’t involving a kid at school, but a colleague at the office. Jim has more experience than anyone else on his team and works diligently to make meaningful contributions. When the need for a new team lead is announced, Jim decides to put his hat in the ring. A few days later a congratulatory email circulates around the office introducing Sam as the new team lead. Disappointed, Jim swallows his pride and goes back to work, wondering what he could have done to secure the position. Afraid to talk to his boss, he feels disappointed with himself and angry with the company.

It is possible you’ve been in a situation like Sally or Jim before, and like them, you might have felt like there was nothing you could do and you might have been afraid to say anything. Standing up for yourself can be intimidating, but by learning to be more assertive, you can improve your self-confidence and ability to communicate effectively.

So what does it mean to speak assertively?

Assertive communication is a very important skill, but it is not always an easy task. For kids like Sally, struggling to be assertive may result in difficulty developing a positive self-image or healthy relationships. For adults like Jim, lacking strong assertive communication skills may result in being overlooked for a desired promotion.

When someone is speaking assertively, they are standing up for their own point of view, while still respecting the rights and beliefs of others. However, this is not always the way people communicate. Sometimes people speak too passively or too aggressively. When this happens, the message is often lost because people are too busy reacting to the delivery. Being assertive gives people the best chance of successfully delivering their message.

Over the years I have found that sometimes kids confuse standing up for themselves with being a bully. However, when kids choose not to be assertive, they are actually being mean to themselves. This is something many adults struggle with, too. But communicating assertively is not selfish and it is not cruel. It is a way to successfully communicate healthy personal boundaries and manage social encounters.

So how does someone become more assertive? Here are four tips.

1. Use “I” statements and feeling words to convey basic assertions and get your point across firmly while creating a situation for your audience to have empathy. This allows others to know what you are thinking and feeling without sounding accusatory.

“I do not appreciate the way you are talking to me right now. I am proud of my work.”

2. Speak in a clear, calm voice. When you are speaking assertively, you are not yelling or putting others down. Whereas aggressive communication is based on winning and does not take the rights, needs, and feelings of others into consideration, assertive communication allows for a person’s message to come across fairly and firmly.

“I would like an opportunity to try. I am confident in my ability.”

3. Set boundaries for yourself. Know what you are okay with and not okay with. Sometimes you might find that people test your limits or they may ask too much of you. Learn to say no. Remember that you cannot possibly do everything or please everyone.

“No, I cannot help you. I have too much on my plate.”

4. Choose verbs wisely. Be more definite and emphatic with your word choice. This will help you to send a clear message without the chance of things being misconstrued. To do this, use verbs like “will” instead of “could” or “should,” “want” instead of “need,” or “choose to” instead of have to.

“I want you to stop.”

All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Being assertive means finding the right communication balance. If assertive communication does not come naturally for you, like Sally or Jim, know you are not alone.

Also know that this is a skill that can develop over time by identifying your wants and needs, expressing them in a direct, positive way, and learning to say “no” when necessary. Believe in yourself and your ability.

Once you start communicating assertively, you will likely find improvements in your self-confidence. When you are feeling more self-confident, assertive communication can become second nature. By practicing these techniques regularly, you will likely find that you become more productive, efficient, and respected too. Assertive communication is a skill that can lead to a happy and successful life. 

Teresa is a Licensed Professional Counselor and was employed at Centers for Children and Families until summer 2019. Teresa now works as a counselor for the Ector County School District.

Odessa, TX

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