Practicing Assertiveness

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On choosing a communications style that honors the genuine me.

By Natasha Files | Twitter: @natashafiles

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Have you ever been in a situation where you left thinking: “Wow, I wish I’d responded better.” Or, “if only I had said no instead of yes”? I’ve had a lot of those moments and will be the first to admit that I feel slightly defeated when they happen.

I used to lack assertiveness because I was afraid to step on people’s toes and didn’t want to be known as a boundary-stomper. I’ve recently realized that being a doormat is equally as unhealthy because it leaves me feeling crushed and doesn’t show others the genuine me.

Four styles

Contrary to popular belief, being assertive isn’t a bad or pushy thing. In fact, assertiveness is such an important skill that many workplaces offer workshops to help their employees hone the skills. Assertiveness is one of four communication styles with the other three being: passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive. While a communication style does not represent who we are, it can definitely impact the success that we have in our relationships.

I value myself enough to put up healthy boundaries and take ownership of my behaviours, so I think it’s important to have skills that support those beliefs. Being assertive doesn’t mean I am doing things against others, it just means I am making choices that support me. Since putting my skills into play I have noticed a decrease in internal and external conflict, an increase in my self-respect and reduced feelings of helplessness and failure.

When putting assertiveness into action, I sometimes equate it to expressing my emotions. Last week we talked about accepting emotions in a healthy way and this week I hope to continue that acceptance by communicating them to others. Remembering that I am in charge of my own behaviours, I often push myself to be assertive in situations where I would rather passively hide.

For example: This past week an acquaintance made a joke about me in front of others. We all laughed and then moved on to another topic of conversation, but I noticed myself feeling hurt and ruminating about the cause for her joke. In the past I would have responded with internal anger then would have probably avoided her for a while. This time I chose to be assertive, so I waited for an appropriate time and one-to-one verbalized my hurt.

“Hey, I know we all laughed at that joke, but it kind of hurt when you said that. I am curious if I did something that prompted that?” It turned out she had heard someone previously share the joke and thought I would be the person who could most likely handle the burn. Had I just assumed her reasoning, nothing would have been resolved.

I didn’t learn assertiveness overnight, but am glad I put in the effort to practice the skills until they became natural. An exercise I did to get out of my comfort zone was to call someone I didn’t know and ask for information. Some ideas I found in a manual at work are:

  • Call a hotel and ask about room prices
  • Call the library and ask if they have “books on CD” and how long they may be borrowed for
  • Call a restaurant and ask about the potential of getting a reservation for a group of six this Saturday night

None of these ideas require that you commit to anything, but will need some assertiveness to complete!

About Natasha:
Natasha Files is Case Manager with a Mental Health and Addictions Team. She has experience working with youth and adults struggling with a variety of life-controlling issues and she specializes in eating disorders. Natasha’s passion for mental wellness began when she personally experienced the impact of a genuinely caring professional. That passion is paired with a love of espresso, only to be overshadowed by her desire to see women set free from life-controlling issues.

Photo credit: Frerieke

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Natasha Files

Natasha Files

Natasha is a Youth Worker and Mental Health Advocate specializing in the area of eating disorders. Her passion for mental wellness is paired with a love of espresso, only to be overshadowed by her desire to see women set free from life-controlling issues.
Natasha Files
  • http://www.tinafrancisphotography.com/ Tina

    Man…what is it about calling and asking for rates that is SO nerve-racking! I really struggle with this. Especially if people are in the room.

    Proud of you for clarifying the root of the joke. It’s funny how far off the deep-end, an assumption can push us, hey?

    You were missed at Life Women tonight!

    I can’t wait to run alongside you!!!

    xoxo,
    Teen

    • Natasha

      I still have to push myself to make requests of people…and it’s so funny because I have no issue with people making requests of me, but perceive my requests to be such a burden! Gaaah.

      Wish I could have been at LW. Love you tons and can’t wait for September xo

  • http://www.fakeleft.com Stephanie

    Loved this post Natasha. I really identify with the scenario you describe in the first paragraph. I’ve walked away many times from a conversation wishing I had expressed what was in my mind but was too scared to inconvenience others.

    I was forced to practice assertiveness when we decided to start our own business. We’ve learnt a lot of lessons the hard way and that was one of them. We are still learning to express our conditions, to stand up for what we believe in and like you said, put up healthy boundaries and take ownership of our behaviours.

    Love this, “Being assertive doesn’t mean I am doing things against others, it just means I am making choices that support me.”

    Very important.

    Teen’s comment made me laugh because my husband and I are exactly the same. It’s not just asking for rates, it’s any phone call that is business related, a request or negotiation – we get so nervous on the phone. We usually have to hide during the phone call because, like Teen said, it’s harder with people in the room.

    • Natasha

      Haha, isn’t that so true about having a harder time when others are listening?! I am still learning to have confidence when my colleagues ask to sit in on sessions or groups..the other day I actually asked a colleague if she could skip attending the group I was facilitating because I didn’t have energy to do it with her watching! Glad I’m not the only one with that quirk…and glad that practice and exposure to those situations can help us learn skills and grow stronger!