As I hand over the money to a tradesman for some home maintenance work, I feel a mixture of relief and satisfaction as I mentally tick off another job on my list.
He drives away and I re-examine his handiwork. The work is OK but could be better. I can see flaws that should not be there. A mix of feelings bubble
under and my mind checks through my options.
Do I call him out to fix the snags?
Do I call him and give him feedback to let him know but say I’ll let it go?
Do I just accept the work?
Confronting him means a potential scene, an argument. He may refuse, saying the work is fine. He may want more money. I should not have to pay more if he hasn’t delivered. He might make the work worse.
Of course, he may be pleasant, apologise and fix his mistakes.
Saying nothing avoids all the unpleasant possibilities but means I will lose out on getting the work done to a standard I was expecting. But at least there is no risk of a scene.
Understanding Assertive Behaviour
It is not easy to assert yourself when you fear it may lead to confrontation.
Feeling insecure, uncertain or intimidated will all trigger a fear response.
Up pops our animal nature – the fight, flight or freeze response starts to rule our
The easiest way to understand what being assertive is about is considering passive, assertive and aggressive behaviour as all being part of a pendulum of response.
Our emotions lead to passive and aggressive behaviour. Assertive behaviour is about being a fair and rational human.
When you let others get their way without considering your needs you are exhibiting passive behaviour. You do nothing to push back. Peace is more important than equality. You submit to a situation.
You let everyone voice their opinion but deny yourself a voice. You believe you are not important; that what you think or know does not matter. You may doubt the value of what you have to say. Who wants to listen to you?
Where does this lead? You feel happy that you let things go. You avoided confrontation. You’re safe.
But then you see that your way may have been better. Or you realise you have lost out, missed an opportunity. You feel cheated, robbed and put down.
If this is your habitual behaviour you probably don’t see the imbalance in how others treat you. You may even wrap yourself up in this blanket of low self-esteem, feeling warm, miserable but comfortable in confirming what little value you have and can give. How safe and easy it can be to do nothing.
You may back this up by moaning to others about your pain and unhappiness; how unfair life is. Even though you do nothing to prevent it or are even complicit in letting it happen.
Then there’s the really fun stuff. Passive-aggressive behaviour. Those pointless moments of giving others the silent treatment, withdrawing until someone notices. ‘What’s wrong?’ a caring partner asks. ‘Nothing’ you snap back. Clearly something is but we are loving the power we gain by holding it back.
You know you’re right. You deserve to be listened to. You’re experienced, skilled and educated in whatever it is under discussion.
Unlike with passive-aggressive behaviour, this stuff is all about getting heard. Speaking out.
Aggressive behaviour isn’t always about anger and violence. There are so many subtle ways we can be aggressive. You poke fun at others’ failings, ideas or thoughts accompanying it with a wink and a grin. Because that makes it Okay?
Criticism, sarcasm, acting in a superior fashion, showing little consideration for others and their feelings are all aggressive actions.
But at least you’re acting, right? Some people just won’t get on with
anything. Time is marching on. You lead and direct. You dominate. Some of us are just born for this and everyone else should follow.
And what about other road users? Who the hell do they think they are? Born idiots – who let them have a licence?
And then, maybe, you realise people stick with you through fear or live in
your shadow. When you need some honest feedback does anyone give it?
Where are your real friends? Life can be lonely when you are always
attacking others. The view might be great but it can be a cold place on top of
your own pedestal.
So, what would be better? Everyone getting their say. Everyone shows each
other respect and listens to them, even when they’re talking garbage.
Respect is key. Life is about compromise, pulling ideas and thoughts
together to create a synergistic blend of greatness together.
Sometimes you will take the lead, because you may be more knowledgeable and skilled. But that doesn’t mean that someone else won’t throw fresh light on a problem. Be ready to listen, to learn more and grow.
You can stand your ground when you need to. Politely. Someone has let you
down, reneged on a promise. Broken a contract. You work with the facts and don’t make it personal.
Sometimes you take the lead, sometimes you step back and give your all to
the partnership or team.
You know in your heart that the outcome is the fairest possible for all.
You respect and like yourself, and it’s contagious.
How to Be More Assertive
Okay, so it would be great if we were all level headed, calm and didn’t have
those annoying emotional reactions ever.
We all have our little foot-stamping behaviours that show up when we want
things to go our way. And sometimes it’s nice to hide under the bed covers and never leave our safe and cosy little space.
Don’t complain if you spend your time running between the two.
To learn to use assertive behaviour you must value yourself as a human
being. You may be flawed, not always right, but still deserve to be listened to. You accept you should reciprocate and listen to others too.
Think about giving yourself a fair shot and allowing others to have theirs
too. Kindness is free. You have nothing to lose.
If you feel better about yourself it is hard not to feel generally happier.
A happier you will make you a nicer person to be around. People will respond more favourably to you. Slowly you find that people are OK. They have their flaws too, but that’s allowed.
If you are on the receiving end of aggressive behaviour – remember it is the
behaviour that is wrong – not the person.
Sometimes you need to be brave.
Stay calm, assess the situation, consider the facts and be aware that you
have every right to speak as the next person.
That also means you respect the other person’s opinions and allow them time to talk.
It is OK to let someone know how their behaviour makes you feel. This gives them an opportunity to change.
And when you get it wrong at someone else’s expense apologies are always