Sunday, January 31, 2010


As an outpatient psychologist with a long running private
practice, clients often ask me, "How do I become assertive?"
The short answer is "speak up." The longer answer is we
first have to understand what assertiveness is and what it is not.
Let me address the last part first.
Assertiveness is not aggression. It is not yelling, name
calling or doing anything physically violent. It is not about
getting in someone's space or place if they do not invite us.
It is not about damaging other's property.
Neither is assertiveness about being passive. That involves
not saying or doing things in an indirect way, but still having an
underhanded intent. Such statements blur messages on purpose;
confusing the recipient into thinking the intent is something it
is not. Manipulating falls into this category. Being
non-assertive is different from being passive. The difference is
that choosing to not speak up is deliberate, conscious and has not
ulterior motives. It is not manipulation, just the choice to not
respond. Sometimes this is the better choice, like when our boss
is mad at us, yet we would like to have a promotion. Not speaking
at that time is judicious, and choosing to not assert our point of
view is wise.
Assertiveness is about speaking up in a specific way, stating
what you want and using "I" statements. "I would like to have
that cake" is an assertive statement. "That cake would sure look
nice on my plate" is a semi-assertive statement. "My, how good
that cake looks" is not an assertive statement. "That cake would
make me feel better about you" is a manipulative statement.
Saying nothing about cake because we do not want any is choosing
to just not be assertive.
Assertiveness involves five steps. In my ebook on this
subject, I explain them in detail and how they flow from one to the
other, each needing to be completed before the next. For this
article, here's a quick summary. Step One is asking yourself what
are you thinking or feeling. Step Two is about validating that
your thoughts and/or feelings are valid and important. Step Three
is thinking and planning how we might express ourselves, assuming
we get through Step Two and actually think what we have to say is
important enough to say or do something about. Step Four is
actually executing the plan; that is, doing what we fantasized in
Step Three. Step Five is feedback. How did it go? If we
achieved some satisfaction, we are done with that thought. If not,
it is back to Step One.
This may seem a little tedious, but each of us goes through at
least the first two steps with every thought and/or feeling. Those
thoughts and/or feelings that are salient; that is, rise to some
higher level in our awareness, are considered more and are more
likely to motivate us to consider doing something about. This is
Step Three, which once engaged, usually carries us through to
completion (Step Five). This process is automatic and very, very
fast. It is usually unconscious; that is, out of everyday
awareness automatic and usually psychologically reflexive
(patterned, rehearsed responses that we chalk up as mental habits).
Learning to be assertive is about realizing the steps that are
involved and how we each follow them. If we do so unconsciously,
then assertiveness is hit or miss, depending upon our early training.
We inherit most of these thought patterns from our parents, which
could be good or bad. The key to becoming assertive is to become
aware of the above and practice it a few times. Usually people
see the benefit and are encouraged to continue.
There is always a contingent of folks who disagree and claim
being assertive is a bad thing. It generates conflict, does not work,
is a waste of time, etc. In my ebook, I address a very long list
of reasons people generate why we should not be assertive. Some of
them are quite creative, but all of them lack basis. I explain all
of this is depth and detail. In my view, assertiveness is a very
positive skill and is one of the easiest to acquire. Once practiced,
assertiveness spreads out in the psyche and positively influences
more experiences than the reader can imagine, starting with decreasing
anxiety and depression and increasing self-esteem.

Dr. Griggs

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