In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I run across the
“assertiveness issue” just about every day. It touches everyone in
every venue. It is inescapable.
The most basic definition of assertiveness has to do with stating
what we think and what we feel. The style of communication is less
important than the content, which must include our perceptions.
These are our thoughts and feelings. To make assertiveness effective,
we have to state our thought and then our feeling about it. In other
articles, I have written about when and more importantly, where this
works better or not, e.g., in work settings, in acquaintance vs.
intimate relationships, etc.
Advanced assertiveness takes the process one step further.
It involves asking for what we want. This can be direct, as in a
question like, “Can I have that cake?” Or, asking for what we want
can take an indirect path, when for example, we bargain. “I’ll give
you a pie if you give something to me. Let’s see, what do I want….?”
Bargaining can be very complicated and involve multiple levels of give
and take; for example, buying a car from a dealer.
There are several points to remember in Advanced Assertiveness.
One, we have to be clear in our awareness of thoughts and feelings.
Any fuzziness complicates the process because the articulation of our
perceptions will be correspondingly fuzzy. Often we need to do a
little soul searching before things become clear. If this is the case,
do so first.
Two, we cannot shy away from conflict. Assertiveness is about
asking for what we want, but there is a good chance that someone else
wants something else, related to or even antagonistic to what we want.
The stereotype is that when buying a car, this is almost always the case.
The car dealer salesman does not want us to know what cards he is holding,
so right away we have to compensate by being clearer and perhaps stronger
in our assertions. The buyer and the seller are at cross-purposes,
each trying to maximize their savings (buyer) or profits (seller).
Since the dealer is not going to let the car go at a loss, the buyer’s
position is really about minimizing loss. This requires strength,
persistence and the ability to deal with conflict.
There is some psychological conditioning that needs to happen before
Advanced Assertiveness will become comfortable. The most frequent
experience that creates becoming comfortable is just engaging in this
type of communication often enough that we become used to it. But at
an even deeper level we have to accept the principle that conflict itself
is unavoidable. When I was a graduate student, a noted professor told
us the very first night in a class on conflict theory, “Conflict is
everywhere. Don’t try to avoid it. It is impossible to escape conflict.
Get used to it.” At the time, this was a grim message, but it turns out,
a true one.
If we accept that conflict is unavoidable, several things begin
to change. One is that our expectations become more realistic.
This is healthy from numerous points of view. The one that is most
relevant to this discussion is that we will pick and choose more
carefully when asking for what we want. Another potential benefit is
that our skins become thickened. To really be an ace at Advanced
Assertiveness, we have to understand that we will not get everything
we demand. In conjunction with this, we also have to develop an immunity
to criticism, which means accepting that not only are others not going to
want what we do, they probably will not state so in a way that is friendly
to us and may or may not like what we have to say. It may be true that
others may just not even like us.
These are barriers to most of us, but are necessary to overcome
in some fashion if we are to become proficient at Advanced Assertiveness.
-Dr. Griggs
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