ASSERTIVENESS TRAINING FOR EVERYBODY
I have an outpatient psychologist for over twenty years.
Assertiveness training is one of the major services I provide
every day. It affects each of the other seven or so major
areas of psychological dysfunction (self-esteem, anxiety,
depression, relationships, addictions, ADHD, children’s
behavior). When assertiveness ability goes up, the problems
in the other seven areas go down.
What is assertiveness? Assertiveness involves five basic
steps. Think of these steps as a kind of flow chart,
progressing from step one through
step five. You have to start with step one and not skip any
along the way. You cannot adequately master assertiveness
until you process all the steps. I have written about this
in other articles so I will just summarize the steps here.
Step One: What is my experience? By this I mean, ask
yourself what are you thinking and feeling? I am constantly
surprised when I realize many people are not fully aware of what
goes on in their minds, whether it be thoughts or feelings,
physical sensations, etc. So, take a minute and ask yourself
right this minute. What am I thinking or feeling? Try to put
your experience into words. Describe it out loud to a friend
or roommate or partner if you have to. The idea is to get a
clear idea of what is going on inside your head and to be able
to describe it clearly using the appropriate words.
Step Two: Is it important enough to do anything about?
Most people do not stop long enough to ask themselves this
question, either. Most people go right by this aspect of their
experience and say to themselves, “This is no big deal” or
“No one is interested in what I have to say.” There are a
million versions of these two thoughts but in one way or another,
most of us “poo poo” the importance of our own experience and
in short order, dismiss it.
Unfortunately, we cannot be assertive if we do not know our
experience, be able to communicate it clearly and think it is
important enough to do so. If we fail at any one of these steps,
assertiveness stops. The first really, really basic steps to
follow in becoming assertive are to acknowledge your
thoughts/feelings, encapsulate them in words and decide they are
important. Then, and only then can we progress to Step Three.
Step Three: Plan your work. If you do not think your
thoughts and feelings are important, or important enough to
communicate, you are done with that particular thought or feeling.
Assertiveness stops until the next thought, which starts the
process over. However, if you do feel that what is inside your
head is important, then the third step is to think about the
possible ways or other aspects of communicating. Planning your
work involves fantasizing about whether to communicate now or
later, by telephone, email, IM, verbally or any other way you can
think of (telepathy?). You are not going to do anything at this
point other than just muse; that is, mull over the possibilities
in your brain. You can imagine a little play in a theatre where
you are the protagonist and speaking your lines to some imagined
listener. You create the lines, the listener, the props, the
timing–all of it. None of it is “reality” at this point, only
fantasy, which makes it safe and if you are creative, fun. But
at this point it is just imagination in preparation for the real
Step Four: Work your plan. This is when you do in reality
what you planned in fantasy (Step Three).
Step Five: Feedback. How did it go? Success or failure?
If you succeeded; that is, expressed yourself, asked for what you
wanted, etc., this thought/feeling has exhausted itself and
assertiveness has been accomplished. If you failed and now have
“additional” thoughts/feelings, you are back at step one.
Would you believe we go through at least Steps One and Two
with each and every thought? And, if assertiveness is to have
its way, we go through all Five Steps with each of those
thoughts/feelings. It happens like lightening in the back of our
minds (meaning, unconsciously), but the process is the same for
all of us.
I have written an ebook that details these and every other
basic but necessary aspect of how to be assertive. I have boiled
this down to the simplest process possible. It does not matter
if you use these skills at home or at work. The process is the
same. In other articles, I fine-tune how to apply this skill to
work and the special considerations one must make when dealing
with the boss…
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