Dr. Purushothaman
September 30, 2013

If you are reading this article, the answer is "probably not."
Do not feel badly, you are not alone.
In my twenty (+) years of practicing as an outpatient psychologist,
I have run into a lot of non-assertive people. In fact, not being
assertive is one of eight major conditions I treat every day. Moreover,
when you learn to be assertive, the intensity of the other seven
diminishes. Of the thousands of people I have worked with, about half
are not very assertive. Of the half that say they are, half of those
are not, at least by my definition. Of the remaining half of the half
that say they are assertive, most of them do pretty well, but still need
So, what are assertiveness skills? In its most simple form,
assertiveness is sharing what your experience is with another person.
Think of it as playing a hand of cards. You have your cards facing you
and your opponent has his cards facing him. You lay your cards down,
face up on the playing table, so that he can see what you have.
You are sharing what your have. Metaphorically, you are
communicating what is your experience for another to appreciate.
This does not require the other player to lay down his cards.
Being assertive does not mean the other person has to say what
his experience is or to communicate with you in any way.
Assertiveness at it core is you sharing something about you,
preferably in a matter-of-fact way.
Assertiveness is not aggressiveness. Whey you lay down
your cards, you do not throw your cards at your opponent. You
lay them down nicely. When communicating, do so with aplomb or
at least just state your feeling about something or your opinion
about something without too much affect. Be direct and as we
psychologist are fond of saying, use "I" statements. Yelling,
name calling and/or hitting are all aggressive. Assertiveness
is not aggressive and can be accomplished even while sitting on
your hands and whispering.
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. The steps are 1) Asking yourself,
"What are my thoughts and feelings?" Surprisingly, most people are
not very in touch with this stuff, so asking "primes the pump" of
awareness. Step 2) Ask yourself, "Are my thoughts and feelings
important enough to do something about?" The answer to most of these
questions will be "No." Most of our thoughts and feelings are just
that, thoughts and feelings. Most of our inner experience comes and
goes so fast and is of so little consequence to others that saying or
doing something about them does not seem fitting. We dismiss them and
move on. Or, do we? What if you think something is important?
Step 3) Fantasizing or planning what you might do... What if you have
something to say, or some feeling really bothers you? Are you going to
just "stuff it?" That is what most people do, and as a psychologist,
I can say that is not one of the preferred things to do with thoughts
and feelings. They have to go "somewhere" and stuffing them is like
putting them in a box behind your left ear. They may be gone for now,
but they will gather and build pressure and come out when you least
expect it. It is a bad idea to bury thoughts and feelings.
So, what might you do? Well, Step 3 is about thinking and planning
what to do. What might you say? To Whom? When? Where. Step 3
is "making a plan." And, once you have a plan, Step 4) is just doing it.
Step 5 is called Feedback.
These are the most basic assertiveness skills I can describe.
For detailed information about these, but more importantly, a lot more
techniques, insights, and descriptions of what makes assertiveness really
effective, read my ebook on this very subject.


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