Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in a world where people treat others with thoughtfulness and respect. Treating everyone with the same kindness and generosity they would hope for themselves. Instead, it often seems as if the people you have to deal with are thoughtless and unkind. They seem to know exactly how to wind you up and never do what you actually want them to do. It’s annoying and frustrating when people behave so selfishly. But developing your assertiveness skills can really help. It might surprise you to know that with a little practice, you can influence how people behave towards you, and even get them to do what you want.
Understanding the role of assertiveness.
We all have people who behave selfishly in our lives. The friend who keeps ‘popping round’ at just the wrong times. You feel obliged to stop what you’re doing to entertain them. You just wish they would call or text first to make sure it’s OK. (Or if you’re anything like me, to give you at least two weeks written notice to let you know when they’re coming.)
Or maybe you’ve got a partner who never cleans up after themselves. They leave food scraps and drink spills on the sofa, and don’t even notice the mess they make. Their thoughtlessness has a huge impact on you. You get frustrated and seethe with resentment. They don’t see how their behaviour affects you and just carry on regardless of how you feel. When you look closely, what’s actually happening is they’re ignoring your needs, and here’s why.
It’s not because they’re bad people. It’s because you’re not speaking up for yourself and letting them know how you feel. If someone is behaving in a way that causes you to be uncomfortable or distressed, you have the right to do something about it. And here’s the thing,
You need to ask for what you want and need.
And you need to practice until you get good at it.
You might tell yourself that if they really cared about you they would know what you need. But that’s not realistic. People are not mind-readers. They can’t read your thoughts and may never realise how wound up you get when they do/don’t do certain things.
Practical steps to be more assertive.
Here’s how I recommend you deal with your partner who doesn’t clean up after himself. You could say nothing and continue to seethe inwardly because he keeps trampling over you. Or you can learn how to speak up for what you want. It might seem impossible at first, but this is what I recommend for your long term health and happiness.
Here’s how to start:
- The first step is to get clear in your own head what you want and need. And believe that you deserve to be listened to.
- Decide how you’re going to articulate what you want. Create the sentences and write them down so you’re clear on what to say.
- Practice saying those words out-loud in the mirror until they feel more comfortable.
- Imagine your partner is in front of you, and practice saying those words to him. (That’s closer to the real thing and another step forward)
- Think of an appropriate time and place to deliver those words in person. When you’re both likely to feel calm and not too tired or stressed, and able to listen to each other without distraction.
You might never have thought about how to do this before, so it might feel alien at first. But keep trying and it will get easier with practice.
For example, you might want to say:
“I want to talk to you about something that’s really important to me. When you leave food scraps on the sofa I feel angry and resentful. I get the message that you don’t care about me and that really hurts. Would you be willing to carry your plate back to the kitchen when you’ve finished eating?”
They might never have heard you speak like this, so this level of assertiveness might come as a big surprise. But if they care about you, they’ll be willing to listen and try to meet your needs.
Practicing assertiveness will improve your life
If all this seems too hard, or even impossible, then just practice with the first one or two steps. It’s ok to take baby steps in learning this new skill. But it IS important to practice, so you can build up your awareness of what you want and need. (I’ve written about how to build your confidence to do this here)
When people don’t do what we want, it’s easy to assume that they’re being selfish or deliberately hurtful. And we can feel helpless to change what’s happening in those situations. But it’s important to remember that YOU have the power to fix this. You’re strong enough, you’re brave enough and you’re worth it. You can learn how to speak up for yourself and to say what you want or need. When you practice assertiveness, you’ll be much more likely to get what you want. And you’ll have less stress, better relationships and feel happier as a result.