Thursday, March 3, 2011

Assertiveness 101

Assertiveness 101
My blog today concerns itself not so much with what was for breakfast or the weather and more with a human phenomena that I have had the opportunity to observe, play with, work with and become frustrated with for the better part of my life. Now I would keep this private except that I know my experiences are no more unique to me than is using a washroom or wearing pants, and collectively we can all learn from my observations.  There are case studies all around us!  What I am talking about is aggressive people, not to be confused with assertive people who are just fine in my book.  Call them what you want and we all use different names and tags for them: Type A’s, Aggressive, Domineering, Condescending, Bullying, Patronizing, Overbearing, Abusive, Intimidating, Manipulating, Intense, Overwhelming, Arrogant, and one of my personal favourites, “Assholes”.   For the purposes of this essay, we will simply call them  “Dominant Apes”  but feel free to call them whatever you want.  They come in both male and female versions and in all likelihood, are important to our very survival as a species. In fact, I believe if us passive people took out the aggressive people, in short order, some of us would probably step in and become the next generation of dominant apes.  Go figure.  These are the guys and gals who feel their view of the world is always correct and it is difficult for them to receive any feedback on their behaviour. They lack the capacity to see that their behaviour is causing a problem with the impact they have on other people.
So lets take a moment and review our pasts and start a little roll call of all the Dominant Apes we have known. Go into the theatre of your mind and recall the strongest aggressors you have known. It won’t take long and as a rule, I have found there is always at least one in your life, and often two or three or more. One is often a family member, the other one  connected to your career, and yet another one usually in business or government. You get the odd Grand Poo-Bah that comes along too.  Maybe its meant to be that way.  That’s just the way it is.  And that said, don’t be too hard on them for surrendering to one of the most basic elements of human survival. Someone has to step up and fight the sabre toothed telemarketers, the bankersauruses!  But then again, sometimes they go too far.  You see, there is a mark that intersects the line somewhere between being very passive and being very aggressive and marked in red bold is a word marked “ASSHOLE”. These are the ones I want to talk about.
I have one here in Columbia. Yes go figure. They are everywhere.
They can not answer a question without being condescending, raising their voice, and by their behaviour, they MUST be dominant. They love an audience and given one, they insult people’s intelligence, belittle what we do, believe what needs to be done is obvious and think it should be obvious to everyone else as well. They get impatient with people who do not see things as they do.  When they feel that someone is resisting them, their impatience quickly becomes irritation, indignation, and then anger.
So what does one do?  Life has taught me that it does no good to show weakness or rage in return. They only become more aggressive and where would that get us? 
You can expect to feel awkward, distraught, and angry about the situation. These are natural and appropriate reactions to aggressive people. But it is crucial that you respond to them assertively. If you do not, they will continue to act as though you are inferior to them.    Here are the tricks of the trade for assertive people: 
1.      Aggressive people have a strong need to be accepted. The crack in their armour is that they are actually quite fragile and insecure.
Aggressive people respect and are even terrified of people who stand up to them and will even become friendly towards people who do. If they are unable to overwhelm you, they will not see you as a competitor. They will respect you for asserting yourself and not running away like others do. However, they generally want to be accepted only by people who are strong. Once you behave assertively, they will recognize you as a strong person who is worthy of their friendship though, you must never let down your guard.
2.      Do not act weak around them.
Because they value aggressiveness and confidence, they devalue those who lack these qualities and see them as inferior. So by degrading others, they create a sense of self-importance and strength. Every time a person acts weak and confused around them, their sense of superiority is reinforced.  Practice in your mind, “Fuck you Dominant Ape… You and the horse you rode in on.”
3.      Look them in the eyes and let them finish
The first thing to do with an angry person is to give him/her time to run down and finish what he is saying. Then count a slow silent count to ten to regain the control. While you do this, look directly at him/her.
4.      Hold your place
Wherever you are, hold your place while he/she is presenting his/her hostility. If you are standing, stand with your feet firmly planted on the floor and your arms loosely at your sides. If you are sitting, sit with your back straight and your arms comfortably in your lap or on the table.
5.      Start making assertive statements
As soon as he/she begins to lose momentum, start making assertive statements about the situation he is angry about. Do not wait for him/her to allow you to enter the conversation; he will not do so. Interrupt him/her if you must. If he interrupts you, say firmly, "You interrupted me." Say this a number of times if he/she continues to interrupt you. Demand that he/she let you say your piece.
To get their attention, call him/her by his name. Use the name that is appropriate for your level of acquaintance with him/her. Ask him/her to sit down
If you are sitting and he/she is standing, stand up slowly and push your chair back so you are able to look him/her directly in the eye. If possible, try to get him/her to sit down since most people are less aggressive when they are seated. Point to a chair and say, "Look, if we're going to talk about this, we might as well be comfortable." Start to sit down yourself. But watch the other person. If he/she continues standing, you should also.
6.      Use "I" statements
State your opinions in an assertive manner using "I" statements. These express your own viewpoint or perception but do not imply a direct attack on him/her or what he has said. Use sentences that start with "In my opinion, it's a good idea to. . ." "I disagree with you about that. . ." and "I can see that you think. . .but my experience has been. . ."
Many aggressive people begin to respect you when you are assertive with them. They may even make friendly overtures to you. Be ready for this and be friendly back to them. Don't be surprised or get angry with them. You may be able to create a productive relationship when they respect you.

And on a final note.  Sometimes non-assertive people feel they must serve others and be tender and compassionate to everyone else at all times. When you express yourself mainly through meeting the needs of others, you may be prevented from being assertive. It is important to remember that you need to value your own feelings and consider them as significant as you consider the feelings of others, maybe even more so.
Thankyou and good night.