In my last post I talked about the importance of being assertive, emphasized that it's not aggression, and defined it as: 1) Asking for what we want, 2) Refusing what we don't want and, 3) Expressing our feelings or beliefs.
So now let's look at some simple and effective techniques for being assertive in a variety of situations we're likely to encounter. These are good skills to have as we often find ourselves in encounters that have gone on for a long time or sometimes we get totally blindsided and think afterwards what we should have done. We can't always anticipate situations that may come up but practicing strategies for future scenarios can be very helpful.
A good way to start is to write out a description of a problem situation that's currently occurring (or recurring) that calls for an assertive response on your part. Describe the situation as
detailed as possible, including the person involved, what happens, when and where it happens, what bothers you about the situation, how you normally tend to deal with it, your fears about possible consequences of being assertive, and lastly, your behavioral goal.
Then plan in detail how you'll handle it with a trial run in writing or actual rehearsal. This helps to feel more prepared and confident when you actually confront the situation in real life. (Remember how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice).
Even when acting assertively it's still likely to run into occasions where someone attempts to use manipulation to get what they want or put off your request by several means such as 1) changing the subject, 2) joking or making fun of your request, 3) trying to make you feel guilty (guilting), 4) asking why you asked for what you want or making you defend your position, 5) discounting or criticizing the legitimacy of your request. So here are a few proven techniques to counter manipulation.
The Broken Record This technique is simply stating what you want (or don't want) in a calm direct manner like a broken record (remember vinyl records?) as many times as necessary. This is especially effective when the other person tries to change the subject or take it in another direction. Just keep repeating what you want. "I'd like to return this jacket and would like my money back."
Fogging This works best when someone is being critical of you or giving so-called 'constructive criticism'. Rather than get defensive or attack back, you agree with part of the criticism (some of it's probably true) but not all of it. And you do it in a calm quiet tone of voice without being defensive or attacking back. Agreeing with someone throws them off as they don't expect it and have nothing to spar with. eg. Mom: "If you cut your hair it would be more stylish." You: "You could be right, shorter hair is in style now." Fogging is especially useful in situations where you want to minimize communication, don't want to listen to criticism or get drawn into a pointless argument.
Fogging techniques may seem unassertive and like giving in and going along with the other person. But the exact opposite is true. We don't have to 'win' the argument or convince the other person we're right and they're wrong. Sun Tzu in The Art of War defines victory as "the attainment of one's objective." So if what we want is a little peace and quiet and the way to get that is by using fogging, then that's a victory.
Refusing Guilt People will often use self-pity or guilting to manipulate us into doing what they want. Our request or refusal is met with tears or "poor me" to make us feel guilty.Why do people use it? Simple. Because it works as it exploits our genuine niceness and compassion. Here's what I say about guilting. It's a business transaction which has two things: a seller and a buyer. The seller is the person using guilt to manipulate us, the buyer is the person the seller is trying to manipulate. So, like buying a used car, we have to be smart consumers. We can take out our wallet and buy the guilt or recognize that's a lemon and keep our wallet in our pocket. The best strategy is to acknowledge the other person is upset and then stick to our position. "I know this is inconvenient for you but you'll have to make other arrangements for someone to watch your kids after school."
SET This last technique is also effective dealing with self-pity or guilting. It expresses support and empathy and, most importantly, sets clear boundaries with what we're willing to do or not do. S=Support, letting the other person know we are supportive and will help them any way we can within reason. E=Empathy (not sympathy). Expressing that we understand what they're thinking, feeling, where they're coming from. T=Truth. This is where we draw the line and set the boundaries. Here's an example. A co-worker is upset when we tell them we can no longer give them a ride to and from work. They play on our sympathy, maybe even play the guilt card to make us give in and change our mind. Our response: "Ron, I've always been there for you, helped you out when your car was repossessed (Support); I know this is hard for you, you're worried about how you'll make arrangements for getting to and from work (Empathy). But you are on a bus route that goes right to our office and there' a car pool list posted in the break room. So I can give you a ride 'til the end of the month and then you'll have to make other arrangements." (Truth) This is where we set the boundaries.
These aren't by any means all the assertiveness techniques but they're good ones that with a little practice and persistence can be helpful in not letting others manipulate and take advantage of us. One important thing to remember when we start being more assertive. The people around us may increase their efforts to manipulate us. That's only because what they've always done is no longer working. So don't become discouraged. It's a sign that what we're doing is working. So keep doing it!
Next Time: YOUR PERSONAL BILL OF RIGHTS
These great tools and others can be found in The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edward Bourne, PhD. And of course, it's on THEFEARMONSTER's Banned Book List.