There are many ways of being assertive but this week I am looking at 2 key areas of assertiveness:
1. Making a simple request assertive
2. Expressing your "I want"!
Making a simple request assertive
There are 4 components to making a simple, brief request:
1. A brief explanation (optional). Explain what your problem is in one sentence. "I'm very hot in here ... I am very thirsty ... I have had a tiring day". Not every situation needs an explanation, but when you think it will help, give one, but keep it brief!
2. Make a softening statement. This is important as it establishes you as a reasonable person who's mature and balanced. Some softening statements sound like:
- "would you mind if..?"
- "It would be helpful if .."
- "I'd appreciate it if .."
- "Could I have .." (said with a smile)
- "Hi, I was wondering if .."
These openers are disarming and so less likely to activate resistance and resentment than a hard-nosed request. They are as important with loved ones (big and small!) as they are with strangers or colleauges.
3. Ask direct, specific questions. Say what you would like to happen clearly and be exact. Leave out emotion or heat from your request. Ask for what you want in as flat and matter-of-fact a tone as possible and present it as normal and reasonable. This makes the assumption that of course anyone who is reasonable themself would be happy to accomodate it. Keep your question to one sentence. The more you elaborate and explain, the more opportunity for resistance you provide.
4. Make an appreciation statement. This reinforces the other party saying "yes" or going along with your request:
- "This would be really helpful"
- "Thank you for making the effort"
- "This will make a big difference"
- "I'd like to know if you have a problem with this"
Recently at my home here in France, I saw a gang of children, of 10 years and less, shooting air rifles at anything that moved next to my house (guns are a national past-time in France). I explained to them that as I have domestic pets I would prefer them to shoot somewhere farther away from the houses, deeper into the vineyard. I was assertive, and the children ran off giggling, only to return within minutes and begin shooting at some birds in my tree. Fuming, I marched in to the vineyard to talk to them face-to-face whereupon they scarpered once more. Weighed down by their commando gear and rifles (about the same height as they were), they could barely outwalk me. I kept following (hoping I would not receive a pellet or two in the process) but determined to discuss this with either them or some responsible adult. Eventually, I discovered that they lived not very far away from my house in an area assigned to "social housing" - the French equivalent to our council houses, but far nicer I must say. Seeing a couple of cheeky faces streaked with green-brown warpaint poking out of the gardens, I knocked on the front door to chat to the parents about my concerns (I am fairly ignorant of the laws relating to children bearing arms). If the kids have guns might the parents too? I was greeted by 2 women and 1 man and many children inside, with lots of shouting and lots of aggression. The children paraded in the background with their guns and I suddenly realised what a stupid thing I'd done. In the face of such aggression, I kept all emotion out of my face apart from the occasional friendly smile as I spoke, making as much eye contact with the woman who seemed most sympathetic, who was standing apart from the other 2. I made my request about the children, brief and specific i.e. being farther away from the house and not shooting at domestic pets. I also provided consequences that if I saw them near houses again with guns I would report it to to the authorities. At this stage a barage of yelling from one of the women ensued. I waited until she had run out of steam and then asked her if she thought I was being unreasonable. She then paused, asked me if I had children or pets that I was concerned about and I replied that I did. She calmed down a little more and then pointed out that she has little ones too that she is not concerned about at all. I pointed out that although an airgun is not likely to cause a fatality, eyes can be lost and damage can be done. I asked her what was making her the most angry (a direct, specific question) and she said it was my threat of going to the police (I later learned that these people are likely what the French refer to as "les gitanes" - gypsies - and they hate the police with a passion). I explained that I did not want to do that but that I was very concerned about having children with guns next to my house. I remained friendly, appreciative and interested about their position but very specific about what I wanted. My question "why can they not shoot farther from the houses, into the vineyard?" was both very specific but also appreciative about their reasons for not wanting this. We did not part as the best of friends, however this happened a long time ago and I have only seen this gang once since, and minus the rifles. I certainly feel happier knowing that I have at least talked to the parents, that the children know I have talked to their parents and also that I know where they live!
This is the whole point of assertiveness but it needs to be thought through very carefully. The following are some guidelines to follow (paraphrased from The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook, McKay, Wood & Brantley):
Ask for behavioural, not attitudinal change. Telling someone they have a "bad attitude" is not helpful nor likely to change very much. It is also unreasonable to expect someone to change what they believe or feel simply because you don't like it. You can ask for them to change what they are doing / how they are acting however.
Ask for one change at a time. Do not give a shopping list of things to be changed. This is overwhelming and pressuring. Pick the thing that needs to improve the most, that will make the biggest change and stick to that.
Ask for the thing that can be changed now. "in a year and a half we can make a commitment to each other .." is a very poor response to "I would like us to have a more committed relationship" because nothing changes here-and-now, and by the time this rolls around, it will likely have been pushed under the carpet and be difficult to instigate. Address here-and-now making the change, making the commitment, starting the family, etc. If it cannot begin to be prioritised now, it is very unlikely that it will magically happen later on. What's stopping it now? Is not doing it now truly a valid reason? What might other reasons be? How well are your needs and wants being considered / incorporated now? Do not be fobbed off by the promise to address this at some point in the future.
Be specific and firm. Vague requests such as "be more loving" is not particularly useful as we all have a different impression of how this looks and feels. If you feel more loved when your partner holds your hand in public, watching t.v., at the movies, etc. then say that. You need to know first of all what it is you want / need too! Asking your partner to prioritise having a family, for example, is a huge want / need and also one of the hardest to articulate specifically, firmly as well as appreciatively. I emphasise this need the most as it is one of the riskiest between couples. When agreeing to wait, there is a risk that this time reduces the overall chances of it happening in the future. This can be devastating, not just to the couple, but to the party who is then left feeling bitterly unresolved about not having more clearly asserted their need earlier.