It is evident that, in general, assertion has neither been taught, nor learnt in our homes and schools. It was not encouraged while today's adults were growing up. They were not given permission to be assertive, thus they do not give themselves permission today. But there is good reason to be excited.
The South African Constitution guarantees the right of every individual to have a voice. This encourages a culture of freedom of expression.
Often assertion is not the chosen vehicle for communication because we are afraid of either being rejected by others, having others confuse our communication style with aggression, or a belief that we won't be properly assertive and will be judged. It is true that choosing assertion involves taking a risk, but the reward is utilising a tool that maintains an open and honest relationship with those who you may be communicating to.
Should you decide not to be assertive, then you cannot blame any person other than yourself. When it comes to assertion, you are the starting point. Assertion with others makes you feel powerful and equal. Assertion with yourself reminds you that you are responsible, competent and deserving. How do you feel about being assertive? What would stop you from being assertive?
The benefits of assertion
Assertion is the only strategy that really allows you and others to be fully authentic in a relationship.
It provides both parties with the right to a powerful voice.
It doesn't provide a guarantee that conflict will always be resolved, but it's a tool that allows the greatest chance of conflict resolution.
Assertion establishes a clear way forward.
It enables you to be relaxed around others because you know you will be able to handle most situations reasonably well.
It helps you to focus on the present.
It gives you control over your own life and may reduce depression by reducing helplessness.
It decreases stress and increases well-being.
Assertive conflict resolution simplified
To resolve conflict assertively and effectively, you could follow these three steps. Remember always to communicate clearly, concisely and openly:
Step One: Thinking
What am I thinking? What is the problem?
Step Two: Feeling
What am I feeling? This is the emotional reaction to the intellectual.
Step Three: Needing
What do I need? What is the solution?
These three steps enable you to maintain your own integrity and dignity, even if the issue cannot be resolved.
In a journal or diary, write down an issue that currently faces you which calls for you to be assertive. Step by step, write down how you are going to handle the situation. After you have been assertive, reflect on the situation. In other words, what have you learnt, and how would you change anything in your future communication?
Ten useful assertion tips
- Take time to determine what is important for you and your life by establishing your own values and goals.
- Use the seven second rule by breathing and counting to seven before you react to a situation.
- Express your viewpoint with precision and conviction.
- Use body language to support your viewpoint by maintaining eye contact, standing upright, and using hand gestures to emphasise words.
- Adopt the "broken record" technique by repeating what you want over and over again, without getting angry, to ensure that the other person takes in the message that you are not going to change your mind.
- Acknowledge what the other person has expressed. For example ‘I hear that you are upset...- then state what you still expect that person to do.
- Use "I" messages to express your true feelings and thoughts. For example: "I feel angry when you don't respect me when I am speaking", and I feel frustrated when you don't appreciate my efforts."
- Avoid judgement of the other person's behaviour.
- Say "NO" politely and firmly to unreasonable requests from others.
- Stand up for your legitimate rights. Ensure that your requests are reasonable and do not violate the rights of others.
Assertion enables us to live authentically and allows us to make decisions that sometimes others might not like.