Have you ever heard someone issue an ultimatum? For example, “If we don’t do this my way, you can hit the highway!” or “If you don’t do this right now, you are going to bed without dinner!” or “If you don’t settle down, I’m taking you home right now!” How many winners are there in these conversations? How do the ultimatums strengthen relationships? Another perspective is when someone goes along to get along. Or someone always gives in to the other person and acts like a doormat, always being walked over and not standing up for what is important to them.

There are two different responses to conversations, events or situations; unhealthy (passive or aggressive = not assertive) and healthy (assertive)

  • Passive

In a passive response, you are denying yourself or holding back because you are afraid to express what you want – and if you do not get what you want, it is at your own expense.  The passive sender feels hurt, ashamed, and fearful, while the receiver continues to ignore the problem and looks down on the sender as weak.

  • Aggressive

This is a hostile, demanding approach to get what you want by demanding and attacking at the expense of the other person’s rights or feelings.  Here the sender is violating the rights and self-respect of the other person.  The sender may achieve the goal, but the receiver feels hurt, ashamed, defensive, resentful, or angry.

  • Assertive is a simple, direct expression of what you want, standing up for yourself – with mutual respect for oneself and for the other person. It usually achieves the desired goal. It is important to remember that assertiveness could bring some fear or anxiety when we do something that might lead to conflict or bad feelings with other people.  It could be your friend, family, boss, spouse or neighbor.  The other person may get angry, defensive, or hurt.  He or she may reject the relationship or even attack.  But with good assertive techniques, you will be able to stay in control of both your fear and your anger when you stand up for yourself (express your needs and desires with mutual respect). Remember the importance of maintaining a positive attitude when interacting with others.

Ten Tips for Assertiveness

1. Body language. Up to 85% of communication is nonverbal; therefore, it is important to be aware of what is being expressed with your body, voice, and gestures.  Remember: if there is a difference between what you are saying (verbal message) and what your body and tone are saying (non-verbal message), the other person is going to believe the non-verbal message.  If your body language says “I’m unkind” or “I’m violently angry,” it gives the wrong message.  Your body needs to be as assertive as your words.  Pay attention to the following:

Nonverbal Behavior

Body Movements Ø  Hand wringing

Ø  Hunching shoulders

Ø  Covering mouth with hands

Ø  Crossing arms for protection

Ø  Open hand movements

Ø  Maintain a straight upright posture and directly face the other person.

Ø  Be relaxed

Ø  Finger pointing

Ø  Fist clenching

Ø  Striding around (impatiently)

Ø  Leaning forward or over

Ø  Crossing arms (unapproachable)

Eye Contact Ø  Evasive

Ø  Looking down

Ø  Firm direct eye contact with some breaks, without staring Ø  Trying to stare down and intimidate
Facial Expression Ø  ‘Ghost’ smiles when expressing anger or being criticized

Ø  Raising eyebrows in anticipation

Ø  Jaw trembling, lip biting

Ø  Quick-changing features

Ø  Smiling when pleased

Ø  Frowning when angry, but with self-control

Ø  Features steady

Ø  Jaw relaxed

Ø  Smiling may become sneering

Ø  Scowling when angry

Ø  Jaws set firm

Speech Pattern Ø  Hesitant and filled with pauses

Ø  Sometimes jerking from fast to slow

Ø  Frequent throat clearing

Ø  Fluent, few hesitations

Ø  Emphasizing key words

Steady, even pace. Your tone of voice should be loud enough to be clearly heard (not mumbling, begging or whining)

Ø  Fluent, few hesitations

Ø  Often abrupt, clipped

Ø  Emphasizing blaming words

Ø  Often fast

Voice Ø  Often dull and monotonous

Ø  Tone may be singsong or whining

Ø  Over-soft or over-warm

Ø  Quiet, often dropping away

Ø  Steady and firm

Ø  Tone is middle range

Ø  Sincere and clear

Ø  Not over-loud or quiet, rich and warm

Ø  Very firm

Ø  Tone is sarcastic, sometimes cold and harsh

Ø  Hard and sharp

Ø  Strident, often shouting, rising at end

2. Get the person’s undivided attention. We often forget to check to be sure the other person is listening.  Get the person’s undivided attention before you begin.  If the person is on their cell phone, watching TV, or writing, it is fairly certain that he or she is not really listening to you.  If the person is not listening, you are not getting your message across clearly.  But if the other person is directly facing you and is making eye contact, you can be much more certain that your message will get across and be understood.

3. Stick to the behavior. Limit your comments to a specific description of the behavior.  Don’t label or judge the other person’s personality or motives.  Focus on the actual behavior that you see and hear, on what the person is doing and how he is doing it – not why you think he is doing it.  Simply report what has occurred or what you have observed without adding a judgment whether the behavior is good or bad, right or wrong, nice or rude.  So you can say, “James certainly has a lot to say about this” rather than, “James is acting like a know-it-all” or “James won’t let anyone else talk because he wants to run the show.”

4. Pause and think before you reply. In the heat of the moment, we often react too quickly and off-balance.  One of the best and easiest things to do is to hesitate.  In a difficult situation, fast responses tend to be poorly thought out, impulsive, and overly emotional.  Instead of making your point, you blurt out something that is embarrassing to you or makes the other person feel worse.  But if you pause for just a moment, to consider your response, you can express yourself more calmly and effectively.  In almost every situation, you have the chance to pause and think – even if it is for just two or three seconds.  And that’s usually enough time to form a good assertive response.

5. Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. When you use “I” statements (like, “I feel irritated when the music is played too loud.”), you are communicating ownership.  You are owning your feelings about the situation.  But when you use “you” statements (like, “You really annoy me when you blast the music!”), you are communicating blame and insult.  “You” statements cause the other person to be defensive and ready to counterattack.  But “I” statements allow the other person to save face and opens the door to mutual problem-solving.

 6. Combine empathy with your assertion. When you first communicate your understanding of the other person’s point of view, it may be easier for them to listen to what you have to say.  The following format can be helpful when you are first learning these ways of communicating:

I understand …. When you …(behavior) … I feel …(feeling)…because I …

I’d appreciate it if you would …(what you want to happen)  Would you be willing to…?

For example, your neighbor borrows your tools and doesn’t return them when he says he will.  You don’t mind lending them but feel annoyed when you want a tool that is not there.  You might say: “Sam, I understand that you are busy and get preoccupied with other things once you finish a job.  When you don’t return my tools when you say you will, I feel frustrated because I don’t have the tool I need until I come track it down.  I’d appreciate it if you would return my tools when you say you will.  Would that be possible?”

7. Rehearse your words. In this assertiveness technique, you simply imagine the situation in your head, and then practice beforehand what you want to say and how you’re going to say it.  If you can, get someone to role-play the situation with you, so you can practice and get some feedback on your approach.

8. Repetition. This is an assertiveness technique to use when someone is being extremely persistent and won’t take a polite “no.”  For this one, you simply repeat yourself, over and over, calmly and kindly. No matter what the person says, you respond with the same line.  A good one is:  “I understand and I’m not interested…  I understand and I’m not interested…  I understand and I’m not interested…”

9. Agree in the way. This is a technique to use when someone is trying to manipulate you by criticizing or insulting you or trying to get you into an argument.  So, for example, someone might say, “Oh, I don’t like your hat at all!”  In “agreeing in the way,” you reply by agreeing with the criticism.  “Oh, maybe you’re right.  It isn’t very attractive.”  Or, as another example, someone insults you for struggling to quit overeating by saying, “I’ve heard that people who overeat are weak.  That’s why they can’t give it up.  They need a pacifier.”  Your “agreeing in the way” response might be, “It’s true, it’s very hard to quit overeating.”

10. Be persistent. Assertiveness sometimes requires persistence. Be prepared to have to repeat yourself.  You may have to say what you want over and over again.  If you have to repeat yourself, do so without getting angry, irritated, or loud.  Stick to your point.d

May the Lord bless us to have respectful, kind, and meaningful communication in all of our relationships as we strive to love one another as He loves us.