David Lawrence Preston is a hypnotherapist and personal development trainer who has frequently appeared on radio and television. Over the last 20 years he has developed the Dynamic Living Programme, which draws on practical psychological techniques and the sum of all his considerable experience with clients. He is also the author of 365 Steps to Self-confidence.
This above all: to thine own self be true And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Imagine this scene. It’s a cold Wednesday evening in December and getting late – 10.30 p.m. The telephone rings. The caller, a young woman, informs you that she’s phoning to confirm the delivery tomorrow morning of the kitchen cabinets you ordered. You’re puzzled. You distinctly recall telling the salesman that you wanted them delivered on Friday, and watched as he made a note of it on the order form. You point this out to the young woman.
‘But it’s in the schedule,’ she insists. ‘It’s already arranged. It’s on the computer.’
What would you do?
This actually happened to a client, Ray, recently. Ray is a retired businessman who was planning a day out with his wife the following day as a pre-Christmas treat. He could have backed down, cancelled his other plans and agreed to the delivery (as scores of people would). He could have grown angry and snapped at the caller (again, many would). He did neither. He simply repeated what he’d already said. He knew she was probably following instructions, but still, he wanted the delivery date changed, so he calmly told her that it was not convenient.
She protested. ‘The lorry was loaded earlier this evening; it’s too late to change it now.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Ray, ‘I’ve told you it’s not convenient.’
‘But there’s nothing I can do now. We’ll have to deliver tomorrow.’ Her voice was trembling. Ray wondered if she was going to be in trouble with her boss, but that was not his concern.
‘Once again, please listen,’ he said calmly. ‘I’ve told you it’s not convenient. Now please do whatever you have to do to make alternative arrangements and let me know the result.’ Then he wished her good night and replaced the receiver.
Ray’s reply was the perfect assertive response. Assertiveness is stating your point of view honestly and firmly, while respecting the other person’s right to hold a different opinion. You express yourself clearly, honouring your own needs and values while at the same time respecting the dignity of others.
Assertiveness is an essential skill for several reasons:
- It enables you to deal more effectively with difficult situations.
- It prevents your being steamrollered into agreeing to something against your better judgement.
- It’s good for your physical and emotional wellbeing, because (once you’ve got used to being assertive) it lowers your stress levels.
- It promotes understanding. Everyone concerned understands each other better. Without it, no one is being totally honest.
Assertiveness is closely tied to your confidence and self-esteem. People with low self-esteem often find it difficult to be honest with themselves and open with other people.
Assertiveness is often misunderstood. Some think it means being loud and pushy and acting selfishly. This is far from the truth. When you value yourself, you value others more too. Crucial to genuine assertiveness is empathy – understanding and respecting the other person’s point of view.
Eight ways to become more assertive
The keys to being assertive are:
- Effective listening.
- Showing the other person that you fully understand, or are eager to understand, what they are saying.
- Willingness to compromise and adopt joint solutions, i.e. being prepared to give and take. Assertive people recognise that others have legitimate rights and needs, and try to accommodate them in ways which are acceptable to both.
- Integrity; keeping your word. Broken promises always return to haunt you.
Even if you’ve never considered yourself particularly assertive, mastering a few basic skills can bring rapid progress.