During the research phase of writing my book From Woe to WOW: How Resilient Women Succeed at Work I gave women audience members a survey. I asked:
- What is the worst work-related experience you’ve endured?
- How did you cope?
- Looking back, what did you learn?
Repeatedly, I read that women regretted not standing up or speaking out on their own behalf. They lacked assertiveness skills!
Not one woman expressed regret for acting in an aggressive manner but many regretted their passivity when targeted for ill treatment. they had not yet learned that they can feel afraid and still be assertive.
Feel the fear and speak up anyway. If you speak the truth you will at least have supported yourself.
Through their struggle they learned:
- “To be less tolerant of bad behavior.”
- “I can stand up for what is right.”
- “Keep your own power. Do what you can.”
- “To fight for myself and not let anyone bully me” . . . is important.
- “I wish I’d stood up to her.”
- “To expect courtesy and respect from all relationships. Look after myself.”
- “Believe in yourself. Take a stand. Say what you feel.”
- “It is better to stick up for yourself and be called a “b#$%#” than be a doormat and be bullied.”
- “The value of being true to myself and seeking to resolve conflict constructively rather than avoiding it.”
- “I did not make the world a better place by running away.”
Establish Clear Boundaries
Consider the assertiveness skills model as an augmentation to establishing healthy boundaries. When you assert yourself, you are being yourself on purpose. The purpose is to express respect for yourself and those with whom you have contact. When we act like a doormat, we violate our own rights. When we act aggressively like a bulldozer, we violate others’ rights. The two keys are to speak up with “I” messages and to listen attentively. We will focus here on the speaking up aspect.
When challenged or feeling distress most of us have a tendency to react in a passive, aggressive, or passive/aggressive manner. As noted by the survey respondents, women traditionally lean towards passive or passive/aggressive behavior. Passive/aggressive behavior puts others in a double bind with a mixed message. “I’m in big trouble because of what you did but don’t help me solve it. I’ll suffer quietly.” It sounds passive with an aggressive, angry undertone. The chart below summarizes the differences between acting passively, assertively or aggressively:
Minimize Acting PASSIVE:
Gives up relationship with self
Belief: I have no rights. You have all the rights.
Behavior: Acts like a martyr. Is submissive. Defers to others. Does not express wants, ideas or feelings. Expresses self in an apologetic manner. Acts like a victim.
Intention and Goals: To please and get love, acceptance or approval. To be liked and avoid conflict at all cost.
Emotions: Low self-esteem. Feelings of high anxiety, powerlessness, frustration, resentment, being used, helpless, and hopeless.
How Others Feel: Frustrated, pity, angry, guilty or resentful.
Pay Off (unconscious reward): Avoids confrontation, the risk of disapproval or being seen as wrong.
Minimize Acting AGGRESSIVE:
Gives up relationship with others
Belief: I have all the rights. You have no rights.
Behavior: Sacrifices others, Blames others to win. Name calls and yells. Puts others down. Threatens. Expresses your wants, ideas and feelings at the expense of other.
Intention and Goals: To dominate and control. To protect self at all cost. May get material goals or short-term goals.
Emotions: Feelings of self-righteousness and power OR powerlessness, guilt and embarrassment.
How Others Feel: Fearful, hurt, resentful or angry. May retaliate or avoid.
Pay Off (unconscious reward): Short term illusion of control and power. Feelings released. Others’ compliance.
Note: Relationships are painful or destroyed.
Do Act ASSERTIVE:
Honors self and others
Belief: Our rights and wants are equally important.
Behavior: Expresses own beliefs feelings and wants in an open, honest, direct and appropriate manner. Listens, shares and exchanges information. Willing to be influenced. Uses “I” messages.
INTENTION and GOALS: To communicate. To develop healthy give-and-take relationships while not always getting own way.
Emotions: Able to satisfy own wants while considering needs of others. May not get own way but relationships are healthy.
How Others Feel: Trusted, trusting, respected, respectful, heard, seen and understood.
Pay Off (unconscious reward): Self-confidence. Influence and respect. Healthier relationships.
1. Decide if you tend to use passive, aggressive or passive/aggressive behaviors.
2. If you tend to act passively:
- Take adult responsibility. Decide what you really want and take action.
- Keep agreements. Do your part by following through.
- Ask yourself, “How can I get what I really want in a healthy way?”
- Count your blessings. Acknowledge your strengths and what is going well.
- Remember, you make you. Minimize self-pity and take action. Others do not make you feel anything. They may however say or do something that triggers your unwelcomed emotions.
3. If you tend to act aggressively:
- Give up believing you have power over other people.
- Listen to others. Really listen. Say, “Tell me more.”
- Make expectations clear. “I want this completed by Tuesday.”
- Practice asking others, “What do you need (or want) from me?”
Take the Assertive Position
- Begin to use the words yes, no and it depends in conscious ways.
- Start your sentences more frequently with “I” as in “I want . . .”, “I think . . .” and “I feel . . .”
- Be discerning and choose wisely.
NOTE: Please note that while a woman and a man may speak and act in a similar and assertive manner, the woman will be more likely accused of acting aggressively. Be aware of this societal bias.
Assertiveness skills can be learned. Many people have taken courses to do so. Sometimes those courses are called Dealing with Difficult People. Take a course, read a book or merely put the ideas above into action and notice the power of speaking up for yourself.
Dealing with Difficult People: 24 lessons for Bringing Out the Best in Everyone by Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner
When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel Smith
Your Perfect Right: Assertiveness and Equality in Your Life and Relationships by Robert E. Alberti and Michael L. Emmons
From Woe to WOW: How Resilient Women Succeed at Work by Patricia Morgan