As of tonight, sitting & writing this, I feel like this post is long overdue.
I continue to hear stories, watch things occur, and hear and see things play out that are attempts to do the right things or otherwise act like they are the right things, yet there seems to be an underlying passive, passive aggressive, and aggressive nature to most all of them.
Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that passive responses are easier, being aggressive sometimes feels like more fun when you’re mad, and passive aggressiveness is often what most resort to.
All of those are true because assertive communication isn’t always easy. In fact, it has to be learned often times. Even as someone who teaches this often, I still struggle from time to time with wanting to take the passive road in some scenarios.
The truth is though, if you and I want to lead – in any way, shape, or form – we need to be engaged with and interacting consistently with assertiveness. With ourselves. With our families. With our co-workers and with our online interactions.
We also need to learn this if we want healthy relationships, healthy businesses that are growing, and healthy vision.
In preparation for writing an eCourse for Highly Sensitive People recently, I studied and discovered the two systems of the brain called Behavioral Activation and Behavioral Inhibition. Activation is what brings about impulsivity, curiosity and assertiveness/boldness. Inhibition yields us to withdraw or observe. If you’re an observation or intuition expressive, you likely lean more toward the inhibition side of the brain’s systems.
As you know, I disagree with the notion that assertiveness is an “extroverted” trait, and this proves it. We ALL have BOTH of these systems. However, introverts tend to lean toward one or the other, which explains why you can have some really social and even assertive introverts (like myself) vs. those who are more passive and inhibited or shy or withdrawn. Neither is wrong – we just need to understand how our bodies work before we assign judgment to either tendency.
Understanding this now, I want us to look at 5 types of assertive communication no one ever thinks about by using scenarios we’ve likely all experienced – these are practically universal in our society currently. Let me just say – if you haven’t experienced one or more of these, look to make a connection with something you have experienced that’s similar (and thank your lucky stars you haven’t had to deal with these).
The “No”-Is-A-Complete-Sentence Type
Someone once said “silence is one of the great arts of conversation.” That someone knew a little something, because I’m not quite sure when saying “no” started requiring full remittance of one’s entire weekend plans, why you can’t go, why you just said “no” or why that isn’t a fully acceptable answer as a stand-alone.
When I was in school as a young girl, I can remember the mantras and educational materials against drug use as well as the posters that hung everywhere with “just say no!” My question is “why does that only have to apply to drug use?” I want you to practice this week just saying ‘no.’ Just saying ‘no.‘
No follow-up explanation, no “this is why”, no “I don’t really want to” or “I have plans” – just….say…..no. And leave it at that. Yes, people might look at you strangely the first few times you do this, but it’s okay. You are learning one of the great arts of conversation.
Please start getting more comfortable with just simply saying “no.”
The Check-Your-Facts-Before-You-Make-An-Assumption Type
Oh boy – this is a hot button topic right here. Especially on social media. I could write a book on things I’ve experienced with friends, family, and around the web as a result of social media. However, this applies across the board in many areas.
I once heard it taught that “assumption is the lowest form of knowledge.” I don’t so much agree with that – I think assumption isn’t knowledge at all. Period. And friends, when we make assumptions, we’re not engaging in assertive communication – we’re actually being passive aggressive. The reason being, when you usually make an assumption about something or someone, how many times is that assumption also followed up with a reaction? If you thought “pretty much every time” right there, you’re right.
Assumptions always lead to decisions. So….if we’re making an assumption about someone or something without all the facts, we’re being passive aggressive. The likelihood we’re also making a decision based on only what we think is high – we’re passively assuming something we aren’t sure of and aggressively acting on it. It’s dangerous.
It ruins relationships, business partnerships, collaborations, potential partnerships, marriages, dating relationships, friendships, and leadership respect.
You and I must stop making assumptions – about people’s motives, people’s thoughts, or what we think someone meant by something. If you have experienced something for sure in your own presence and know it to be true, that’s different. If you haven’t, check the facts before you make an assumption. And give people the chance to be with you in person before you listen to someone else’s opinion of them – it’s a sign of maturity and wisdom.
I always love it when I meet someone I know (because I asked, not assumed) someone else has spoken negatively about me to and they will still sit across the table from me and hear my side, get to know me anyway, or talk to me like a human being. That’s someone who has my respect, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.
Anyone who will make an assumption about you based on something they hear (and knowing you or not is really irrelevant if you think about it) and also make a decision based on that information isn’t really your friend, which leads me to the next type of assertive communication.
The I’m-Not-At-Work-To-Be-Your-Friend Type
I don’t even know where to start with this one. Especially if you hold a corporate job, let me let you in on a secret – friends at work are rare & fabulous, but they are rare. Usually this line is difficult to cross (between professional responsibilities and friendships outside of work). In my experience, it can typically only work with a shoulder-to-shoulder peer (in a like position as you where you can share frustrations or have common deliverables or duties) or with someone with which you already had an established relationship where there’s more to the working relationship pre-business terms (and even those can be tricky-and-a-half). Otherwise, it’s really difficult to manage – pun intended.
As a general rule, you are not at work to be someone’s friend – especially if they work on your team or report to you in any way, shape, or form. I can’t tell you how many women I see struggle with this and it’s because they’re trying too hard to be in leadership and be everyone’s friend. It simply doesn’t work.
I call it the “Ping Pong Paradigm.” You’re going along great, there’s back-and-forth communication, sharing stories, hanging out, reciprocation is present until BAM! All of a sudden you’re blind-sided by a ball coming so fast at you, you had no idea you even needed to prepare for it – and chances are, you weren’t. You trusted, you liked, you made yourself vulnerable, and then you got seriously burned.
Does this suck? Absolutely. But the truth is this – and especially if you’re in a management or leadership position – you are NOT there to be someone’s friend – you’re there to be compensated for doing your job and doing it well and hopefully make a difference. A lot of the time, the things that are required or come with that – such as honesty, stepping up as a leader, having to confront someone not doing their job – don’t allow you to also be everyone’s “friend.”
Here’s your new mantra: “I’m going to be assertive and do my job and do it well. If you’re also committed to that and seeing that in me, with all emotional maturity and professional perspective, let’s be friends.”
Sadly, a lot of people won’t fit this criteria or qualify because of emotional immaturity, unprofessionalism, or a misunderstanding about how to draw the line. You and I have to engage with assertive communication in an almost quiet way with this one – consistently showing up and engaging with what we know we’re there for, whether someone really likes it or not.
It’s not cold and insensitive – it’s assertive living. And can I just tell you? The right people will be drawn to it – all the live long day! New doors will open for you and you’ll remember why those “friendships” weren’t meant to be (and probably why you didn’t want them to begin with).
The Honesty-With-Myself Type
This is one of my favorite forms of assertiveness to teach because it’s also the most intimate. Honesty with ourselves. Honesty within. Honesty that beckons you and I both to lay down our ego – to look in the mirror and know we’re being true to our core values.
There’s a pin I saw on Pinterest the other day that says, “I’d rather be honest than impressive.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Being honest with ourselves takes great courage. It takes guts and pizazz because you’re lovingly asking yourself to please require the best and no less.
And you know what? Maybe your honesty at times is not requiring the best of something or someone and being okay with that for the moment or the time. And maybe in that moment or time, that’s what’s true. When we try to act like we’re in a space or a realm we’re not in, it gets real difficult to bring others along for that ride and also feel supported by them.
Let me ask you something if you’re struggling with this: If you’re not being honest with yourself about something, what are you going to do when others find out before you do?
Here’s why I’m asking that. It’s hard enough when we’re caught in a lie about something or someone else and we have to explain that difficult action or omission. But when we’re caught lying to ourselves? There’s a ravishing that happens inside – it’s brutal and some people can go on for years, not forgiving themselves. I’m trying to lovingly coax you to take a more proactive and assertive approach in the deepest of honesty.
What is true for you? What is noble? What is right? What thing is pure? Think on these things. How we see ourselves creates the confidence we portray to others.
The I’m-Going-To-Do-What-No-One-Else-Will Type
Someone close to me recently had to make a difficult decision at her job, to report something that otherwise would’ve gone unnoticed. I was so PROUD of her for doing that thing that no one else wanted to do.
We often don’t see this as being assertive communication, but it very much is. It’s not passive, because it speaks. It’s not passive aggressive because no assumptions are made – the facts are revealed. And it’s not aggressive because it is done with pure motive and not with malice aforethought.
It’s assertive and beautifully so.
One of the greatest qualities of entrepreneurs is that they’re willing to try and often times do what no one else will.
We also see it in the courageous introvert who raises her hand to give her 2 cents in the meeting – she’s observed, she’s taken it all in, she’s heard everyone else’s thoughts & opinions, and now it’s time for hers. Who knows? Maybe she’ll say something no one else thought of or perhaps maybe they don’t even like.
This assertive communicator takes risks. She does what no one else will for the good of herself, her family, her kids, her quality of life, her being, her company, and her dignity.
When I think of assertiveness, I know it can come easier to the power expressive. I totally get that. But it’s still a form of communication that other expressives and introverts can learn (that’s what I’m here to help with).
When it comes to these 5 (and maybe others I didn’t list), what is one memorable thing that stands out for you that you can immediately put into action in your own life? And tell me – what do you know will be your biggest challenge?
Just by answering this two-fold question, you’re engaging in assertive living – you’ll have to be honest about what your obstacles could be and reasonable about how you can take some sort of action toward more assertive communication.
I’d love to hear your thoughts below, and thank you tons for reading this.