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The Friendly Way to ‘Keep People in Check’ (ASSERTIVENESS SKILLS 101 w/ Step-by-Step Formula)

7 November 2011 No Comment

Here’s an excerpt from Lucy Jo Palladino’s Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction & Overload, which follows an initial post on OVERCOMING FEAR you can check out here.

“I was watching pre-schoolers being interviewed on television about events in the news one day, and when one child was asked, ‘Why do you think people go to war?’ he replied: ‘Because they don’t use their words…’

Assertiveness skills are ways to use you words so you can stand up for your rights WITHOUT stepping on the rights of others. Since they let you express yourself effectively (without bullying others or letting others bully you), assertiveness skills help you get your needs met without passive-aggression or losing your temper. Here’s some examples:

Your boss refuses to listen to your ideas about a project…

>> Passive-Aggressive: you don’t say anything, but stall on getting it ready.
>> Hostile-Aggressive: You blow up and quit your job.
>> Assertive: You suggest a team meeting to discuss it.

Your significant other makes plans that involve you without consulting you first…

>> Passive-Aggressive: You go along with the plans but act coldly.
>> Hostile-Aggressive:You blow up, slam the door and leave.
>> Assertive: You decide independently what it is you want to do. Whether or not you choose to go, you discuss the issue with your significant other.

Your child won’t turn the TV off when she’s supposed to…

>> Passive-Aggressive: You don’t want to stop what you’re doing, so you let her keep watching; but you feel resentful and snap at her the rest of the night.
>> Hostile-Aggressive: You yell at her and threaten to ground her for a week.
>> Assertive: You walk into the room and matter-of-factly ask her if she wants to turn the TV off or if she’d rather you turn it off; and then you follow through.

Neurology & Anger

But obviously, it’s hard to use your words to solve problems when you’re mad. When you’re mad, your amygdala (a part of your brain’s “limbic system” responsible for processing emotions) diverts your brain’s resources in order to keep your anger burning.

picture of woman having a headache

So interestingly, at the times when you need to be most assertive, your brain’s CEO (logic) is less available to you because the amygdala is forcing it to rationalize your anger and keep that norepinephrine (a “neurotransmitter” underlying the “fight-or-flight” response) pumping.

Your focus gets narrowed, and you get quicker to think things like “This guy is an a-hole,” rather than “I wonder if there’s another way to do this. Maybe I can talk to someone else on the team.

So to help you put your words together when you feel provoked like that, here’s a formula – a template for writing your own script, if you will:

1: State the facts,
2: Say how you feel,
3: See through the persons eyes, and then
4: Ask for what you want.

So let’s say you need to talk to the stubborn boss:

1: That new software project has complications and costs not listed in the current proposal.
2: It’s hard for me to jump on board, because I’m concerned about them.
3: I understand you believe it has a strong potential for success.
4: Let’s schedule a team meeting and see what everyone thinks.

picture of parent and childThis time you’re the frustrated parent with a TV-loving child:

1: It’s 9 pm and the TV is still on; we both know that it’s time to turn it off.
2: I don’t like having to enforce a rule you know is up to you to keep.
3: I know you want to keep watching and that it’s been a tough day.
4: Do you want to turn it off or would you like me to do that for you?

And now you’re the significant other who wasn’t consulted:

1: I see you’ve scheduled us again to play golf with the Duffers. I’m OK with going this time.
2: I want you to know, though, I don’t like it when you confirm plans without asking me first. I feel left out…as if I don’t matter.
3: I know you’re just trying to be sociable and plan nice things for us to do.
4: Next time Chip or anyone else asks you, would you say that you need to check with me first?

Step 3 helps diffuse the situation: when you make an honest attempt to see the conflict through the other person’s eyes, that person feels validated, just as you would if the other person tried to see it your way. This decreases the other person’s defensiveness and also keeps the rational part of your brain in charge.

HOWEVER, BE CAREFUL TO NOT TO START STEP 4 WITH THE WORD “BUT.” With that one tiny word you alter the entire sentiment of the message and undo what you said in step 3.

With the word “but,” you’re no longer validating the other person’s viewpoint…instead you’re saying “I see your point of view and now discounting it…” ~ Lucy Jo Palladino, PhD.


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