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This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 2 - learn communication basics and seven powerful
Progress with this Lesson depends on concurrent progress on Lesson 1 -
free your true Self to guide your personality in calm and conflictual times.
This article exists because - in
my experience - many adults and most kids aren't able to
assert their needs and opinions
well is a learnable skill, based on some key
This brief YouTube video summarizes effective assertion skill:
Say your definition of "effective assertion" out loud. Imagine
trying to explain it to an average teen. Then rate yourself as an asserter recently: on a scale of
never get my needs met)to 10(I
always get my needs met, while
respecting others' rights and needs)...
In calm situations with the people who
mean the most to me, I'm usually a ___
In conflicts with the people who mean the
most to me, I'm usually a ___
With the people I work with, I'm usually a
With strangers or acquaintances, I'm
usually a ___
When I'm upset and need to assert to
myself, I'm usually a ___
See how your beliefs compare to these premises about the relationship
skill of assertion...
Effective assertionis the art of (a) saying what you need or believe in a way that
other people can hear you clearly, and (b) you all feeling
respected enough when you finish. This ability is essential for
effective problem-solving. The alternatives to
assertion are submission(letting other's needs come before yours and possibly
violating your integrity,and
forcing your needs or values on another person. Both
Types of Assertion
types of assertion:
Self-nurturing - stating your
perceptions, feelings, and opinions about something (venting) to
preserve your self respect and
integrity. The goal here is to feel satisfied that
you've tried your best to have the other person hear you
clearly, vs. agree to some action.
Preventive - the assertion goal
here is to get the other person to commit to act now to avoid
a future problem;
Reactive assertion aims tohave the other person...
acknowledge a change you need from them, and/or
you set with them about some unacceptable behavior;
surprise type of assertion is...
- affirming or appreciating someone in a way they can't easily
discount or minimize. This
can be fun! More detail on this kind of assertion on
the next page.
In each situation you can assert
spontaneously or intentionally. With
your Self guiding you, practice, and
self-awareness, asserting effectively becomes automatic.
To assert effectively(satisfy your and others' current
and kids need to...
be clear and
firmon their personal
rights as dignified, worthy persons; and...
that their rights, needs, opinions, and
dignity (self-respect) are just as
valid and important as anyone
else's, regardless of age, power, role, or gender;
And effective asserters need to...
become fluent in the
communication skills of
awareness, clear thinking, digging down, metatalk, and
Reflect on your reactions to what you just read. Do you
regularly meet these four conditions when asserting with other people?
Would people who know you well agree? If you don't (yet), what's in your
Now - compare
this framework for asserting well to your present way of declaring your
needs and opinions to adults and kids:
following options can be useful in any situation.
true Self (capital "S")
is the best judge of whether each option is necessary. The more you do these, the more
automatic they'll become:
Consciouslyto assert (i.e. to follow steps
until the skill becomes automatic. The common alternative is being unaware of what you need and what you're doing, which risks being
aggressive (1-up). Both are lose-lose attitudes.
who's guiding your
personality now -
your Self (capital "S") or other subselves, and...
what you feel, and why.
Your emotions point to current
needs, and idsentify...
specifically what you
need from your
communication partner/s now.
Check yourself for
fuzzy thinking (e.g. for vague
pronouns and "hand-grenade" (emotionally-provocative) words
difference between surface needs (e.g. "I need
the checkbook to be balanced") and underlying
primary needs ("I need to lower my anxiety
about having our phone turned off again.") If you get what
you're asserting for, will it satisfy your primary needs? Use
dig-down skills to
When you assert,
stay aware of your current
awareness bubble. Does it include you
communication partner/s (a "two-person bubble"), or just you?
One-person and no-person bubbles usually indicate a false self
Review these common
communication blocks before important
assertions. Are there any you want
to be alert for with this communication partner?
Remind yourself of the
difference between a need conflict ("When you commit to an
arrival time, I need you to be prompt."), and a
values conflict. In the latter,
guard against asserting for something that your partner
can't (vs. won't) give you ("I want you to stop this
vegetarian fetish."); and...
you can assert: (a) in person, over the phone, or in
writing, and (b) alone or with other key people present. Each has
pros and cons. Which gives you the best odds for being heard
Step 3) Make four quick
attitude checks on how you honestly feel about
Your partner's needs.
If you believe "they are as legitimate and important as mine now," go ahead. If
not, lower your expectations about the outcome of your assertion or explore what's blocking a mutual-respect
attitude. Often, it's a well-meaning false self
Asking for what you need. If you feel solidly"I have the rightto say or ask for this,"
go ahead. If youre thinking something like: "I'm really
being selfish / pushy / greedy / a pain /..." (inner attitude:
"I'm 1-down"), lower your assertion-outcome
Your confidence about handling your partner's reactions
to your assertion, like
anger, rejection, hurt, defensiveness, or attacking.
If you feel
confident enough, assert. If you don't, focus on
freeing your true Self and review this
building self confidence. Practicing these steps will increase your
ability to handle "resistances" effectively. And review...
expectations about the outcome. If you
"We both can get our main needs met here, and...
we both will probably
feel OK about it,"
then assert your needs and/or opinions.
If your dominant subselves
believe "This assertion won't
work," it probably won't.As your fluency with the
skills grows, your
effectiveness will rise and the attitudes above will become more
Recall - we're reviewing eight steps (options) for asserting your needs and opinions
effectively with adults and kids. We just reviewed three preparation
steps. Now you're ready to...
significant environmental, emotional, or bodily distractions,
specific outcome you want from asserting, and then...
choose a time and place where your partner is minimally distracted;
needs or opinions simply, clearly, directly,
one at a time, with
The more words you use, the greater the chance for confusion and distraction.
If you're really clear on what you need, one or two sentences is
If you're asserting a
boundary (personal limit) - e.g. "I need you to stop leaving your wet
towel on the bathroom floor." be clear on what specific
action you'll take (a consequence) if the other person chooses to ignore
(disrespect) your boundary ("If you 'forget,'
I'll drop the towel on your pillow as a reminder.")
Watch your pronouns! If you state your
needs as "You need to ___...", you risk being
perceived as arrogantly dictating what the other person
must do, feel, or believe. Remember
how you felt the last time someone did that to you?
A safer choice is
taking responsibility for your need or opinion:
"I need you to..."
"resistance" from your partner, without judgment. It's a normal human response,
not weakness, defensiveness, cowardice, bad, or wrong! This expectation and attitude are
essential for successful assertions!
Do you agree?
Step 6) Letyour
partner finish responding to your assertion (unless
s/he's too long-winded). Then use
respectful empathic listening until your partner's
E(motion)-level drops "below
If you start to blame, debate, disagree, or over-justify
your needs after your partner responds, a false-self probably
controls you. Breathe,
(capital "S"), and stay focused on
requesting or demanding what you need
now from your partner. Expect more resistance, without blame!
If you're not clear on empathic listening, review this brief YouTube video:
When you feel the other person can
hear you, then…
Stay focused, in case
your partner brings up other issues or changes the subject. Repeat
4 - 6 as needed: re-state your needs clearly, firmly,
and directly, using respectful empathic listening and steady eye
contact with each new
resistance, until you…
get (a) a clear,
credible agreement, or (b) an acceptable compromise or
(c) new information that justifies switching from assertion to
problem solving; or you…
run out of time.
In important assertions,
plan lotsof undistracted time for your interaction!
Step 8) Note the outcome of your
assertion. If you
and your partner/s eachgot your primary needs met well enough,
thank them and appreciate yourself! If someone didn't get key needs
met well enough, use awareness, metatalk, and
empathic listening skillsto discover
what would work better the next time. Maintain the
nonjudgmental, curious "mind of a student," and consider adopting the motto:
"Progress, not perfection"...
and reflect... what's your
self-talk now? (e.g.
"This is silly"; or "I could never do these steps"; or "Too
academic - unreal and phony"; or "Hmm - maybe I could experiment with these steps.
What's the risk?"...)
Do you feel these eight
steps really could work for you? Could you assert in key situations and leave
any of these options out? If you don't normally do some version of these steps to
meet your needs with other people, what do you do? Do you usually
satisfy your primary needs? Is anything in the way of
trying these steps?
Now let's look at a powerful type of assertion:
YouTube clip previews what you'll read here:
can lower their odds for meeting everyone's needs by using provocative "you" messages,
always / never / need to /..." Depending on voice tone and body
language, these are often received as
criticisms. This usually raises the receiver's
E(motion)-level, which blocks
better alternative is to use sincere (vs. manipulative) "I"
messages to assert your need or opinion. These assertions describe what you are an expert on:
perceptions, feelings, values, and needs.
"I" messages have two or
"When you... (describe some
specific behavior that could be recorded on audio or video tape),
"... I..." (summarize
factually how that behavior affects you, without name-calling,
lecturing, or criticism)...
(optional) "... and I need
you to (commit to making a specific attitude and/or behavior change.)"
This sounds like "Alex, when you interrupt me frequently,
I feel disrespected and distracted, and
want to stop talking with you.
you to be more aware of interrupting, and to let me finish before you
Avoid bringing up the past,
lecturing, and/or elaborating on the
last 22 times your partner has done (whatever).
Keep it simple!
limit your descriptions to behaviors
that could be recorded on audio or
video tape, like a reporter or scientist; and...
avoid using labels,
provocative words, accusations, and
vague or general terms ("When you're so selfish and insensitive all the time...")
Well-composed, "I" messages - delivered calmly, with
steady, respectful eye contact - have a better chance of being received
as information vs. criticism. This is less likely if the receiving
person is shame-based (wounded). With all assertions,
use respectful empathic listening to affirm your partner's responses, and
demonstrate that you heard (vs. agree with) them.
you finish here, try this "I"-message worksheet to raise your awareness and effectiveness.
the four kinds of assertion: self-nurturing, preventive, reactive, and
praise. Let's look at the last one now...