Before we talk about the techniques involved in being assertive, it is important to take a brief look back at what we just talked about. Being assertive is about standing up for what you believe in without being aggressive. The success of assertiveness lies in the communication process. When you are asserting something, and the person being addressed is actually getting the message, know that this is a triumph. Overdoing it by being excessively aggressive will only lead to people construing you as rude and inconsiderate.
The process of being assertive to the right degree is referred to by many commentators as the diplomatic strategy of a conversation. As you will see in the following examples, this is, to some extent, true.
Arguably the most useful technique of all, fogging refers to standing up for what you believe in without instigating the fury of someone already showing aggression towards you. Here, you do not agree with them and so you stand up for yourself. However, at the same time, you are not contradicting them altogether. The route you are taking is that of middle-ground. Let’s consider this concept with an example.
Imagine coming back home very late at night, having already promised to be back before midnight. You are faced with your father, who doesn’t seem amused at all. You know you have breached your curfew, as your father approaches you. Expectedly, reprimanding follows but you don’t react just yet. Your father says:
“Is this the appropriate time to come home? Is your watch showing a different time than mine? You’re 3 hours late! You couldn’t be bothered to let us know? You are getting out of hand!”
As you can see, the situation seems a little complex. The last thing you need is to throw a tantrum about how you have grown up and need freedom. You may be right, but that’s not important – what’s important is what the right thing to do here is. (Doing what’s right is critical, because it will give you a feeling of confidence, which will help you to become more assertive as we established earlier.) You want to talk to him about how you deserve a little space and freedom, but with anger surfacing his judgment, how well do you think such a conversation would go?
As mentioned before, finding the right time to say the right thing is a major component of being assertive. Don’t go into defensive mode, or start to blame it on anyone else. Be assertive. Your fogging response could sound something like:
“Yes, I know I came home much later than you had hoped for, and I can see my actions have disappointed you.”
As you can see, the response is neither defensive, nor argumentative. You are just stating the facts, and trying to calm the matter down to create an environment for a more productive conversation. You agree with a portion of the premise in the argument at hand, but your response is different than any expected reaction for which the other person may have been prepared. In a heated situation like this, this can do wonders to help calm tempers down and allow everyone to be rational. Then, if there is something else you need to say for yourself, you may proceed in calmly discussing your desire for greater freedom.
At this moment, when you have assertively handled the situation, your father or anyone else in his position will realize that you are aware of what has happened and they’ll no longer feel the need to “explain” it to you. His anger level will start to cool down a bit. Note that you’re not apologizing, nor are you showing remorse. This is a perfect scenario depicting how to be assertive through fogging.
Another important thing to note here is what to say and when. If you had chosen a defensive move from the very start (ex: “So what, I’m a few hours late, what’s the big deal?”), this would not have worked as anger would have shrouded both parties’ ability to think.
Sticking To the Point
There is absolutely nothing that destroys a healthy, promising debate as much as flaring tempers do. That’s right. The moment your patience has been breached and you have raised your voice, you are not being assertive anymore – you are being aggressive. The truth about being aggressive is that everyone hears you, but nobody listens. And quite honestly, only you are to blame.
Anger and rationality cannot coexist in a human mind. That’s the simple truth. Either you are being rational and assertive, or you are being aggressive. It is not a good enough excuse to say that you were being unfairly treated. It really isn’t. If you are not being assertive, you are on the losing end already. What then is the point in starting unnecessary arguments?
What you need to do is keep calm and ensure that the conversation doesn’t divert from the point. Continue calmly stressing your point until it is heard and acknowledged (though not necessarily agreed with, right away), without getting aggressive.
Let’s use another example. Imagine you’ve bought a t-shirt from a shop, only to find that it ripped the first time you wore it. You approach the store clerk, but she refuses to take it back because you’ve removed the tag. Naturally you feel upset and wronged. Here, the argument may get intense but is that a good enough reason to lose rationality? No. Instead you could calmly say:
“I bought this t-shirt only two days ago and it ripped the first time I tried it on. I would like you to refund my money.”
You may get a reply such as:
“The tag has been removed. I can’t take it back now.”
What do you do? Just keep calm, and reassert, sticking to the point. Repeat the same thing over again; using the request a few times over, while ensuring the conversation doesn’t turn into an argument. Let them know what exactly you want here, but again, in a polite manner.
If you start attacking the salesperson in your displeasure, not only are you steering clear of any opportunity to get that refund, but also allowing for the conversation to turn from a torn t-shirt to your angry handling of the salesperson. Who loses in the end? You.
How to Handle Compliments and Criticism
One of the things we often struggle to come up with is an adequate response when faced with criticism, whether constructive, or downright negative. At times, this is because the comments or compliments are unexpected, but other times they are uncalled for and completely catch us off guard.
The problem may seem a little complicated but the solution is fairly simple – you just need to learn what to say, in advance, to these types of situations. The key to responding to criticism in a proper manner is knowing how to be assertive in your response whilst avoiding overreacting or not saying anything at all.
Let’s start with a positive compliment. Imagine you have cooked something for a friend who came over. Your food was particularly delicious and your friend gave you a compliment. Here, it is important that you have an assertive response. A passive response would be to say:
“It was really nothing, I barely cooked anything.”
Humble, but not assertive. If you’ve put in the hard work to create good food, you deserve the positive feedback, while the person giving you the compliment actually deserves a better – and more truthful – reply. An assertive response would sound more like:
“Thank you! The meal did turn out well, didn’t it? I was really pleased with how the sweet potatoes tasted. What was your favorite part?”
Neither smug, nor passive. This is a simple assertive (and truthful) reply that shows that you acknowledge and appreciate their compliment.
Negative criticism, believe it or not, should not be handled much differently. If you are faced with any sort of criticism, you have to be assertive and deal with the situation head on, so you don’t regret not doing so later, left feeling walked all over. Imagine the same friend, except this time, she made some fussy comment on how the sweet potatoes tasted salty and dry. Should you lose your calm over some simple criticism, and be aggressive in reply? Or should you be calm and assertive in your response? An example of the former would be to say:
“Hey, I spent over an hour on those. It’s a shame you didn’t appreciate them more!”
This is a little too harsh. The criticism wasn’t tremendously insulting, it wasn’t belittling. What you should do is to understand that this criticism is a mere opinion. A more appropriate response would be to say:
“Well, they didn’t turn out perfect this time. It’s too bad actually, because I spent over an hour on them. Next time I’ll add a little less salt, especially if I know you’re coming over for dinner.”
This way, you are respecting the other person’s opinion – that she doesn’t like that much salt – keeping calm, asserting that there is indeed room for improvement. Note how you conveniently agree with your friend without actually agreeing that your food is terrible? That’s how it’s done.
Dealing with Requests
One of the toughest times to be assertive is when you’re asked for a favor, or simply asked to do something that you don’t necessarily want to have to do. Often times when other people ask for favors, they do it in a manipulative way, even if they don’t mean to. For example, let’s say your friend is responsible for hosting a casual cocktail party for her book club, but her own house is small and uninviting. So, she approaches you and asks “I’d love to have my book club over to your house for a small cocktail party. How does September 29th look on your calendar?”
Notice that the specific question she chose wasn’t “May I host the party at your house?”, but instead she attempted manipulation by phrasing the question around your availability on a particular date. Make no mistake, this is manipulation, and unless you want the party to be held at your house, you need to very carefully respond assertively. If you fall for the trap, and respond passively, it may sound like:
“Oh, uh, September 29th? I guess let me check my calendar.”
Problem is, now your options have been limited down to either coming back to her letting her know you’re available then, or you’re busy then. But what about the primary issue – whether or not you agree to let her essentially borrow your home for a party?
A more assertive response, instead, would sound like this (assuming you don’t want the party at your house):
“Oh, I’m so very flattered by your request to host a party at my house. Unfortunately I’m not prepared to have an event in my home. But I sure do take it as a compliment that you asked!”