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Tips On Assertiveness - A Foundation

I worked as a social worker for 19 years and during that time I was constantly reminded of the importance of self-assertion. The culture of social care in the United Kingdom is increasingly characterised by a lack of resources and extremely pressurised working environments. As a naturally shy and sensitive person, I found standing up for myself and others an enormous challenge to begin with. I was lucky to have a foreboding senior practitioner on my side to show me the ropes. It was just the induction I needed. After a while under his tutelage, I found that the ability to assert myself was the foundation from which most aspects of my life would flow. The ability to manage time, how I relate to others, advocating for others, my workload and ultimately my self-esteem were dependent upon it. Over the coming weeks, I will be jotting down a series of tips on assertiveness that I found useful. Today we will start will a foundation.

The Oxford Dictionary definition of assertiveness is:

“Forthright, positive, insistence on the recognition of one’s rights.”

This is a good starting point and the perfect place to differentiate between assertiveness and aggression. It is easy in challenging situations or with people we have built up resentment towards, to use aggression as a way of trying to nullify a situation. The times when I have responded in this way have shown me, after some reflection, that I was too afraid to face the problem. A problem that ironically had normally arisen due to a lack of connection in the first place. Aggression, even in subtle forms can also be used to bully which I will look at in later articles. I believe assertiveness ought to respect the feelings and rights of the other person as well. The key here is empathy. When I have it, however challenged I am in a particular moment, it enables me to connect more effectively. This in turn helps me to communicate with the other person and to assert my own rights more effectively.

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” Henry Ford

Know Thyself : It’s surprising how easy it is to be unclear about what our boundaries are. Do you know how much work to take on before it’s too much? Are your core values being challenged by a work culture? Do you listen to your limitations? Do you tend towards pleasing others in spite of yourself? I found it imperative to give myself the space to get clear on what I’m comfortable with and what is healthy for me. The more this awareness grew, the more I developed a confidence to move forward. I could now begin to have my rights recognised. I was no longer trying to contort myself into what others expected of me. I believe that knowing who you and what you stand for gives you self-belief. A belief that you should be treated with respect and dignity. This is the platform to build both assertiveness and self-esteem.

It is a mistake to look at someone who is self assertive and say, “It’s easy for her, she has good self-esteem.” One of the ways you build self-esteem is by being self-assertive when it is not easy to do so.”
― Nathaniel Branden

Embody Your Rights : A great way to internalise what we stand for is to write yourself a bill of your assertive rights. This is something that helped me to cement and embody my stance on assertiveness. I used to keep it in my desk drawer and read it every day until it felt solid inside of me. Make your own list of what matters and is relevant to you. It might look something like this;

It is my right to decide what I think.

It is my right to change my mind.

It is my right to make mistakes.

It is my right to take time to decide.

It is my right to say no.

It is my right to make my own priorities.

The more we can internalise these tenants the stronger they grow within us. The more we have an inner confidence to guide us in the hustle and bustle of everyday interaction. In future articles I will look at some tools we can use to support us in being more assertive, especially in difficult situations.

Meanwhile, if you are also interested in developing your creative thinking you may be interested in another article I wrote for Medium:

How To Develop Your Creative Thinking