Many people have trouble expressing their feelings. It may be because they do not feel entitled to do so or they don’t really know how they feel. Most often they just don’t know this simple formula:
· I feel.
· When you.
All three elements must be included. It is important that you finish the “I feel” with how you feel but without being aggressive. For example “I feel you are a jerk” is aggressive not assertive. When you are effectively assertive you are explaining how you feel when certain things happen and why. Instead of “I feel you are a jerk,” how about, “I feel like you don’t think much of me when you know you will be late for dinner and don’t take the time to call because I don’t know what is keeping you and I worry.”
The most common times when people have trouble being angry rather than assertive are:
· Stating a difference of opinion
· Receiving and expressing negative feelings
· Dealing with someone who refuses to cooperate
· Speaking up about something that annoys you
· Protesting a rip-off
· Saying “No”
· Responding to undeserved criticism
· Asking for cooperation
· Proposing an idea
One of the first elements in assertiveness is to learn to stop and reflect before responding. The sequence should be:
· Immediate stop (think of a big red stop sign)
· Breathe and use a relaxing cue (e.g. like the word calm or cool )
· Reflect and look for your emotional trigger
– Am I responding to a real problem on my own distorted thinking?
– Do I need to “win” in this conversation?
– Am I afraid to show any sign of weakness?
– Do I feel compelled to put this person down?
· Choose how you want to respond
Even assertive people have trouble under pressure. When under pressure try these steps:
· Make eye contact with the person.
· Don’t go on until you feel relaxed. If you need more time, buy time by saying “okay,” or “all right.”
· If you are still unable to relax, it might be best to temporarily remove yourself from the situation. Disengage with a polite statement, such as “I’m really upset now. I’d like to return in a few minutes and talk with you about what happened.”
· Use “I” statements to express your feelings or make a request. This is to simply let the other person know where you stand, not to give you power leverage.
· Reflect the other person’s response by using “and” statements, not “but.” For example, “I understand you are upset, and when you yell like that, I get very upset.” This kind of response, as opposed to the more negative statement using “but,” creates an air of conciliation and allows for constructive discussion.
· Assess your effect. Did the person hear you? If so, continue. If he or she was too angry to understand, restate or reflect in another way. If it seems that communication is impossible, disengage until another time.
· State your needs and your common goals with the person. This can be difficult when anger and defensiveness rule, but it is vital for creating an empathetic mood. For example, “I would like to see your department as productive as possible and I know you would like us to try your plan. Here is a suggestion I would like to share with you.
Note that if you need to leave the situation to compose yourself, then do. It is better to stay in control.