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Dealing with Difficult People

Using Assertiveness in Your Communication with Others

Assertiveness image - Office Man with Megaphone

We all know that communicating with other people can be difficult at times. Everyone has their own unique personality types - some people are domineering and frankly quite scary, whilst others are shy and mousy and wouldn't say boo to a goose. So, how assertive are you when it comes to dealing with difficult people? When someone wants something you don't want to give, how do you react? Do you say yes and do it anyway, all the time biting back the resentment you feel? Or do you quickly feel hurt and angry and let them know exactly how they made you feel? Assertiveness is a skill that allows you to deal with other people's requests in a more skilful way and allows you to ask other people to meet yours. If you can learn to do this, without letting emotions take you over, then you have a very useful skill for getting your needs met in life.

What is Assertiveness?

So, what is assertiveness? Well, it is the ability to express your needs and wishes clearly, whilst respecting both yourself and the person that you are communicating with. Often we feel scared to express our own wishes in our communications with others for fear of their rejection or disapproval - so we may find it difficult to say no. Or perhaps when we want something from others, we don't know how to ask in a way that elicits a positive response. If we feel entitled, we may make demands. Perhaps we get upset or angry when we don't get our needs met. Assertiveness is being able to ask or respond to another in a mature fashion without trying to dominate them or allowing yourself to be dominated.

You Can Say "No"

Please note, that you are perfectly entitled to say "No" to a request. Saying no is part of being assertive. It is your time and you are responsible for deciding how you will spend it. Remember that saying "No" to others is saying "Yes" to yourself.

How to be More Assertive

So, when someone asks you to do something for them, you have to make a decision based on your own feelings and preferences as to whether you are prepared to help them out. If you are not sure, then it may be best to ask for time to think and say that you will get back to them later. If you don't feel able to meet their needs then you can say so politely. It helps to use a 3 part formula which is as follows:

  1. I understand that you want (me) to ... (insert requested behaviour here, show them that you understand what they are asking of you).
  2. But I simply can't be available at that time (say no politely).
  3. Although I could help you out next week if you can wait (it helps if you can offer an alternative, but this is optional).

Some examples:

Expressing Your Feelings

Or perhaps you are discussing a problem you have with an employee or your partner because you find some aspect of their behaviour unhelpful in their work or your relationship. Part of being assertive is that you are able to express your feelings. As an assertive person, you understand that you have a right to your feelings and that the other person has a right to theirs. You are seeking to understand as well as to communicate your own preferences and wishes.

When you express your feelings, it helps to start with "I feel..." as anything starting "You..." will come across as blame. So "I feel angry when you put me down in front of our friends and I would like you to stop." is better than "You make me so angry. You're always putting me down in front of our friends. If you don't stop doing it I'm going to... (some behaviour designed to hurt)". Notice that in this example, you are also telling the other person how you want their behaviour to change, as well as saying how you feel.

Stay Calm

Of course, you must stay calm when expressing your feelings. However irritated or angry you are underneath, it is generally not helpful to get emotional or upset as it will put the other person on the defensive. If you don't feel calm at the time, it might be better to create some space until you are better able to deal with the situation. If you can, tell the other person "I'm feeling angry. I would like some time to sort out my thoughts on this and I will come back to you later." If you can't leave, it is better to bite your tongue rather than come out with an emotionally charged tirade of abuse.

Stand Your Ground

When you've said your piece then you need to stand your ground. Don't allow yourself to be bullied or intimidated into giving in to another person's request. Just stay calm, polite and be firm. Continue to restate your case - if needs be keep going on like a broken record - until the other person gets your point.

Practice Makes Perfect

Of course, assertiveness takes practice and you may go wrong many times before you get it right. But don't give up. Keep following this advice and your communications with other people will soon become much easier. When other people realise that you are prepared to assert your rights and won't give in to intimidation, you will win their respect and they will stop trying to take advantage of you. Communication will become easier as you deal with the issues that need to be dealt with.






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