5 Steps to Assertiveness and Setting Boundaries

The True Art Of Assertiveness

Step 1) Decide Where Your Boundaries Lie

How far is too far? What are you willing and unwilling to take from other people?

Set a limit in your mind and stick to it. This doesn’t have to mean you set no leeway, but internally draw a line and don’t let them cross it. You have to learn to say enough is enough to protect yourself. And when you do that, you also begin to respect yourself more.

We can cut people some slack in life, but please decide just how much you are willing to take.

Step 2) Know That Forgiveness Can Make The Situation Worse

Many of us like to think we have forgiving natures. And a bit of forgiveness here and there is wonderful and helps the world turn. But if you continually forgive someone their ongoing bad behaviour, they get much worse.

You see this happening in relationships all the time (including work relationships). If we constantly forgive and make allowances for bad behavior, it ceases to be ‘bad behaviour’ in the eyes of the person doing it.

Research found that people who exhibit aggressive behavior against their spouses were more likely to continue such behaviour if their partner was forgiving. The fact is, any form of human behavior can come to seem okay if it seems to be endorsed through forgiveness.

The buck needs to stop somewhere…but how do you clearly let someone know you will not accept bad behaviour?

Step 3) Remember ASSA

Whether you need to talk to a boundary-crossing colleague, a disrespectful partner, or a cantankerous neighbour, you’ll need a strategy. Assertiveness is a form of calm, clear communication, not a verbal assault.

So often when we feel upset with someone, we shout or scream; but they genuinely might not clearly get why we are upset. People can be super intelligent in all sorts of ways, but genuinely not understand why they have upset other people.

Don’t assume people can read your mind and must somehow just know that you are upset. Get used to telling it how you see it.

ASSA stands for:

Alert the person that you want to speak to them. For example: “I want to talk to you about the way you have yelled at me in front of other staff recently.” Notice there is no blaming or emotional language at this point.

State your grievance by telling the person what the problem is. “I’m not happy with you shouting at me.” Tell them why it’s a problem. “It makes me angry and I think it makes you look unprofessional in front of other staff and customers.”

Sell the benefits of them behaving better. “In future, if you have something to say to me, it’d be better for you to talk and not shout, and do so privately. This will make you seem more professional and improve my morale, as well.”

Agree. Seek agreement for doing things differently in future. “Can we agree that from now on, you will refrain from shouting and if you ever need to speak to me again, you do it away from other people?” If they agree, then remind them of their agreement if ever they renege on it. All you’ll ever have to do in future is remind them of what they agreed.

Notice how clear this communication is. You’ve neither passively put up with their behaviour nor been so emotional that they can counter-accuse you of being insulting, yelling, or losing your cool, which would actually side-step the issue.

This kind of communication can be a powerful corrective to bad behavior, creating the kind of environment in which it cannot easily grow and spread. Of course, they might not mend their ways, but at least you have given them a chance to behave better and brought the over-the-line stepping out into the open.

Step 4) Stay Calm

This is so important. When people over-step the mark, it’s natural to feel disgruntled or enraged. But assertive, clear communication requires presence of mind and for that we need calm. The moment we start launching insults or yelling or sobbing, we have left the realm of credibility.

Sure, it may not be surprising that bad behavior produces these responses within us, but now we have distracted the person from the issue of their behavior to how we are now reacting. It’s all very well to suggest you stay calm in a situation that requires assertiveness, but actually being calm takes practice.

It’s important to rehearse what you’re going to say to someone, but it’s just as vital to rehearse or prepare how you’re going to feel when you say it.

Step 5) Practice Honesty

We have all received a gift from a well-meaning relative and pretended to like it. Sometimes, being slightly less than in-your-face honest is the kind thing to do. But by being more assertive, you not only gain more respect for yourself and others, you can enjoy the greater freedom that comes from being more honest more of the time. Ultimately, it doesn’t help other people to live under the illusion that their behavior is okay when it really isn’t.

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