Join Chris Croft for an in-depth discussion in this video Discovering why assertion doesn't come naturally, part of Learning to Be Assertive.
- So why is not easy to be assertive? Why does it not come naturally? And I think the first reason for this is that we are actually animals, really. We still are animals, and we have fight or flight built into us. And what happens in a stressful situation is that chemicals like adrenaline pump into our bloodstream, and the objective of those chemicals is to help us run away or put up a stronger fight. But running away and fighting harder are not really appropriate responses to most work situations.
Now animals only have these two choices: fight or flight. But we have third one, which is to talk calmly about an outcome that can work for both parties. And this is really the essence of assertiveness. Not being aggressive. Not being too submissive. But calmly working out an acceptable outcome for all. I'll give you an example of how easy it is to get into a fight or flight situation, and also how ineffective it is. I was going on a cycle ride. It was about 20 miles. And after the first mile, we went past a house.
And this German Shepherd Alsatian dog came rushing out barking at me. It gave me a real shock, and I quickly cycled away. And I went into flight mode. The adrenaline pumped in. I cycled away. I was faster than the dog. And I got away. And I was thinking about it as I cycled around. And I was thinking, That dog, I'm gonna get him. Because I knew that at the end of the ride, we were going to go back past the same house. And I spent the whole 20 miles thinking about this dog. I'm gonna reach down and I'm gonna get my bike pump. I'm gonna jump off my bike, and I'm gonna shout at the dog.
And as we approached the house, I did just that. I was reaching down. I had the bike pump ready. I was all ready to get him. And of course he didn't come out. He was asleep or something like that. And I'd wasted the whole bike ride being angry, ready for this dog. And I never got closure. Even now, I'm kind of thinking about it. I never got closure. I never got a chance to have a go at the dog. And what I should have done was let it go, but it's hard to do because you've got these chemicals going through your bloodstream. So the moral of this story I think is that with an animal there's no other option.
It's either dominate or be dominated. But if it was a person, the third option would have been much better. Now another reason why it's not automatic to be assertive is our upbringing. School is pretty much a jungle. It's pretty much a fight or flight jungle. Kids haven't learned about assertiveness yet. They're still animals in this sense. And kids understand this. I can remember at school there was one of my classmates who was terrified of wasps. And guess what happened? Every time he used to open his desk, there'd be another wasp in there.
We were awful to him, and it was a jungle there. And so our upbringing, our first experience really of socialization probably doesn't encourage assertiveness. And the role models that we have at that age. They might be our parents who might be great role models, but may not. They might be rock stars. They might be people in films. Action heroes or cartoon princesses. It's pretty random who our role models are. And often they're not very constructive when it comes to learning to be assertive in real life difficult situations.
So that's two reasons already. The animal side of us and then our upbringing. But there's a third reason why assertiveness is difficult. And that's that the other two options of being aggressive and being too submissive or passive, both have perceived payoffs which are quite tempting. But actually are not as good as we hope. They're only perceived payoffs. If you think about the payoff of being aggressive. You tend to think that if you're aggressive you're going to bend other people to your will, and you're going to get what you want. And being aggressive can work sometimes, but all too often it doesn't work, because the other person will fight back or they'll get revenge later.
You'll make an enemy, and it'll cost you more in the end. And so being aggressive is not a good life strategy overall. What about being a submissive? What about letting other people have their way in the hope that they're going to like you? And the perceived payoff is that you'll have an easy life and you'll be liked. But of course, instead of saying something at the time, you end up bottling it up. You end up not getting what you want, and it all it does is add to your stress, and you never get closure. I'll give you a quick example of a time when I wasn't assertive enough. I used to share an office with a guy called Paul.
And he used to irritate me anyway, 'cause he used to not answer my phone when I was away. He never left me messages. I used to leave him messages of people who'd called. But one day he did something which really upset me, was he brought his lunch back to the office, and he was eating fried egg and baked beans. And the whole office stank of beans. And I remember thinking if he does it again, I'm going to say something to him about it. But I thought I won't say something this time. I'll wait and I'll see if he does it a second time and then I'll say something. But he never did it again.
And the ridiculous thing is I've still got that thought in my mind years later that if he does it again I'll say something. Because I never got closure on it. I never needed to. And of course what probably have happened is if he'd done it again I would have bottled it up until he'd done it about five times, and then suddenly I would have flipped from being too submissive to being aggressive. And I suddenly would have gone, Paul, stop eating those beans! And then that would have been totally the wrong approach. He would've said, "Well I didn't know it was a problem. "You never told me." So bottling it up and then exploding and swinging from one end of the scale to the other is not a good plan.
Sulking, what can we do about this? I suppose the first thing is to realize that we are animals. We have to make allowance for the fact that we've got these chemicals that go through our systems. And then we should use the power of our conscious brains to take control of how we react. To think before we act, because we do have control over how we act in situations. And that's really what this course is about. Being aware of yourself in situations, and then using the best strategies for those. So I'd like you start thinking about situations where maybe you could've been more assertive.
Maybe you became a bit more aggressive than you should've been, or maybe where you were too passive and you let other people get away with things, which is retrospect, you shouldn't have let them get away with. Start thinking about those situations and start thinking about whether the middle way would've been more productive for you.
- Identifying your current mindset
- Avoiding the passive-aggressive trap
- Reducing negative emotions
- Handling everyday putdowns
- Learning to disagree by questioning
- Knowing the most effective words to use