How assertiveness relates to client’s values
In terms of her values, Ana aspires to be part of and contribute to a harmonious environment either at work or in her private life. For her it is important to be seen as a dependable person and overall she cares a lot about the image she projects and what other people think or say about her. If there is a misunderstanding, she clarifies things immediately and prefers to solve the situation on the spot, so there is no tension left or negative feelings affecting that relationship. She believes in respect towards herself and other people, but feels that many times her behavior is not aligned with this value in the sense that she is not assertive and she doesn’t respect herself enough.
Example of questions to challenge beliefs around assertiveness:
Is it possible to express your disagreement and still keep a good relationship with the interlocutor? Ana is afraid of conflict; in a conflict scenario, she tends to remain silent and act as though nothing is wrong. On a long term this determines frustration, as she starts feeling bad about her lack of confidence in herself. While bringing up examples of situations when she did speak up her mind, she comes to the conclusion that being direct in a challenging conversation can actually generate positive outcomes; for example, even if immediately after a conflict with a friend she felt bad because she upset him, after some time that friend recognized Ana was right and he revised his approach towards her.
- Even if the immediate outcome seemed negative, on a longer term she actually obtained what she hoped for
- How would an assertive person look like to you? Ana gave examples of people she admires from this perspective and examples of ideal responses to challenging situations
- What are the resources these people use to be assertive? By summarizing these examples and synthesize the characteristics of assertive people she knew, Ana came up with her own profile of the assertive person:
- Logical and structured way of thinking, which brings clarity and persuasiveness to the speech
- Calm, composed attitude, not showing any anxiety
- Not worried too much about people’s opinion
- Knowledge and expertise on the topic they talk about
- Projecting a “good intention” and a “non-aggressive vibe” (“I’m ok – you are ok” type of attitude)
When listing down the profile adjectives, Ana realized she projects these qualities, as she contains them as well; but she either doesn’t use them when applicable or she doesn’t integrate them in one consistent response. It was a great insight to discover she already had these resources and she needs to bring them up whenever she feels challenged.
Example of success measurement
The improvement was visible from one session to the other. One criteria Ana used to track progress was the number of interventions during team meetings at work. During her weekly calls with the team, Ana usually provides her opinion only when asked specifically; after the second coaching session, Ana opened two new discussions about the difficulties she had in her daily job – first she provided her opinions and then asked her manager and colleagues for additional ideas and inputs. At the end of the meeting she had a solution to overcome those challenges and she was happy about her way of conducting the discussion and facilitating the debate with her team. She was happy to share the result by sending me an email before our next session. I acknowledged her for the progress and encouraged her to continue observing her behavior in similar situations. But more important it was the change in her perspective on challenging situations – instead of seeing them as high stake and overwhelming scenarios that make her feel stuck, she learnt to look at these situations as simple exercises to practice assertiveness; this reframed perspective brought a feeling of lightness and helped her to improve self-esteem, because she started to see the results of her new approach.
Ana observed how self-esteem correlates with an assertive style of communication. While self-esteem is the base for an assertive behavior, at their turn, the assertive responses boost self-esteem. Since she respects other people the same as she respects herself, then she has the same rights as everyone else. These are the rights that any human being has by virtue of their simple existence. One homework Ana took at the end of a session was to create a list of the “rights” she has when interacting with other people – she put on paper the following list starting with “I have the right to” and she explained each right as follows:
- voice my opinion
- do what I think is right (don't worry about people discouraging me from it or saying not to do it that way; if I believe in me, I will not regret it)
- question facts, statements or recommendations (don't follow them blindly)
- say yes / no / maybe when asked for a favor
- disagree (I will express this right in a way that the other person with different opinions doesn’t take it personally, by emphasizing that what I judge is the behavior and not the person)
- express my dissatisfaction or anger in a non-aggressive way; I will do that by simply expressing my feelings, while avoiding to blame the other person for it: instead of saying you made me feel bad…, I will say: I felt bad /frustrated when…
- express happiness (somehow I was afraid to express my happiness, as something bad might happen afterwards and I don’t want to get too disappointed and fall down; but actually positive feelings attract positive situations and people)
- praise people I admire (I want to do a compliment whenever I feel like doing it, without being afraid to be suspected as having a hidden agenda)”