This exercise of creating a list of “rights” was enlightening; it also worked as a great source of positive energy – I could hear the change in my client’s tone of voice when sharing the list. Moreover, Ana decided to print the list and use it as a structure to keep in mind whenever she feels she might go back to old reactions. As long as she assumes her decisions and she doesn’t give power over to her feelings to other people, she will keep a good self-esteem and behave assertively.
Though she developed certain structures to support her in practicing assertive behavior, Ana found it challenging to use them when stressed or involved in a conflict. I asked her what an assertive and mature person would do in such situation and we exercised few role plays where she had to construct new answers and come up with a strategy to manage the conflict.
She came up with 2 great points:
- She will keep in mind what that person represents to her as a whole, beyond this particular situation; even if she doesn’t agree with the respective opinion, she will search for the “good intention” behind it (eg: her manager asks for different details about a report; instead of taking it personally and feeling mistrust and verified, this is not her manager’s intention – all that her manager wants is to ensure the data is accurate)
- She will search for a common point in the discussion – an aspect on which both she and the other person agree upon in order to quiet down the conflict.
What about the difficulty of saying no when asked to do something that she doesn’t really want to do? Again we used role play and visualization to explore different scenarios – the outcome: she created this step by step process flow:
- Step 1: raise awareness – if not ready to respond on the spot, I suspend immediate reaction and take the necessary time to prepare the response
- Step2: I analyze the situation, what is feasible and what not and consider the implications of each potential answer
- Step 3: I take a decision – do I want to say yes? / no? / compromise (“I can do it, but in these particular conditions…”). It is very important to decide what I really want to do before coming back with the answer
- Step 4: communicate the decision to the person who raised the request:
4.1. if “yes” – I simply give the answer and discuss the next steps
4.2. if compromise is a solution – negotiate terms
4.3. if “no” is my decision: I give the answer in an assertive manner, by addressing both the emotional and logical levels – e.g.: “I understand that this is important for you / I imagine how you feel, as I experienced that myself / I know where you come from…”. My strategy is to address emotional part first by showing empathy, and only after I will provide the logical reasons that prevent me from accepting the request (without excusing myself too much). Optionally, if the requestor is open to such input, I can offer alternatives to help them find a solution (I will do that with a sincere desire to help, not because I want to compensate the guilt of saying no). I will keep in mind it is my right to accept or deny!”
We also used the visualization technique to project her in the future, when she is completely happy with her new behavior. How would she feel? What would she think? Is there anything still to prevent her from being assertive?
- What can you do in order to enforce boundaries for yourself in terms of how you want to be treated and respected? Ana decided that being aware of her own needs and rights, getting out of her comfort zone and assuming her own decisions are the key points
- How do you reward yourself for being assertive? She feels that the satisfaction of expressing her view and the increased respect received from people around are the best reward. These are also good motivators for her to continue down this path.
Reflection to increase awareness
Ana kept a journal of her actions, challenges, successes and reflections in between our sessions. Step by step, she transitioned from reacting (like accepting a request immediately and then feeling sorry) towards constructing a conscious response (“I understand your request, give me some time to think it over and I will come back with a response” was the first step further).
Some of the key takeaways from the reflection process:
- Prepare - in case of important meetings / discussion, take the time to search for information and prepare arguments
- Remember to stay objective: when you don’t agree with someone else’s point of view, this doesn’t mean you judge their personality, but the facts
- Listen carefully, openly to people and show empathy; being assertive is not only about making yourself heard, but also about being empathetic and considering other people’s perspectives / putting yourself in their shoes to find the “good intention”; in the end they have the same right to say what they think as I do!
The case study presented above showcases how some of the CBT principles can be applied in a non-therapeutic way, within a coaching context – here are some of principles that were used to support the client improve assertiveness skills:
- Creating a list of personal rights in the context of interacting with others
- Increasing awareness on personal feelings and needs
- Practicing assertive behavior (express view, learn to say no, etc) and creating discipline around it
- Keeping a journal to track progress and document reflections
- Reframing perspectives: from negative to positive view
“Improving individual performance through cognitive behavioral therapy”, Irina Holdevici, (Editura Lider, 2008; ISBN: 978-973-629-181-4)
To conclude, I appreciate this article as it offers a brief and simple explanation of what coaching is and what it is not. This is a well written “myth buster” paper I would recommend to anyone who is new to coaching.