Thursday, February 4, 2010

Self-help, part 4: Assertiveness training

Be confident, not intimidated. Initiate respectful communication before a situation becomes emotional. Express your views in a way that is positive and gets results. Do not be aggressive (also known as bitchy). Do not be angry or defensive. Do not, under any circumstances, cry at the office.

In other words, be assertive.

Assertiveness training became popular within the women's movement in the 1970s, when many otherwise capable women discovered they could not stand up for themselves effectively. It is now used in schools, corporate boardrooms, drug abuse treatment facilities, and many other situations.

I took part in assertiveness training in the mid-70s. In one session, we worked with an acting coach to expand our command of our personal space and to exercise our breathing and vocal cords to relax and potentially deepen our voices. Not to sound like men, but to lose the shrillness that can come with tense, tight muscles.

In another session, we talked about personal power. Many of us said we didn't want power. The trainer asked whether we wanted to get things done. "Of course," we said. "Then you want power," She said. "It's not a bad thing."

She had us line up according to degrees of perceived power. I was president of the organization sponsoring this training, and people nudged me to the head of the line.

The trainer talked some more about personal power - about making your opinions known, exercising influence, helping a group reach a decision, etc. Then she had us line up again, telling us to exercise our judgments about each person's relative power.

This time I ended up near the end of the line. The trainer pointed out that my position had given me situational power the first time around, but my personal interactions did not match up.

"How do you feel about that?" she asked. I admitted that the exercise was eye-opening. I was well respected because of my skills and hard work, but I was an introvert and I hated confrontation. I did not always participate to the degree I could have, and I tended to back off when challenged. Clearly, I did not use my personal power to accomplish as much as I could have.

I always took on big projects and big goals. And each of my jobs has required me to raise issues and give advice. Some bosses were not very receptive, and some projects ran up against other peoople's agendas.

I worked a lot on being stronger and believing in myself more in order to get things done. Marrying a confident New Yorker made a big difference; he coached me to hold my own in difficult situations and helped me to trust myself. But it doesn't always come naturally.

Bottom line: unlike so many trendy and shallow self-help notions, assertiveness training was worthwhile. Given the course I set for myself in life, I probably could have benefited from more of it!

30 comments:

Respectfully Yours said...

they are always offering training like that where I work too..some of the speakers are really good.

Jeanie said...

I had some of that training "way back when". I'm not sure what part it plays in my life now. I often, in my work, think I can recognize remnants of it in others I work with and in certain clients. There is just sort of a recognizable attitude in women of a certain age. Not necessarily a bad thing, just interesting to me.

hummer said...

I like the thought of assertive as opposed to aggressive. I have observed through time that others work well with those who are assertive but react badly to an aggressive person. I tend to be like the description of yourself before training, but will speak up if I feel the need is there.
Thanks for such an insightful post.
Frances

Emma said...

This is really interesting to me. I write workplace training and development products for a living, so this is good insight!

Golden To Silver Val said...

I attended a workshop for assertiveness way back then....lol, I'd forgotten about it until you mentioned it here. I don't like confrontation either, but I can handle it pretty well when it happens.

Matthew said...

Assertive does seem to translate as 'pushy and loud' to the uninitiated. It's interesting to be reminded that this needn't be the case.

NV said...

Early on in my career, I ran into some real b*tches. (Apparently, these women thought that’s how they had to be to get peoples’ attention. What it mostly got was disdain and resentment.) I’ve struggled during the past few decades to never lose my sense of self but to always remain open to and respectful of others. Sometimes you’re going to offend people no matter what you do, particularly if they disagree with an opinion. You just have to accept that and move on.

Thank you for being one of the women who made it possible for me, and for the generation behind me now coming up in the workforce, to have fewer battles to fight and obstacles to overcome.

DJan said...

I have never needed help in being assertive, but I have learned as I get older that there is a difference between assertiveness and getting my own way all the time. I have become much more aware of the needs of others and how to help others become assertive.

Picture Imperfect said...

What a great post about assertiveness!

The unfortunate trend I notice in my work place (as well as with my friends in personal situations) is that assertiveness is mistaken for being a bitch.

Example: My BFF has a realistic and healthy set of personal boundaries that she set up with her soon-to-be-ex-husband. I encourage her to stand by those boundaries and demand that STBXH respect them but she feels that if she is assertive, she is being "mean" or "rude."

There are many ways to be assertive without even bordering on mean or rude - and I feel that many people (I have to say women especially) could use a good lesson on this topic. It seems that in society we are still taught that "nice" girls don't make demands.

I say, to hell with NICE! Time to see to it that our needs are met.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post! :o) Have a wonderful Friday!

Jennifer said...

oh!
I just said that exact quote, about well behaved women to my eight year old last night. Amazing timing!!

gayle said...

I am assertive with my family but not with co workers or frineds!!

The Boob Nazi said...

Sigh, but what if I never want to confront people?!?

otin said...

I think that I could use a little assertiveness training sometimes!!!

injaynesworld said...

Excellent advice. Even today, women find it hard to speak up for themselves. This type of training should be taught to girls in grade school. I, on the other hand, need to know when to just keep my big mouth shut.

Holly said...

Happy SITS Sharefest Saturday. I have many friends who have done assertiveness classes and all rave about it. I enjoyed your quote in this post.
Have a great weekend!
Holly
www.504main.blogspot.com
www.hipweddings.blogspot.com

lori said...

I need some of that assertiveness training too. Good post! Happy SITS saturday and thanks for visiting my blog :-)

Sally said...

What a great post; I really enjoyed reading! I'm quite the opposite from most people~while I could be assertive in my work places, I didn't find it as easy to do with my family (in my younger years especially). Now, I don't have a hard time, and can do it in a nice way. (Just don't ask my family!) :)

Ms Sparrow said...

This reminds me of the Myers-Briggs tests that showed I was an introvert. In spite of many work training courses on assertivnes etc, I'm still the type who will stuff resentments and let people walk all over me. That's one of the great things about being retired--you create your own safe little world (for the most part) and can finally relax.

Pearl said...

Confrontation is not what we Minnesotans do easily.

I grew up "on the road" and don't come across as someone easily pushed, but there are certain kinds of people that I have a hard time standing up to. I can appreciate the hard work it takes to confront these deficits and the work it takes to overcome them!

Pearl

LadyFi said...

I think that most girls could do with assertiveness training, or at least, a bolstering of self-confidence.

Kat @ www.TodaysCliche.com said...

Just loved this post... coming from SITS. Random, but are you going to Bloggy Boot Camp in Baltimore?

Louise said...

Assertiveness training isn't just for the work situation. Mothers need it to! Hey! Perhaps I've just found a niche business opportunity!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

I wish I could tackle confrontations as well in person as I do on paper. I'll take on anything on paper. Assertiveness in person? I would love become more adept at that.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I CAN be assertive, however I have found that being bitchy sometimes gets immediate reaction. I am getting better at being silently deadly..oh but I don't like confrontation either.. I will sometimes ignore a confrontation at all costs..I am one of those ever changing women:(

Allyson said...

You got a little bloggy love..c'mon over. ;D

Juliana said...

I adore this post...I would love for you to guest blog on my blog sometime. This post really got to me in a good way, thank you for writing it!

I am your newest follower. Pop on by and follow back if you would like. I love meeting new blogging friends. Juliana from A Blonde Walks Into a Blog

Mrsblogalot said...

This was fabulous!

Assertiveness is one of the most powerful of tools that women tend to hide deep in their pockets. I've always wondered why.

perhaps I have too much of it (-:

bettyl said...

A little assertiveness never hurt anyone!

I love the Ginger Rogers quote!

Abraham Lincoln said...

I agree with bettyl.

Menopausal New Mom said...

It's so hard not to be perceived as bitchy especially in an office environment and not being defensive is the hardest for me. I could have used some training during my 20 years of having an office career. Most of the focus was on customer service, very little else was offered. Hopefully, times are changing for women in the workforce.

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