Assertiveness

One of the skills that I have only had a tenuous grip on over the years is assertiveness.

Due to various reasons as a child, assertiveness was almost completely elusive to me.   I say sometimes.  There are occasions where even I have reached the end of my tether. I have been known to unexpectedly stand my ground and make it very clear what I feel.  This is usually followed by a complete dread of what will happen next. But I’ve taken everyone, myself included, so much by surprise, the usual reaction is complete silence.

Sometimes I feel I’m holding a solid rock of assertiveness in the palm of my hand. But more often than not, it feels like sand slipping through my fingers.

CONTENTS

What is assertiveness?
Types of assertiveness
* The passive style
* The aggressive style
* The assertive style
Assertiveness and menopause
* My menopause voice
* Demoralised, demotivated and diminished

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a superpower!

True assertiveness is the ability to communicate your thoughts and opinions, needs and feelings in a direct, honest and appropriate manner. It allows you to stand up for your rights whilst continuing to allow the rights of others. True assertiveness does not offend or hurt another’s feelings. 

But it does enable you to take control of your life. It is empowerment.  It gives you the ability to say NO. It prevents people from taking advantage of you or taking you for granted.  And it generally commands respect.

Types of assertiveness

There are three styles of assertiveness. Passive, aggressive and assertive.  The assertive style is what most of us should aim for. But it can be difficult for people to attain, especially if you are met with the aggressive style. 

The passive style

The passive style of assertiveness tends to put the needs of others before their own.  They may feel that they don’t have the right to be assertive. This may come from a feeling of inferiority. A result of bullying by others who believe they are more powerful or superior to them.  Consequently they may feel that their needs are not as important as those of others.

They may feel it is too difficult to be assertive. Perhaps they believe that they are incompetent or weak. Or that their decisions will be ridiculed for being the wrong decision.  They have such a poor sense of self that it is easier to let others make the decisions for them.

Often the passive person is a peacekeeper.  Even though they may not be happy with the decisions made, it may seem easier just to go along with the decision. It keeps the peace rather than making a fuss.  But over time, this can lead to resentment as the needs of that person are continually overlooked.

The passive person may have low self-esteem, struggle with depression or other emotional or physical complaints. This can compound the passive style.  People are never at their most assertive when at a low ebb. It is so much easier to go with the flow.

Unfortunately, the passive style can lead to a loss of respect of those around them as they  find it so difficult to stand up for themselves.

The aggressive style

The aggressive style stands up for the persons rights, but they can generally be pushy and inappropriate in their approach. 

This style tends to offend the feelings of others, and ignore their rights. But they firmly believe in their own.   They either don’t believe or forget that others rights are just as equal.

The aggressive style a strong need to compete or prove themselves.  They feel they deserve more respect and attention of others. And in the presenting of their own needs, they lose sight of the needs of others.

They get their own way by treading on others, being rude, pushy or insulting. This may not be intentional, but it is hurtful.  And their bullish manner can be very difficult to stand up to. Especially for the passive style person.

It is important to realise that some people who have the aggressive style believe that this is them just being assertive.  Unless it can be pointed out that they are hurting feelings, being bullish or controlling, they may never realise they need to adjust their behaviour.

The assertive style

The assertive style recognises that they have rights, but also the rights of others.  They are considerate of other’s feelings, and present their thoughts and opinions in a polite, but firm manner.  They have a sense of give and take and are cooperative at times of conflict.

The assertive person is considered.  They assess each scenario and choose the most appropriate behaviour for that situation. They recognise the need for give and take.  Being considerate of another’s feelings means they can retreat when the other person is struggling, unwell or being difficult.  But equally they can stand up for their rights and be strong.

Not only do they have respect for themselves and others, but this assertive style garners respect from others.  

Assertiveness and the menopause

We all aspire to the Assertive style and it isn’t that difficult to get there, but it does take the support of those around you to help.

The people around me have a huge affect on my assertiveness.  It took me a long time to realise this.  And it takes a lot of strength to walk away from the people and the jobs that seek to diminish us. 

This is especially important for women going through the menopause, when they find their assertiveness levels can ebb and flow sometimes daily.

You could have spent 30 years being the assertive member of the boardroom, only to find your confidence has been whipped out from under you.  Suddenly, the thought of speaking up in front of anyone is horrifying.  You are now that passive person that you always thought was weak.  But now you understand that being assertive is actually a gift, a skill, a superpower and the menopause has become your kryptonite!

Or you may have been the mild-mannered peacemaker at home, navigating the needs of your partner and children.  And suddenly the menopause has turned you into a crazed being.  You are no longer able to compromise, instead thrusting your will in all directions and woe betide anyone who challenges you.

My menopause voice

As I said earlier, I was the passive style.   A quiet child and reclusive teenager.  Always the one to go along with things so as not to make a fuss. 

It took me a very long time to find my voice, but even now, it struggles to hold its own if someone is shouting.  

But my adult years have helped develop my voice.  Its not always strong. I struggle on and off with depression which can suck out my assertiveness like Harry Potter dementors.  And the menopause has been no less of a roller coaster.

Demoralised, demotivated and diminished

As I write this, it is 1 October 2020 (the year of COVID) and I began a new job in January. The previous two years had been a nightmare. Menopause and depression had me in its grip and my confidence was at an all time low. 

I was making mistakes at work, feeling very fragile, and my voice and assertiveness were diminishing daily.  Except for one spectacular day when I managed to speak up in a 1-2-1 meeting with my boss. 

Each month these sessions just seemed to be a catalogue of my failings, despite positive feedback from the users I worked with.  Despite being at a low ebb though, my assertive voice broke free.  

I heard myself saying that these sessions left me feeling demoralised, demotivated and diminished. The complete opposite of their purpose. It took both of us by surprise but it did open up a dialogue of how these sessions could be better.  The result of which was to put in place measures that benefited not just me,but the rest of the team.  

Not long after, I secured my new job.  And thanks to the COVID lockdown, the world has been working from home. 

This has been a huge boon for me, as it has helped me repair and regroup.

I have a fantastic team, some members recruited by me. I worried I wouldn’t cut it as a manager.  This role is a far cry from anything I’ve done before.  But I have found a mix of empathy along with the right level of assertive management has so far developed a good and motivated team.

Recognising the different assertive styles means I am clear about who I want to be. And I’m focused in presenting a style that my team appear to respect and respond to.

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