Assertiveness in Communication: Three Mind Shifts that can change your Life
Assertiveness in communication is a concept I only got to learn when I moved to the United States. Assertiveness is one of my favorite words because [the way I interpret it] it means being strong and also being kind. It means speaking out what you’re thinking, standing up for your rights without necessarily being aggressive. And, very importantly without being passive either.
For generations, we women have feared the terrifying label of the B word. If a man is strong and determined and tough, he’s praised by society. If we are, we are looked down. [People say,] “What a witch she is, what a biatch.”
It’s a double standard that we all have gone through: The perfect little lady, the nice, kind woman, is always the woman who sacrifices herself. And it doesn’t have to be like that. One of the biggest questions my clients bring to me is this. “I don’t want to be a Biatch. [How can I] speak up, say what I want, without becoming something that I’m not?” I don’t want to be abrasive, aggressive, non-feminine…” [We associate ] femininity with softness—which it’s great and true and it doesn’t have to contradict the concept of assertiveness.
So, today I’ll be sharing the three mind shifts [that will allow you] to embrace assertiveness in your life to the point that you regain freedom.
First, I’ll start with a story.
My first glimpse into assertiveness in communication
I first had to embrace assertiveness in communication near my 35th birthday [clears her throat] “a couple of years ago” [just kidding]. I needed to change my car. I was driving a Camry that was a gazillion years old—it was all I could afford when I was a medical resident, but I had since graduated. I was a doctor, earning a big chunk of change and still used the same car.
So, my then therapist gave me an assignment: “As your birthday present to yourself, you’re going to buy the car of your dreams.”
[Buying something I dreamed of] was a completely foreign concept. for me. [Normally, I’d say] “I have to buy a car that makes sense; that is financially responsible.” And my assignment became to buy the car that made my heart skip a beat. The first idea that came to mind was a red convertible. And truly, I almost didn’t care if it was a convertible. I wanted it to be red.
All my life, I’d wanted a red car. But you know what people say: “No, red cars get too much attention from the traffic police. Red cars are too flashy, and to show off…” Against my will, I’d always had neutral color cars. But for the first time in my life, I said, “I’m going to buy a red car.”
I mentioned my plans to my then husband, my ex, and I said, “I’m going to start test driving Mercedes convertibles. I want my car to be red, metallic red like a Christmas ball.” And I was starting to get excited about it, when he surprised me with the gentle, magnanimous present: He went and bought the car himself (without consulting me) and delivered it to my door, (actually his assistant did), with a bow on it. [It was a sparking Mercedes convertible…]
And it was white.
My Big Dilemma
[What a disappointment]
And of course [I had to say,] “Thank you; it’s beautiful.” But the whole point of me doing this exercise was lost. It was not the car I wanted; it was not the color I wanted.
So, I was faced with the dilemma. Do I become a Biatch and reject a present that someone else would’ve been crazy for? Or do I keep a car that makes me sad just by looking at it?
I’ll go back to the story at the end, but here’s the first thing I learned in this process and want to share today:
Mindshift #1: Practicing Assertiveness in Communication, we benefit everyone around us (even those we confront!)
By being assertive, we do an amazing service of love compassion to the people we love. Why do I say that? Every time in my life, when I’ve failed to be assertive, and put up with something, I didn’t want to; or accepted something when I should have said, no…What do you think it happened? I accumulated resentments. One thing piled on top of the other, and sooner or later, I would explode. I’d [lose it and] throw [my good intentions] away. I would raise my voice, or be harsh or mean, and all my previous efforts [at self-sacrifice] were wasted.
That story I just told you made me realize that by stepping up and saying, “Oh, I’m sorry, you didn’t listen. The whole point was to get a red car,” I was going to save years decades of resentments. And also pointing fingers and blaming someone else in the future. If we make the decisions ourselves, we don’t mind if we make mistakes, [but if someone else pushed us and something goes wrong], we blame them later. So, the best way to live is to make the decisions before someone else makes them for you. It’s better to honor what you want now, rather than blaming someone else later.
[So this summarizes the first mind shift]:
By practicing assertiveness in communication, you are doing your loved one a favor. You are guaranteeing that the love they’ll receive from you in the future comes straight from your heart, free of resentments.
And you’re ensuring that your relationship will be strong for years to come.
Mindshift Number two: Assertiveness in communication is about knowing your values.
You need to be crystal clear about your values. What is the difference between staying yes to something you didn’t want to do because you’re afraid of rejection? Versus saying yes to something that you didn’t want to do but you’re doing on behalf of Love? There’s a drastic difference.
Every time we have to make a decision and we are dealing with conflicting values, we’ll be in that direction. “Am I being a pushover if I agree to go on a vacation with my husband when all I wanted was to stay home? Or am I embracing the value of love for my husband? [Can it be that] I’m putting my value for exploring new scenarios above my resistance?
That is something that can make your life drastically better: just sit down and [ask yourself], “what are the values that rule my life and in what order?”
At that moment, when I had to face my then husband and say, “I’m sorry, I did not want the car to be white,” of course the guilty voices [awakened] inside me. “You’re an ungrateful woman.” My value of gratitude was at play. (…) But two very important values I was trying to embrace at the time were the value of self-love, and the value of assertiveness in communication. So at that time, I decided to put those values ahead of the others.
Mindshift #3: Assertiveness in Communication can (and should) go hand in hand with kindness.
Maybe you are hesitant to be an assertive woman. And speak out your voice because you don’t want to be unkind. It’s perfectly fine, put it in your assertiveness declaration. “I will be an assertive woman who is also kind and sweet in her words. I will be an assertive woman who is also feminine.” These are not mutually exclusive qualities. And by you, having identified your values initially, you’ll know the ones that are important for you not to violate, and you can make a commitment to stick to those values.
[Knowing your values] is going to be the thermometer that will guide you at every step the next time you have to confront someone. You’d have already made it clear: “I will be a woman who is assertive, but also kind.” So you will find the kind words to tell someone what you really want and what you don’t want—to exercise the power of your “No.”
This is magic, because when we make this as a habit, when we practice assertiveness in communication, and when we say no regularly, we drastically increase the amount and the quality of the time and love we can give to other areas of our life.