This is part of my series on How To Be A Good Person.
A quick Google search for ‘how to be assertive’ will return a zillion articles and videos. Many of them have useful information, and when we read/watch them, we think, “Oh yah! I should do that.” But we don’t internalize the advice and our problems persist.
The one thing that these articles and videos fail to capture is the assertive person’s mindset and view of the world. They leapfrog into “do these 3 things” without giving any reasoning why you should do them. They lack a philosophical foundation.
The truth is that assertive folks have a different view of the world. This particular mindset gives rise to their assertiveness. To be like them, you must see the world the way they do.
Assertive person’s mindset
1. Humanity doesn’t owe you anything
In a very real way, you’re alone in the world. And if you want something, you must get it yourself.
Now, you may have some limitations that make it harder for you to achieve your goals (I certainly do!). You may suffer from fatigue, stress, or poor health.
You may be disabled. Suffer from the effects of poverty or abuse. Or be a victim of structural racism and bigotry. These are all genuine hardships!
In no way do I want to discount or diminish the struggles you face.
But the harsh reality is that no one is obligated to help you. The universe is indifferent to your existence, and everyone else feels overwhelmed by their responsibilities.
People may choose to help you, but no one is obligated to. (Exceptions to this exist.)
This concept has a significant corollary: You’re not obligated to help other adults. You may choose to assist them, but it’s always your choice.
2. You are responsible for everything you do
You’re responsible for every word, every deed, and everything you ignore. You are responsible when you:
- Ignore bills
- Say hurtful words
- Eat four pieces of pizza and a fruit pie (as I did yesterday!)
Furthermore, and this will rankle some readers, you’re responsible for everything you do while intoxicated. Saying, “But I was drunk!” won’t lessen the lasting effects of an unwanted sexual advance or a car wreck.
This has a corollary: You are not responsible for the actions of any other human. Only a jerk would claim that you’re culpable for their choices.
3. You have limited time and energy
Every 24 hours is a gift, and you choose how to spend it. In addition, you begin each day with a specific amount of energy. You may spend your energy on physical labor, mental labor, and emotional labor.
In particular, emotional labor is a form of work that gets overlooked and includes listening and empathizing with others. When you spend emotional energy with someone, you have less energy for the rest of the day’s tasks.
As such, you alone must decide where to spend your time. And how to spend your energy. These belong to you.
Corollary: You have no claim on any other person’s time and energy. They may choose to help you, but they’re not obligated to. Only a jerk feels entitled to others’ time and energy.
From the assertive mindset flows two essential phrases: No and “I want”. And these form the foundation of four critical behaviors:
1. You regularly say No
You may say No to any adult at any time. For any reason. Specifically, you can say No to any request for your time, attention, or money.
Saying No doesn’t make you a jerk. It keeps you safe. The world is full of opportunistic folks (aka jerks) who hunt for and prey upon people who refuse to say No.
Saying No is a sign of strength and ensures you have the time and energy to handle your life’s tasks.
Corollary: You respect others when they tell you No.
2. You trust that others will not punish you for saying No
You choose to believe that others will not get angry or snub you when you say No. You trust that folks will be ok, and your relationship will be ok.
On occasion, someone will react negatively. If this regularly happens, distance yourself from them.
3. You regularly say “I want”
When you want help, you speak up. You make direct requests, e.g., “I want help with my TPS report. Would you help me this afternoon?”
You will likely state all your reasons for needing help, but those reasons always follow your “I want” statement.
4. You trust that others will not punish you for saying “I want”
You trust that other people will not become upset or punish you when you utter the words “I want”. You believe that other people will behave like well-mannered adults.
On occasion, someone will react negatively. If this repeatedly happens, distance yourself from them.
The secret to being assertive is to view the world the way assertive people do. Every assertive person:
- Believes no one owes them anything
- Takes Responsibility for everything they do
- Acknowledges that they have limited time and energy
From this mentality flows a willingness to say the phrases No and “I want”. And assertive people trust that other folks won’t punish them for uttering these phrases.