Years ago I took an assertiveness training course. I was working at my first nursing job and was finding I had a hard time giving instruction/direction without ending each sentence with, “Is that ok?” or “Do you mind?” This extended beyond just my work life and into my personal life as well.
These questions were an attempt to encourage goodwill between myself and the CNA’s (certified nursing assistants) that worked with me. It was not successful. Now some of the CNA’s took pity on me and said, “Esther of course it’s ok, it’s my job.” But others took my questions as an “out” and were able to avoid doing certain aspects of their jobs because I had given them room to do so.
This began my quest to become more assertive. I started paying more attention to how I came off to others. I starting observing others and noticing what they did or didn’t do that got them respect and results.
One of the first things I worked on was removing “Is that ok?” from my directives. My attempt at being “everyone’s friend” had backfired and I now had to start from scratch and reassert my authority. (While it’s harder to incorporate boundaries after you’ve known someone for awhile, it’s not impossible and it can be done.)
I also started looking at how I wrote or responded to emails. Was I writing with strength or was I trying to hide my strength with disempowering sentences? Was I apologizing for things that required no apology? This took me a LONG time. And even now I sometimes have to re-write emails when I’ve noticed I’ve defaulted back to a more passive style.
So why am I spending so much time on the power of assertiveness? Because it’s an act of self-care. Instead of feeling walked all over, being assertive encourages you to prioritize yourself in a way that often doesn’t feel natural for caregivers. For instance, when I asked the CNA’s to do certain tasks, I was doing a disservice to my patients and myself by not asserting myself in the situation. By not ensuring that folks were during their jobs I ended up doubling the work for myself and the CNA’s on the next shift, and meanwhile essentially giving the patients less than adequate care.
If you struggle with this like I did, here are some things you can look out for and work on that will help you start to cultivate your assertiveness.
1.) Notice how you end sentences. Are you ending sentences seeking approval? Even if you’re not actually saying, “is that ok?” Is your tone implying that? Is your sentence sounding like a question even though it’s not one?
2.) Give your opinion. It can be as simple as stating what type of food are you in the mood for. If you are tempted to pass that question off to someone else, resist the instinct and say what you want! Get in the habit of giving your opinion and not just listening to everyone elses!
3.) Don’t apologize for things that don’t require apologies. I notice many women say “sorry” when someone bumps into them! Don’t apologize for existing people! Apologize when it’s appropriate and only then.
4.) Take compliments. When someone compliments you, take the compliment. Don’t minimize or dismiss it, take it.
5.) Practice saying “NO.” Remember you can also say “no” without apologizing. Often we think we have to give multiple reasons why we can’t do something. It’s actually disempowering to do that, and also probably none of their business. Be thoughtful about your response and firmly say NO.
6.) Think before you answer a question. I used to respond immediately to texts or requests to do things without looking to see if I had prior commitments or if I actually wanted to do what was being asked. While we live in a culture that demands immediate answers, you are not required to follow that pace. Think before you respond.
Here’s to being a more assertive you!
Take care of YOU.