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Chapter 13. Assertiveness > A Useful Framework for Assertive Behavior

A Useful Framework for Assertive Behavior

Assertiveness training has been found to be a very effective stress-management technique for a wide variety of populations (Brehm, 1998). When learning to become more assertive or polishing your assertive skills, it can be very useful to have a framework or steps to follow in order to know how to construct a potentially effective assertive response. This applies on the job or in your personal life. You should find the following four-step framework helpful, especially at those times when you may be tongue-tied, for you can always fall back on these steps. This framework is not the gospel; you don't always have to follow this format, and this is not the only effective way to proceed. But nonetheless, it is still a very useful summary of how to construct an assertive response.

  • Step One: The Problem Behavior. The first step is to identify the problem behavior. It is important to keep your language to specific discussions of observable behaviors; do not address personality characteristics. For example, it is much more effective to say, “I am aware that you have not completed several reports that were due,” rather than, “Lately you have been so lazy!” The first sentence is merely a description of behavior (or lack of behavior) you observed, whereas the second sentence includes value judgments. If you make value judgments or comment on personality characteristics, particularly in a derogatory fashion, you are just likely to anger the other person, even if your description is totally accurate. You stand a greater chance of resolving the issue and getting the other person to listen to you if you limit your descriptions to observable behavior. If you merely tell someone he or she is “an idiot,” it only demeans the person and gives absolutely no information about what he or she did or did not do behaviorally to have merited that insult. Whenever possible, your language should include “I-statements.”

  • Step Two: Effects. Next, identify what effects the problem behavior has on you. There are two types of effects. The first is the difficulties or inconvenience that the problem behavior causes for you or your organization, and the second is how you feel about the problem behavior (angry, confused, hurt, disappointed, and so on). In some cases only difficulties are involved, in others only feelings, and in some instances both. In some cases where both are involved, you may opt only to mention the difficulties and keep the feelings to yourself, such as in situations where you are dealing with strangers or peripheral acquaintances. This can often apply in a business situation as well, where it might be far more appropriate to deal with the problem behavior at hand than to express personal feelings.

  • Step Three: Consequences. It is very important to note that this step is optional. Here you identify the consequences of the problem behavior if it persists. Basically, you are saying what will happen if the person does not stop the problem behavior. It is not always appropriate or possible to specify consequences, and that is why this step is optional. Sometimes the situation only calls for you to express how you feel about something, and specifying consequences would be overkill. At other times it may be more strategic to wait to specify consequences and determine whether there is a need for escalation later on if the person refuses to change or acknowledge that there is a problem. Never specify a consequence that you are not thoroughly willing or able to follow through with, for then you run the risk that the other person will call your bluff and your credibility and clout will be damaged. If there are no consequences you can readily state and follow up on, then skip this step entirely.

  • Step Four: Alternatives. The last step involves specifying alternatives to the problem behavior. What is it that you would like the other person to do instead of or in addition to the problem behavior? You may think that this should be obvious and you don't need to spell it out, but many times, just because it is obvious to you what the person ought to be doing, it may not be obvious to him or her. Other people are not mind readers. If you are going to give feedback, give it fully and let others know clearly and diplomatically what your expectations are. Once you have elucidated your expectations and have some inclination from the other person that he or she is receptive, you need to ask for a commitment for change. Do not be afraid to ask people to commit themselves to behaving differently. If they verbally agree to change, they are more likely to follow through.


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