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Assertiveness pracitce
February 21, 2010 5:22 PM   Subscribe

Is there any way I can get more practice in being assertive?

One of the things I'm trying to do this year is to be more assertive. I think I have a decent grasp of the theory and all, but I want more opportunities to do this in real life.

I'm trying to do it in situations that happen naturally, but my job is fairly isolated, except for occasional interactions with off-site supervisors (which are crucially important, and in which assertiveness is vital), and my off-hours activities only rarely involve disagreements. Those disagreements are rarely heated and even more rarely involve real stakes, so I don't think they're the best practice for situations that really matter.

I want to be able to practice assertiveness in real life. Are there any live, in-person activities where I can get this experience?

If location helps, I'm in Daly City, California, but I work in San Francisco (just north of here).

Also: My current health insurance is with Kaiser Permanente, and I saw they have an assertiveness training course at the medical center I go to (in SF). Does anyone know what that's like and if it could help me here?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Try talking to people on mass transit. Or, if you can; break through the glass ceiling, and ask someone out on mass transit. Everyone who rides mass transit knows what I mean. Practice is what it takes- along with a good degree of falling down. Accept that you will fall down, and success will follow.

Kind of like learning how to mountain bike. You're bound to fall down, dust off....

Helped me be more assertive in every area of my life.

I would also assert that you could broaden your interests and avenues.
posted by captainsohler at 5:37 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Volunteer at a non-profit. Get involved in the fundraising. Be forced to ask lots of people for money and/or free things. Learn assertiveness AND help out a worthy organization. Everyone wins!
posted by olinerd at 5:39 PM on February 21, 2010


Oh hai neighbor! Maybe it's in the water, but I've also decided to call this 2010 my Year of Boldness. While I don't have time to do these suggestions myself, I'd recommend a few things here:
  1. Join an improv group
  2. Sign up for volunteer work and ask for positions where interacting with people and being personable is a requirement.
  3. Karaoke.
But there's also lots of things you can do, every day, anywhere, to get your head in the assertive mindset. Kind of like how being more conscientious or practicing mindfulness is not so much in the doing of grand gestures, but rather the adoption of lifestyle habits that become natural to your very being. Here are some of the smaller things I've been doing more of that help me practice assertiveness/boldness: All this said, try not to be creepy or overbearing. Start small and do what's comfortable for you. Good luck and maybe I'll see you in a stare-down somewhere!
posted by iamkimiam at 5:51 PM on February 21, 2010 [14 favorites]


Hmm, it might depend on what kind of assertiveness skills you want.

Volunteering at a homeless shelter or other social service provider would probably provide extensive experience at repeatedly telling someone what is acceptable and what is not.

Working in a customer service call center would give some training in learning to not take it personally when someone is angry at you (especially when you can't just give them what they want).

Precinct walking or phone banking for a campaign would be some training in not worrying if someone rejects your cause. (But it wouldn't be good at learning to remain in a particular situation, since you're not supposed to continue to discuss the topic with them if they disagree; you just give in and keep moving.)

Improv would be about assertively defining what you think the situation is, or what should be done in a particular situation.
posted by salvia at 6:00 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are there any live, in-person activities where I can get this experience?

Sure. Try this:

Do you like DVD players, for instance? (or cameras, or toasters, or you name it...)

OK, then go to Kijiji or Craigslist or whatever. Find someone who's selling one. Contact the guy, go & have a look at it. Have him demo it for you.

Then, while watching it, come up with 4 or so defects it has (old model, scratch on it, unknown brand name, dusty indicating it was stashed in the basement in a poor environment, or what-have-you).

At the end of the demo, make a ridiculously low offer for the DVD player. Like if he wants $50 for it, offer him $10. Recite one or two of the above reasons.

When he protests, keep at it. During the discussion, introduce more of the reasons. Play with him, the way a fisherman plays with a fish.

At the end, you can simply tell him, 'well, sir, if you believe you can get more, certainly I don't want to stand in the way of your business, I apologize if I wasted your time' and then leave in a friendly way.

Basically, you're using this as a practice experience to challenge someone, to get what you want, when someone else is opposing you.

You may even get a cheap DVD player out of the deal :)
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 6:41 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Try talking to people on mass transit. Or, if you can; break through the glass ceiling, and ask someone out on mass transit. Everyone who rides mass transit knows what I mean.

Or, if your commute is anything like mine, you could practice asserting your boundaries and desires by not engaging with people on mass transit who try to engage you in chit-chat, and by being firm about discouraging them. Obviously, which of these to try depends on what your daily commute is like.

You'll learn quickly that:
- it's very simple to establish boundaries without being rude;
- speaking up for yourself does make a big difference in how others perceive you and treat you;
- some people will react with distaste to your assertiveness, no matter how polite;
- that reaction says more about them than about you, and is no reason to stop being clear and decisive about your wishes.
posted by Elsa at 7:18 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


thermonuclear.jive.turkey: "Basically, you're using this as a practice experience to challenge someone, to get what you want, when someone else is opposing you."

Holy heck. As someone living within ten miles of you and currently trying to sell all of my personal belongings on craigslist, please do not follow thermonuclear's advice. I can think of nothing more utterly depressing than wasting somebody's time in their own home for the purpose of practicing personal enrichment. I'd rather meet a stranger for coffee and talking practice than sit at home playing a charade under the false hope of selling you my crappy DVD player. Hell, I'd rather order cable every day like it was my full time job than squabble with a craigslister over $40 in my own damn house.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:25 PM on February 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Seconding iamkimiam's advice - assertiveness doesn't require wasting people's time.

I really like the improv idea - as somebody who's done some theater, being able to improvise does more than just build confidence / assertiveness. The two are pretty closely related, so building one helps build the other as well.

Being assertive also has a lot to do with your opinion - do you think it's good? If you're constantly doubting yourself or saying someone else is always right, be able to back your opinions up with facts, figures, or logic. That requires reading... If it sounds like building one thing requires building other things, well, it's true. Just like you can't lose weight in the one area you want. Best of luck :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:23 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sure. Try this:

No, don't. Deliberately wasting someone's time like that is a shitty thing to do.

One thing I found helpful was to practice what I would say and do in a given situation. I'd think of something and then rehearse it in my head a lot. I'd go through possible permutations and work out all of the answers to questions or appropriate replies to demands. At the very least, this increased my confidence level and it also gave me snappy replies when someone was trying to put on me.

Of course, it can also increase anxiety, so you'll have to weigh up for yourself where it's appropriate.
posted by Solomon at 3:32 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Re: my suggestion, point taken, the seller may not necessarily appreciate if you take 10 minutes of his time to practice haggling. Nevertheless the OP says:

I want to be able to practice assertiveness in real life.


The request here was for suggestions how to practice assertiveness, not for opportunities to enhance socialization or outgoingness.

Mustering up the courage to talk to people on the bus, or to make snarky jokes in front of a crowd on improv nite at the local tavern, etc. etc. may perhaps help push someone out of his shell. But that does not seem to be the problem the OP has. And I don't see how many of the other suggestions here, could help the OP become more assertive.

I read 'assertive' as: you represent your interests in a situation where the other guy(s) may have another agenda. And you're not inhibited or reluctant to speak out and challenge them.

Flame me if you must, but I still maintain that trying to haggle with someone, if only for the sake of haggling, would be a valuable experience in practicing assertiveness in real life, which is what the OP asked for.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 3:54 AM on February 22, 2010


If the OP had any intent to buy the item, then that would be acceptable. Just wasting people's time is obnoxious at best.
posted by Solomon at 4:11 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Practice on telemarketers and other pushy salespeople. Rather than ignoring the telemarketer who shows up on your caller ID, pick up the phone and tell them, when they start their speech, that you're not interested, and want to be on their "do not call" list. Charities too - you can say you'll consider a written request in the mail, or that you'll give through your normal channels, but not over the phone. Same thing with people who come to your door, or people who approach you in the mall or the street, wanting you to try a sample of their nail treatment or whatever. Avoiding them isn't going to help you be assertive, but saying no is a decent first step.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 7:22 AM on February 22, 2010


And re: practice haggling - for what it's worth, I heard once a professional psychologist talking about exposure therapy to combat social phobia. The sufferer would be tasked with interacting with people in different contexts, to gradually get the sufferer more accustomed to social situations.

One of the situations would be, to "accidentally" knock down a display at a department store and then deal with the aftermath. No I am not making this up.

Personally I think practice haggling is less disruptive than knocking down a display but that's just me.

posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 8:26 AM on February 22, 2010


And re: practice haggling - for what it's worth, I heard once a professional psychologist talking about exposure therapy to combat social phobia. The sufferer would be tasked with interacting with people in different contexts, to gradually get the sufferer more accustomed to social situations.

That is the basic idea. That's the "behavioral" part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). (The cognitive part has to do with dealing with the negative thought patterns that underly the behaviors - also an important part of the therapy.)

You can seek out a therapist that specializes in social anxiety. They'll be the most equipped to deal with this. A friend of mine is seeing a therapist for this & gets lots of assignments to do things in the real world. The basic level of treatment is probably on a lower level than what you need, but these are the therapists that deal with this sort of thing.

I've heard of exposure therapists who take someone from being afraid of snakes & spiders to being able to handle them within a single afternoon, and support groups who are afraid of elevators with the goal of, within a few weeks, riding an elevator together.

Non-conventionally, I've heard of a non-clinical situation where someone read a speech out loud & had some coworkers openly jeer at her while she did it. Knowing she could get through that went a long way toward not running off of the stage before a presentation a few days later.

You could try hiring an actor & simulating situations where you'd want to be assertive (with the current economy, out of work actors should be easy to find). Alternately, you could try an acting coach that deals specifically with issues of, say, stage fright.
posted by MesoFilter at 10:22 AM on February 22, 2010


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