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6 Ways Assertiveness Will Improve your Family Life

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6 Ways Assertiveness Will Improve your Family Life
A post from our Assertiveness blog

      Written by Ronnie Peterson
In the 18 months running up to the 2012 London Olympics, Dan (name changed) was a teenager selected to represent the United Kingdom at the games, in one of the martial arts disciplines.

Dan should have been ecstatic. His selection was secure, and his career path was on the right track.Except that he wasn’t. And neither were any of his family.

It seemed that both Dan’s life, and the rest of his family’s, were being dictated by his coach. His coach was making all the decisions; how often he should fight, who he should fight, where he should fight, as well as how often and when he should be training.

His mum was feeling more and more like a taxi, his siblings were unhappy that he was getting ALL the attention, and his father moved between being irritable and downright angry.

Something had to change.

His parents decided he needed to be able to stand up to his coach. They wanted him to work with his coach, not be controlled by his coach. So they booked him on an Assertiveness course, and even before he attended it, they decided they should attend too, and after booking, all three attended together.

He learnt ways that being assertive changed his life, and the rest of the family’s. And what he learnt, you can learn from too.

1. Start to Say No.

People that are not assertive (and usually displaying either passive or passive aggressive tendencies) don’t say No when they should. They know that they do not want to do something, yet end up doing what they are asked or told. This results in the feelings of helplessness that causes despondency if being passive, or results in somehow sabotaging something later, to “get your own back”, if passive aggressive.Dan’s family simply could not keep having him travel back and forth across the UK competing in fights. He had to learn to say no to some of these requests from his coach, and concentrate on making the fights that he did enter count.

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In your home life, you need to learn to say No too. Regardless of whether you are a parent at home, or the child in a family, you may be asked to do things that you simply do not want to do. Or that you feel is unfair for you to be asked to do. At some point, you are just going to have to start.

2. Be honest, positive, and open

If you’re going to say No to somebody, especially when you have always just gone along with things before, have a reason for it. Be honest about why you do not want to do it, be open about why you feel that way, and then show the positive side.

Dan had to explain that they needed to travel less, it was hurting the family, but he could also then say that with less fights, those that he did take part in could be harder, as he would have more time to recover. He was positive about his suggested option.

You need to be open and honest with your family. If you don’t want to be seen as a cranky teenager starting to rebel, or a stressed out mum, you are going to need to explain why you suddenly are saying no to things.

3. Decide what you want, and ask for it

Besides saying no when it comes to things that you do not want to do, you also need to learn how to ask for what you want. You need to know that you have every right to ask for what you want. Your needs and desires are just as valid as anybody else’s. So, decide what you want, and start asking for it.Dan had to ask his coach if they could work on plans that impacted his family less. Stick more to being around London, where he was based, and not have to rely on others for transport as much.

You may want to ask your parents to share the household chores out more between all the children, not just give you the most for some reason (like being the eldest). Or as one of the parents, you may need to get other people in the house to prepare meals now and again. The other people will only know what you want when you ask, so you need to verbalise it. Don’t try and be subtle, or hint, or be manipulative, just say what you need, and ask for how they can help make it happen.

4. Let go of any guilt you feel

I almost guarantee you will feel some guilt at first. You’re suddenly standing up for yourself, and because you are not going to go along with somebody else’s plan, you’ll feel like you’re letting them down.

Dan felt guilty because his coach was having to spend just as much time travelling, and he had other athletes besides Dan to look after too. So he felt guilty about not appreciating what his coach was doing for him, and seeming to want to do less. He needed to get past that.

You cannot be responsible for how other people feel about what you ask, so let go of the guilt. You are only asking to be treated as fairly as you treat the others in your house, so there is nothing to feel guilty about.

5. Take a small first step

You’ve made the decision, you’re going to stand up for your rights. Now you need to actually do it for the first time. Dan left his course with an action plan that included the next time his coach mentioned any fight more than 50 miles from home, he was going to say no. The decision was made, he simply had to do it, when the situation arose.

You need to decide when and what your first step will be. If it’s going to be about saying no, maybe plan the type of scenario that could happen, and practice how to word your answer. If you’re going to ask for something that you have never asked for before, again, plan the wording, so that it comes out naturally.

So now’s the time to decide what you want to change, and then plan on how to act that out.

6. Make the small step a habit

Once you’ve made the first step, and taken that bit of action, you need to make it a habit. It has to become something that you do regularly.

Try come up with a trigger that helps reinforce the behaviour. Something that has grown in recent years, especially after appearing in the hit TV show Billions, was having an elastic band around your wrist. Then, when needed, you snap it, to reinforce the lesson. Not too much, just a gentle sting, not something that is going to cause trauma. For example, somebody asks you to do something, and instead of saying no, when you realise you have just capitulated, snap the elastic. It’s a reminder to yourself to do better next time.

While at school, we had an English teacher that wanted us all to improve our spoken language, doing so without the use of slang, or poor grammar. He brought in a stone that fitted into most of the class’s hands. If somebody spoke and used a word that was suspected to not be in the dictionary, or a poorly constructed sentence, we checked, and if found to be incorrect, that person was passed the stone. This kept up all through the class, and at the end of the lesson, whoever was left with the stone, ended up having to perform some task. You may say that this was punishment rather than reward, but the amount of glee a bunch of adolescent boys can have in passing that stone over to a classmate when caught out made it a great pleasure. Let me tell you, no single teacher I have seen before or since has ever had such an impact on their classes, they left speaking immaculately. That stone game was a fantastic way to make something a habit.

Find something that you can use as a trigger, that will help you make your first steps stronger, and more of a habit. Because once acting assertively becomes a habit, it will change your life. And only for the better.

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