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How to Be Assertive Without Alienating Your Relationships

Asking for what you want—and setting boundaries around what you don’t want—is a key life skill.  However, sometimes in our enthusiasm to practice this skill, we over-do our own assertiveness and end up with someone (partner, friend, peer, customer, client, etc.) who shuts down, gets angry or feels resentful.  Here are four tips for developing your assertiveness in a way that will actually strengthen, deepen and enrich your relationships—thus avoiding the “alienation trap”:

1.     Get Clear.

Being assertive starts with knowing what you are—and aren’t—willing to be, do, or have.  For many of us, coming to this knowledge is a real task unto itself.  Here, it may be useful to ask: “In an ideal world, what would I like to happen?”  Focusing on an ideal, reasonable and realistic outcome opens our minds, prevents us from falling into passivity or “victim-thinking,” and helps us get really clear on what we want and don’t want.

2.     Set Boundaries.

Once you know what outcome you desire, share it with that person in your life.  Pay attention to the way stating your boundary feels in your body.  With practice, you can actually sense when you’re hitting the “sweet spot.”  It can feel really pleasant, even exhilarating, to express your needs or desires out loud.  Phrases like “such and such doesn’t work for me” are simple ways of being assertive while maintaining connection with the other person.

3.     Make a Regular Habit of Stating Your Needs and Desires.

You can build your assertiveness the same way you build any muscle: exercise.  Practice speaking up about your needs, big or small, on a daily basis.  When you speak up about things that are less controversial—such as where to go to dinner, requesting help with a task or what TV program to watch—both you and the other person get used to your assertiveness.  It becomes easier for you to practice and for another to hear.  Also, when bigger issues come along, you will have a healthy process in place for dealing with differences in needs, and you’ll have greater confidence in the resilience of your relationship.

4.     Give as Much as You Get.

Assertiveness is a two-way street.  If you want your boundaries to be respected, you must return the courtesy to others in your life.  If your partner doesn’t want you to interrupt her while she’s talking on the phone (unless it’s an emergency), don’t.  If your co-worker asks you to give him fifteen minutes before an unscheduled meeting before you talk and connect, respect that.  When it comes to following through on another’s reasonable request, actions really do speak louder than words.

If someone in your life isn’t respecting your boundaries even though you’ve set them clearly, it may be time for professional help for you and/or your relationship.

Until next time…

P.S. — Want to learn to be more assertive in you job, business or in general?  Schedule your complimentary coaching session or send an e-mail to to learn how.  Invest 30 minutes today to change your life forever.

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