However, in our experience of running Assertiveness courses for nearly 25 years, it very often isn’t the case that people are deliberately targeting you. What they are doing is taking the path of least resistance.
All of us know about the path of least resistance because we will have followed it ourselves every once in a while: at some point all of us will have sought the easiest option for a task, a journey, getting our kids to clean their rooms, etc.
We have also done it with people when we look around at who we might entice into doing something for us, “Sally’s always helpful and so easy to work with; I’ll ask her if she’ll stay late to help out with the reception we’re running next month.” “Ed’s so jolly to be around and has so much energy; it would be great to involve him in the village fete.”
Often, these aren’t even conscious thoughts – they streak through our brains so quickly we simply end up deciding to ask Sally or Ed to help us out.
The same thing might be happening to you if you find yourself on the receiving end of lots of requests or even demands. Your own accommodating behaviour may make you an unconscious ‘sitting duck’ for others who are looking around for someone to help them out. They aren’t necessarily out to get you, but in their either conscious or unconscious minds you are the path of least resistance.
It makes sense doesn’t it? In a busy workplace or hectic personal life, people want the least amount of hassle and problem-free solutions. If you are that solution they aren’t going to look elsewhere unless you let them know.
And there’s the rub.
Unassertive people look as though they are willing, co-operative, accepting; the longer they continue that compliant behaviour, the more other people accept it without question. Oh, the other person may know deep down that maybe they’ve overstepped the mark and asked one particular person to help a few too many times, but all the while there’s no protest, that deep down place stays very quiet indeed.
Good Assertiveness Training isn’t designed to turn you into someone you’re not, where you suddenly become unaccommodating, uncooperative, difficult and disobliging. Impact Factory’s Assertiveness courses are all about helping you become less of a path of least resistance rather than a concrete road-block.
There are things you can begin to do now even if you don’t come along to one of our or another company’s Assertiveness courses.
Saying “No, I can’t help” is going to be really really hard if you are used to saying ‘yes’ all or most of the time. At some point with a lot of practise you might get there, but in the first instance that might be a bridge too far.
So the next time someone asks you to do something you do not want to do you need to dig into Impact Factory’s assertiveness tool box to pull out a different response. This could be along the lines of: “I had a feeling you were going to ask me to get involved. I’ll probably be able to help but let me check a few things first.”
You may still end up helping but with the answer above you’ve done three things:
You’ve not said ‘yes’ immediately.
You’ve given a subtle message that you know what’s going on.
You’ve forestalled the other person trying to persuade you and bought yourself some time.
What this does is begin to build up your confidence without having to change who you are or say something that’s not in character. Gradually, you can begin to add stronger messages such as, “This sounds like a terrific project; I’m so sorry I won’t be able to get involved this time.” Eventually, you might even be able to say, “I’m going to pass on this one.” The short and sweet version.
In the meantime, stick with the simpler version so that even if you give in you will have done something different. It’s the first step that can often be the hardest when becoming more assertive.
Check out Impact Factory’s range of Assertiveness courses.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory