Monday musings – where did we miss the point about being assertive?

Where did we miss the point about being assertive?

I mean sure, nobody likes to be walked all over or ignored. That’s not good. But when did this idea become popular that to be assertive, you have to shout the loudest, be the most obnoxious, or quickest to threaten legal action, whilst demanding your rights, and preferably making a scene as well? Before you’ve even explained the problem to someone who might be able to help you?

That’s not being assertive.

It makes my head hurt. Listening to it drains my energy!

“You’ve got a problem with X? I’d complain if I were you. Before you even discuss why it was a problem or offer a solution.” Never mind that X might have had a problem too.

“Y didn’t do what you wanted? I’d make it official. It must be personal. You shouldn’t take that from anyone. Who cares if what you were asking was unreasonable/not possible/not even the right department. They said no? Give ’em hell!”

“Oh yeah and you should put it on social media too so that loads of people who have only heard your side of the story can commiserate with you and say all kinds of stuff about people they have never met, based on their totally unbiased understanding of the story from the few facts you posted in your rant.”

That’s not being assertive either.

Ok, I’m just exaggerating to prove a point. But how did we get here?

I’ve faced discrimination. The obvious type, where someone tries to throw me out of somewhere because I had a guide dog. The more indirect type, where people don’t make their products or services accessible to me. I usually stand my ground. If I really can’t be bothered, I walk away – because choosing your battles is smarter and better for my general well-being than taking on everyone and his dog who don’t know how to play nicely.

When I was having a really bad day, I have let it get to me on occasion. That’s not great, but it’s part of being a human being.

I get it – I’m better at hiding my emotions than most people I know, because I think it generally leads to getting things sorted out faster.

But if you start from the point of thinly-veiled aggression and confrontation, believing that everyone really is out there to get you, or at least to bring you down, there’s nowhere to go from there. You’ve already alienated everyone that may otherwise have been willing to help you. No negotiation – no discussion – just a fight from now on in. A fight in which winning is the only option, irrespective of what winning for you means for that other person.

I don’t have an endless supply of patience, and there are things that really push my buttons. But more and more I see this angry, entitled attitude rearing its head on social media and around me in the “real world”, and I think “no! There has to be a better way!”

Whether it’s about disability advocacy, parents getting what they need for their children, or people trying to fix their own issues with their employer/a service provider/some random person on the street.

Dealing with burocracy and a lack of understanding can wear you down. Often people aren’t thinking about those around them. But joining them by adopting a “me-against-the-world-and-every-single-person-I-meet” mentality doesn’t beat them.

Probably the worst I had in a customer-facing role was some guy saying “I know where you work” – like his problem was my fault and he was coming to make me pay for it. Incidentally, it was nothing to do with me – I was just the unfortunate person who took his call because the person he really needed to speak with was out to lunch. Fortunately for me, at that point he knew neither my name, nor what I looked like!

I see it on the streets and in the supermarket. Everyone is so focussed on where they need to be and what they need to do. Anyone who gets in the way of that is just being selfish… Or maybe they have their own stuff going on? They don’t see the person struggling to get around whom they nearly knock over, just the fact that this person taking a bit longer will make them late. Like a couple of extra minutes is going to change the world.

One day a couple of extra minutes could have made all the difference. I was travelling 200 miles on a train to get to see my Nan who was in a hospice and whom they didn’t think would be with us much longer. The train was delayed, There was nothing I could do. And I really needed to get there. But at the same time it put people stressing about their meetings into perspective. I did make it on time, but it made me really think about the way I had rushed around at other times as if someone’s life had depended on it.

I know that in London, I wasn’t the best version of myself – getting wound up by tourists who didn’t seem to appreciate that there were other people on the same street who actually needed to get somewhere. I know that. But when did everyone get so angry?

I’ve seen it at work too. “Your manager said no? Know your rights! Take it higher!” Yes, people should know their rights, but I’ve been a manager too, and sometimes you do have to say “no”! You can’t always give people what they want. That’s life.

I love electronic communication, but I sometimes wonder if we forget that we’re dealing with people out there – people who have lives and feelings too.

Totally, there are things that make us angry. But if children see their parents flying off the handle and roaring at people like an angry lion, just because they have a different opinion, or don’t handle things in the “right way”, what does that teach the next generation about problem solving?

It’s ok for me to say that – I don’t have kids. But I do deal with young people professionally. Mostly really nice, polite young people … and I believe that teachers are role models too. We’re all examples to more than just our own immediate family.

I’m not convinced that the permanently angry momma bear image, or the disabled person that everyone is terrified to offend, or the employee who can’t go a day without complaining about someone are really what we should be aspiring to become. I don’t think any of these images are cool. They don’t give off a sense of someone who really knows how to make things happen, challenge injustice, or make people listen. There’s a time to do these things and a way to do them. A scale with having a polite chat with someone at one end, and threatening action at the other. There are a lot of points between these two. We don’t always need to go straight for the one that results in someone losing their job.

I know people can find my direct communication style a bit much sometimes. I say what I think – sometimes what other people are thinking, and don’t like to say. That’s not what I mean though. It’s not what you say, but the way you go about it – and yapping Yorkshire terrier style rarely gets you something good!

One of the managers that I respected the most never raised her voice, but people always listened. She responded to things and didn’t just react with whatever came into her head first. She got things done without bullying those lower than her in the pecking order or crushing others by throwing her weight around.

People took notice. She must have had bad days and lost her sh1t sometimes, but I don’t think I ever saw it. She chose her words carefully, rather than letting them fly out like a burst water pipe – even on days when things weren’t going well.

There was something about her. Yes, she had authority because of her position, but she also had authority because of who she was as a person and how she conducted herself. I think she was a fantastic role model, and I wish there were more people like her.

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Author: englishwithkirsty

I have two blogs. Unseen Beauty is my personal blog. English with Kirsty is my business blog for people who are interested in languages or learning English.

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