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Assertiveness Training Exercises

by Judy Kilpatrick

If you struggle with being too passive or too aggressive during conflicts, assertiveness training can help. Assertiveness is a way of standing up for yourself that respects the other person and preserves your self-respect. By being assertive, you can reduce stress and tension and improve relationships with family and friends. While changing the way you interact with others takes practice, in time it becomes an automatic response.

Get to Know Yourself Better

The first step in assertiveness training is getting to know yourself. If you are used to reacting to others without taking time to think about your feelings, or if you are used to agreeing with family and friends to keep from upsetting someone, you may be out of touch with your own needs and desires. Take time to think about situations in the past that did not turn out in a way that pleased you. Think about how you handled the situation. Then, ask yourself what it was that you wanted or needed. Scrutinize several situations to increase your self-awareness. Practice taking time to think about what you really want before responding to others. Taking time to think reduces reactivity and keeps you from making unsatisfactory decisions or from being criticized for overreacting.

Speak for Yourself

During conflict, avoid verbally pointing your finger at the other person with statements such as, "When you. . ." or "You always. . ." Instead, begin your statements with "I." Instead of telling another person what *he* does or thinks, say what *you* think or feel. For instance, "I feel frustrated when the car is on empty after you use it," instead of "You always bring the car back empty!" gets the point across without sparking negative emotion in the other person. Similarly, saying "I want us to spend time together this weekend instead of watching sports all day," is more likely to get the results you want than, "You care more about football than you care about me!" It takes time to learn to think differently. Anticipate situations and mentally practice "I" statements.

Express Understanding

Assertive communication is based upon respect for yourself and others. One way to show respect, while asserting your needs or desires, is by expressing understanding for the other person's point of view or circumstances. This is called *empathic assertion*, according to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center. For example, if you say to your roommate, "I know you have been so busy studying for exams, but I really need help cleaning our apartment this weekend," it demonstrates an understanding for why your roommate has been slack and is more likely to get her cooperation than saying, "You have to help me clean this place up this weekend!" Just like "I" statements, it takes mental practice to get used to thinking this way. Train yourself to express understanding by planning ahead before speaking.

Learn to Say No

If you tend to always say "yes" to requests, you may have unhelpful beliefs about saying "no," according to the Centre for Clinical Interventions. You may think it is rude or unkind, or that the other person's needs are more important than your own. However, consenting to requests or saying "no" too aggressively can lead to personal and interpersonal stress. By taking time to think about an honest answer, and by using an "I" statement and a warm voice tone, you can say "no" in a firm, direct manner.

Assertive Body Language and Voice

Assertive communication is direct and honest, calm but firm. Your voice and body language say more than your words. Practice assertiveness by recording your voice. Listen for signs of insecurity, hostility or other negative characteristics. Learn to calm yourself before you assert your needs, desires or positions on an issue. Taking a deep breath before you speak, or thinking about a favorite place to spend time can reduce tension and give you a firm, assertive voice.

About the Author

For Judy Kilpatrick, gardening is the best mental health therapy of all. Combining her interests in both of these fields, Kilpatrick is a professional flower grower and a practicing, licensed mental health therapist. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kilpatrick writes for national and regional publications.

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