Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Re-engineering myself to be more assertive

My poorly designed assertiveness engine is failing me. It needs re-engineering, but it is going to be an arduous challenges ahead.

I remember I used to reminisce a lot about an incident with my old friends. Two of us were having an intense arguments with my other friend. I did not remember now what it was all about, but I do remember 2 of us spent a long time explaining to our opponent why our choice is better. Our opponent sat calmly across us, listening to our arguments. Our spirits were strong, our stands undeterred, almost hostile. After we were finished with our arguments in what seemed like a long time, our dear friend just said one thing in an unperturbed manner. "I still think my choice is better". As much as we were amazed by her answer, we felt the strong urge to reach over and strangle her. All throughout the argument, we were certain she was going to agree with us. Our argument was very logical and it was 2 against 1. Even the pitch of our voice and enthusiasm were on much grander scale. But, I daresay, we ended up losing big time to her. We wasted our time, our energy and even our ego to persuade her into joining our beliefs. Not only she was not persuaded, she also never disagreed with us or spent as much energy to argue back.

She is, as I realize it now, the Master of Assertiveness.

I used to misunderstand assertiveness as being able to prove your point or invalidate other people's points of views. I also thought speaking assertively means having a certain elegant air and tone to your voice that make you sound like when you are giving public speech to thousands of people. Indeed, as I begin to learn more, assertiveness means more than that.

So now, these are the re-engineering programs that I need to put back to my assertiveness engine:

1. I refuse to be pushed or manipulated by other people.

At one time, my HR manager handed me a legal document and asked me to sign and give back to him on the same day because he was pressed by the Global HR Manager from the head office. I knew briefly about what the document is about beforehand, but not the detailed terms and conditions. I obliged and it was a huge mistake, one that came back to haunt me many times. Later, I found out that it is actually illegal for people to pressure me to sign legal documents without sufficient times for me to think about it. Also, I should have consulted people who knew the legality matters more than me. I should have stand by my right, to say I would not sign the document on that day itself, insist to take back the document and to hell with what the local or global HR manager think of me.

Several other times, people would say something that make me feel either guilty or scared to lose what I am having. These are to make me do things for them, against my will. For example, things like "You will be mean to do things like this. ", "You have changed. You used to be very obliging and helpful", "I am in trouble. How you cannot understand my situation and help me?", "If you do not improve, I would give this chance to others. ", "Things are always been done this way." and "If you really want your money back, I would do anything to get it for you, even borrowing from illegal parties."
These are all pushing and manipulation.

I am done with being pushed around or manipulated anymore. It is time for me to say NO and stick to it.

2. I have my rights to my own judgment and opinion.
If what I have done or think is wrong, it really does not matter to anyone other than myself as long as I do not hurt other people. I have the right to voice my opinion and judgment. I do not need to care whether people think I am wrong or stupid or selfish. It really does not matter unless the person who think I am wrong are person who are dear to me.

3. I can accept criticism without getting crushed.

I would respond well and accept criticism. I do not need to argue with people criticizing me, even if it is not true. Other people have their rights to their views also. If they say the grass is blue, maybe someone has sprayed some blue paints over their grass or maybe they are wearing blue-tinted glasses. Or even maybe there are actually blue grass growing somewhere near the northern Atlantic where no people live (yes, grass instead of ice) . From what I see and where I have seen it, the grass has always been green to me. I do not need to argue that with them.

Actually, so what if some people think I am not a NICE person. I just get a bit fed up of being a nice person. A person that shout at you in anger may not be NICE, but a person that gossip about you behind your back is EVIL.

On the other end, if you say my fart is aromatic, I would say "Thank you for telling me that. I shall let you smell it more often then."

4. I do not need to have reasons or excuses to justify my behavior.

I always feel the urge to give reasons or excuses when people tell me my behavior is such-and-such, which is unacceptable. While I usually do not lie, I find that coming up with the reasons and excuses, while it is not always difficult, is actually detrimental to my well-being. It also makes me defensive most of the times.

For e.g., if you reprimand me for forgetting to turn off the light, I would say, hey, I did turn off the light 99.9% of the time. This is just one time I forget, more or less. And we were in such a hurry that I forgot. Cannot blame me. Also, why it is always have to be me who need to turn off the light when we leave? Anyway, how much money we can lose leaving the lights on for few hours?
Okay, in this case, "Yes, I forgot to turn off the light." will suffice. If there are more arguments, here is how I would respond:

A: Why you are so silly to forget to turn off the light?
Me: Yes, I am so silly to forget to turn off the light.
A: Have you no brain at all?
Me: Yes, I have brain, but I guess I do not have enough brain to turn off the light.
A: Do you know how much money we lose every month because you do not turn off the light?
Me: I do not know, but I guess it will be quite an amount.

Being assertive does not mean I cannot admit my mistake or say something bad about myself. Just say it without justifying with reasons or excuses.

On a lot times, people will disagree with your view points. Then you say, of course, I am saying this happens under such and such circumstances, not all the time. Or, something like you say people need to be firm. But someone say, you cannot do that. You need to be soft on people with terminal illness. So, you start by saying, people need to be firm unless dealing with people with terminal illness, kids under 1 year old, mentally retarded people, etc. The list will never end.

I have this problem too- trying to explain but I find by saying "Yes, I understand" when people say things to contradict you is good enough. And yes, there are always exceptions and you cannot cover it ALL.

5. I do not need to put myself in other people's shoes all the time.

So what if my HR manager get scolded if I did not sign and submit my document at the same day? Why do I have to care about his ass getting screw while I screw my own ass by signing that document in haste?

Remember the story at the beginning of the "7 Habits of Effective People"? It describes a situation about a man and his bunch of kids making noises and irritating all people at the place. Then, the author found out that the man had just lost his wife and the kids, their mother. So, he was too distraught to discipline his kids. I always remember that story. The moral of the story is to empathize with people. Sometimes, it may not be what it seems at first. Put yourself on other people shoes.

But, what I find also is there are also a lot of annoying people with no care for other people in this world. So, if someone is making a hell of your world, it does not necessarily means their wife or dog have just died and they are too helpless.

Sometimes, I believe I am too soft on people, especially on my subordinates last time because I always give them excuses when they fail themselves or me. I give myself excuses to fail too. This is bad, so being assertive should help.

Let's say, someone cut the queue to buy cinema tickets.

Me: Miss, you are cutting the queue. Please line up.
Q: Oh, is it? I am sorry. I am in a hurry.
Me: I am in a hurry too. Will you queue up please?
Q: Really, I need to get these tickets as soon as possible.
Me: Really, I think you should queue up.
Q: No, you don't understand.
Me: Yes, I do not understand. I still think you should queue up.
Q: But, I have cancer and going to die. I need to get this ticket now to watch this movie.
Me: (Amazed) I really think you should queue up even if you are dying tomorrow. Everyone is going to die too. At least you still have today and you need to queue up too.
Q: No, I am dying in about an hour, probably while watching this movie. But I really wish to watch this movie before I die.
Me: (Caught by surprise) In that case, I really think you should get your ticket right now. In fact, you can have my tickets too. Or, even you can buy the whole lot of tickets so that you have the cinema by yourself.

Again, being assertive does not mean that I need to be right till the end. Empathizing with other people is important too. (Ooppps, I am doing it again, explaining the exceptional case that can invalidate my views. But if I do not do this, I probably get a comment saying that I need to be more empathizing, of which I already know empathy is good and need to be practiced, but just NOT at ALL TIME.)

Photo courtesy of


Anonymous said...

God writing, more content please.

Maybe write something about shitty people so that we can learn public enemy..hehe

autumn said...

i guess you just need to balance yourself out... then again, balance is always the point which we all miss all the time =P but you sound too hard on yourself to me actually, well, for this post lar ;)

i used to think a lot about what to say, or what to argue, or how to behave in certain conditions when something happens, making too much mental note all the time... to the point I make myself really confused and tired. and compared to you, i wasn't really a nice person even tho i did all that. i do that less often now, but still cannot escape from thinking too much sometimes.

yalor, ppl probably dun care anyway, y bother to think so much...

i personally think that if deep down inside, you are really a nice person, then be a nice person lor. else you'll feel equally tormented one. let's just say each person has own level of assertiveness that we are comfy with, you'll nid to find yours.

don't know if i make sense or not, and my comment is getting too long dy >.< i stop here =P

oh, i'm grace and i've moved my blog again >.< come visit lar, he he he. (psssst, ur book is still with me >.<)

Anonymous said...

Be Empathy.

I don't remember who said this: "empathy is not sympathy".

What you need to do is to understand, but not to sacrifice.

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