I was talking with someone the other day about the issue of assertiveness.
Some people hide what they need to say, some people bracket what they say with neon signs, but when they come to me, they want to know how to talk with people without hurting their feelings and without feeling like they haven’t been able to say what they need to say.
Assertiveness is commonly defined as follows:
having or showing a confident and forceful personality : patients should be more assertive with their doctors. (Merriam Dictionary)
I define it as being able to say what is on your mind while also keeping in mind how your audience understands it.
The definition of Irish Diplomacy is often referred to as a joke. Irish Diplomacy is defined as “telling someone to go to hell and having them looking forward to the trip.” That is closer to my definition of assertiveness.
When you have something uncomfortable to say, whether it be that you need to stick up for yourself or tell someone something they may not want to hear, pause for a moment and make sure that you understand the audience’s perspective on the issue. Where are they coming from? Is there a way that you can phrase what you want to say so that it is at least somewhat in line with what the other person may be thinking. Essentially, if you think you are going to step on someone else’s toes, it’s best if you at least pause for a second to see where their toes are before just stepping willy-nilly.
An example I can think of off the top of my head is telling a friend that their significant other may not be a good match. You can not tell them, which has its pros and cons (you don’t get involved, but they suffer), you can blurt it out (in which case they will not want to have anything to do with you because you aren’t respecting their efforts to fulfill their desires. Or you can be assertive, by saying what you need to say while respecting their views. First, I would find out more about what they like in relationships in general. Then I would ask my friend if the current relationship is meeting their goals.
Remember, listen first, then couch what you want to say in terms that your audience will understand.