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Being assertive

Being Assertive

Assertiveness should be about feeling, understanding and believing that you matter in your friendships, relationships, at work and at play. For some gay men claiming the same rights as everyone else can be hard. It’s also about breaking patterns of behaviour and can take time.

We aren’t always treated equally by the law or society in general, though things are getting better. Despite these improvements, a background of discrimination might make you feel you have no rights at all – even within our own community. Wrong! You do have rights – though sometimes the way gay people treat each other you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Wouldn’t it be great if we were treated with respect by other people and, in turn, felt able to respect them. This is the part of what assertiveness is about. It’s also about building your own self-respect and dealing with your own feelings. Would you like to:

  • Increase your self-confidence?
  • Be clear and direct?
  • Be properly understood?
  • Feel better because you’ve expressed your feelings?
  • Stand a better chance of getting what you want?
  • Have fewer situations that are unresolved?
  • Be treated as an equal?

This is what being assertive can achieve. It’s not achieved by being aggressive, we don’t need to act like steam rollers. Being passive will not help us get what we want either. When we are passive in situations, we don’t express our feelings. This builds up anger and frustration inside us until finally we blow up over a tiny thing. We often feel bad after this outburst and revert to being passive again. Being assertive can help you break out of this circle of passive to aggressive behaviour. Being assertive can use up a lot of energy. You don’t have to keep it up 24 hours a day. Go slow. Take it easy and choose your moment. The decision is yours.

"I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want."

There are no magic words or set phrases for being assertive. However, there are several vital ingredients in becoming more assertive:

  • Listen – even when the person is expressing strong feelings or being aggressive.
  • Demonstrate understanding – not by using the stock phrase "I understand how you feel" but by referring to what you have heard. For example: "you seem angry and disappointed."
  • Say what you think and feel how the situation is affecting you – take responsibility for your feelings. Be clear about what has given rise to your feelings and attribute them to the event or the behaviour – not the person. For example: "I feel upset and hurt that you left me at the club when you said you would give me a lift home."
  • Say specifically what you want to happen – this minimises the chances of being misunderstood and increases the possibility of getting it. It doesn’t guarantee you will get what you want. Listen to the response you get and be prepared for the person to have a different point of view.
  • If you need to negotiate, consider the consequences for you and others of any joint solutions where both of you are satisfied, rather than make a compromise where neither of you get what you want. Don’t give in to passive or aggressive behaviour at this point – you’re nearly there.

Right, now here’s the hard bit. Think about whether you’re happy with your lot. What about...

  • Having friends and relationships around you that matter
  • A job you enjoy and puts some money in your pocket
  • A home where you’re happy and where you can relax
  • Getting the medical and health services you want or need
  • Getting the sex you want
  • Disclosing your HIV status
  • Dealing with the gay scene

Try writing down real situations where you would like to be more assertive. Use a variety of situations that aren’t frightening but which you’d still like to deal with better. Build up to more difficult situations that you encounter or are avoiding. Then, working through the five points listed above, note down possible assertive approaches to these problems and, if you need to initiate the conversation, start from point 3. Practise saying them in your head before you try it out for real. Remember that words on their own do not convey an assertive message.

Communication researchers have found that only 7% of a message is based around the words you say, 38% of the message comes from the tone of your voice, and 55% comes from your appearance or body language. Your words, voice tone and body language should all say "I’m confident and your equal, I expect to be treated with respect."

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