Jill is a parent carer and a former member of the team at Camden Carers. Here, Jill shares her insights on the benefits of assertiveness and how to nurture our own assertiveness.
Assertiveness and our caring role
How many times, as carers, have we left a conversation or a meeting thinking “I wish I’d said …” or “Why didn’t I speak out?” or even feeling unsure about what has been agreed?
It can be hard to give our view confidently – and sometimes a meeting feels like an opportunity has been missed.
What is assertive communication?
Assertiveness is the ability to speak up for ourselves in a way that is honest, clear and respectful.
It's about being heard, holding our own space, and feeling good when we're communicating.
Every day we are in situations where being assertive can help us as carers. It can include asking someone for help, getting the support we need or approaching a professional with a question.
Assertiveness is feeling confident when we're communicating and communicating well. Being assertive can also help boost our self-esteem and earn others' respect.
What are the consequences of not asserting yourself?
Remaining silent when we feel we are being pushed, pulled, manipulated, demanded of, or just plain unheard, can lead to feelings of resentment, loss of self-respect, conflict and confusion. All these all add up to increased stress.
Being assertive can help with managing stress. Especially, if we tend to take on too many responsibilities because we have a hard time saying "no" - particularly with those we care for. It can also help us to get the support we need.
Being assertive is healthy. It demonstrates self-respect, as well as respect for others. The clarity that is gained by being assertive is beneficial for everyone involved. It helps them learn to adjust their behaviour and negotiate to achieve an all-around positive outcome for all.
What stops us from being assertive?
It may not come naturally to us to be assertive. And for many, it takes practice to become comfortable in asserting ourselves. Things which may prevent us from being assertive might include:
Lack of confidence
Fear of appearing angry or aggressive
Low self-worth – feeling less important than others
Appearing bossy or controlling
Lack of experience in achieving the right tone
Feeling unsure about our rights, responsibilities and duties
Inability to say “no” for fear of upsetting others
Lack of clarity about what we want to achieve
Many of these are based on our beliefs or 'limiting beliefs'. Whether that’s around believing we’re not ‘worthy’, or that ‘our ideas are silly’ or that ‘a professional is more important’. The good news is that once we’ve identified these limiting beliefs, we can choose to simply change them.
"Sometimes all it takes to change a life is to decide which beliefs do not serve you and to literally change your mind about those beliefs" - Joy Page
Simple exercises to practise assertiveness
We can each learn to be more assertive by overcoming the barriers outlined above. The exercises below can help us with gaining confidence in speaking out.
1. Centre and ground
Standing with our feet firmly on the floor, imagine we are rooted into the ground. At the same time, take a deep breath and imagine we have a string pulling our head upwards and making us feel taller.
Taking a few deep breaths in and out and relaxing into the feeling of being grounded and centred. This will keep us steady when we feel nervous – or we can practice it when we have been unsettled in any way.
2. Use “I” statements
Using “I” statements reinforces a sense of self, increases confidence, supports us to take ownership of our viewpoint and gives us clarity in communication. Practice this before practicing with others. Statements like “I would prefer …”; “I disagree …”; “I agree..”; “I feel …”; “I would like you to help me …”; “I won’t be able to do that today”; “No, I can’t”; “I am happy to hear that”.
3. Just say no
It can be hard to say no to others. We can practice this by starting off saying no in less important scenarios – for example, if asked to do something, choose to say “No, I can’t do that right now, but can help you in half an hour”. Ideally, we don’t have to justify our no. But if you feel the need to, just keep it short and to the point, e.g. “No, I don’t have the money to do that right now.”
4. Prepare mental notes of what we want
If we are going to have an important conversation or meeting with someone, then run through what you want to say a few times beforehand. This will help us feel more grounded and centred each time we practice.
5. Rehearse what we want to say
Rehearsing also gives us the chance to refine what we want to say, as well as how we say it. Make sure we have clearly thought about what we want and don’t want as an outcome.
6. Define our bottom line
This is about knowing where our boundaries lie and where we can be flexible. For example, we may set our weekly budget limit for food at £55, but at the end of the month we allow £15 extra for some treats.
Another example, we go to a regular exercise class on Tuesday morning and only make an exception to this if there is an urgent appointment or emergency.
Within the caring role, we may decide we are not willing or able to do certain parts of the care and we are within our rights to get help with those.
We might prefer to call these “clear boundaries”. Have you heard the saying:
“High fences, make good neighbours?”
It’s about making sure we know what we’re OK with and not OK with, and then communicating that effectively. That way, everyone knows where they stand.
Communicating well when stressed or emotional
Assertiveness can help us express ourselves effectively and stand up for our point of view, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others. The main skill needed when asserting ourselves, is to be able to communicate clearly - even when we feel stressed, self-conscious or emotional.
Here are some tips to help when emotion threatens to overwhelm:
Pace ourselves: stress can make us talk too fast! Slow down: centre and ground
Be conscious of our breathing and consciously take a breath when we need to: holding our breath creates more tension.
Keep sentences brief, direct and to the point – stress can make us ramble!
Listen well, with attention, and ask for anything to be repeated if we need to
Be prepared ahead of any meeting (including telephone calls)
Define our bottom line – and don’t be pushed (repeat it if necessary)
Remember our carers' rights – they are there to protect you
Speak confidently and assertively but not angrily
Try to maintain an even tone of voice, calm but firm
Remember it is natural to feel anxious when asserting ourselves, again just focus on regular breathing and keep going.
In summary, assertiveness is "the healthy option" as it keeps communication clear between us and others. We can each learn to be assertive in our own way, by expressing ourselves in a way that makes sense to us. Try practising and focusing on the benefits it can bring to us and our families.
It is possible to be assertive without being angry or aggressive – by remaining confident, steady, calm, clear and focussed – and by having respect for ourselves and others.
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About the author
As well as being a parent carer, Jill Pay is a former Independent Trainer-Facilitator and Life Coach, and Breaks & Activities Service Manager at Camden Carers.