The Three X’s of Being Assertive

by Mark Schiffman, M.S. 

Many of us tend to get angry when those around us, whether family members, roommates, or coworkers behave in a manner of which we disapprove.  Whether it be our kids or spouse not cleaning up sufficiently after themselves, our roommates making too much noise when we are trying to sleep, or our coworkers once again missing the deadline.  While we may have the right to prefer that other people behave in the way that we wish, if we express anger and resentment when they don’t, our behavior might not yield the desired result of them finally listening. Although we can never control others’ behavior, we may have a better chance of influencing them if we ditch the anger and make an assertive request. To do this, it might be helpful to follow what I refer to as the Three X’s of being assertive – Accept, Expect, & Express.

  • Accept – The first two steps help us remove the anger, which will free up the opportunity for an assertive response (as it is very hard to be assertive when we are angry).  First, we need to accept the reality that the behavior is occurring.  We may not like the behavior and prefer that it doesn’t happen, but if we keep demanding that they should not be acting this way, there is very little question that we will get worked up when they do act that way.
  • Expect – Once we accept the behavior, we can go a step further to excise the anger by actually expecting the behavior. Often, when people don’t behave in the way we want them to, we “can’t believe” they didn’t listen again. Even though this is the 57th time my kids didn’t clean up their dishes, I am still “shocked” that they didn’t. If we shift our perspective and be realistic that they will probably continue to behave in the same pattern that they have been behaving, we can expect the behavior, which can go a long way to prevent anger.
  • Express- If we can avoid anger by accepting and expecting, we are now left with an opportunity to express our preferences and desires to our family, friends or coworkers in a way that may be more effective.  One of the classic tips for an assertive statement includes using “I feel” statements, for instance, “I feel hurt when you don’t listen to me,” instead of “you annoy me when you don’t listen to me,” which is more accusatory and aggressive.Mark Schiffman
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