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Assertiveness is a virtue that anyone can develop with practice (psyche.co)
267 points by arkj 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 155 comments



With trusted people, I find its best to default to a non-violent communication style[1]. Express your feelings with "I" statements, etc. "I'm feeling X". Believe the other side has positive intent (ie 'hanlons razor'). Express the 2-way nature, and understand feelings can arise for many reason that may not be anyones fault.

Recently I had a conversation with to a colleague where I expressed their earlier perceived 'pressure' made me feel my relationship with them was "transactional". And I felt like my value was about the work I did, not me as a person. I reiterated throughout I didn't think it was their intention. I expressed that this has as much to do with my personality & baggage with how I perceive comments that might not bother others.

I didn't do it perfectly (this is a hard skill to cultivate). But... we left with a better way to communicate. "OK Doug reacts to X statements a bit roughly". On my end, I take accountability for maybe overreacting to X types of statements, and taking a deep breath and being as forgiving as I can. Most importantly our relationship and trust deepened, and we'll work more effectively together...

1-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_Communication


In therapy that's one thing. But I often see NVC abused as passive aggressive manipulation as opposed to open communication. This is almost always used after some alleged harm has been done. As in "let's talk about how I feel and somehow blame you for it" in some public forum with social pressures. It's about coercing people into changing their behavior and is the polar opposite of acceptance. It is a means of social control and should raise red flags whenever it's seen.


I teach NVC and that’s a crucial aspect.

One can only practice Nonviolent Communication if the goal is to remain connected.

If the goal is to use NVC to coerce a behavior, then even if the format remains identical, it is no longer NVC but as you said, passive/aggressive manipulation.

Learning the mechanical skills and language format and applying them without the internal alignment is possible and frequent but unfortunately retains the violent nature of coercive intentions.

The first step toward non-violence is to truly accept that others have their own needs and allow their autonomy, to remove the invisible pressure which comes with “outcome at any cost” and switch from demands to pure requests - requests where a refusal comes with zero negative consequences.

Without this safety, the rest crumbles.


My wife and I tried NVC for our first two years before binning it. I argue it's counterproductive outside a therapeutic context. When both parties are heated it's often that they just need a release valve. Placing a bunch of logical frameworks over real emotion can often stymie the other party who needs to release.

After four years now the real magic trick has been to just work on our problems individually and on the rare occasions we bicker either really, honestly, directly blow off steam (this is as about anti-NVC as you can get) like hey you piss me off right now and it's this thing you're doing and it sucks or leave the situation bodily and come back later.

The key thing for us has been to silo these arguments off from the rest of the relationship. The high drama that occurs inside the confines of an argument doesn't need to mean anything to the broader relationship. Of course if you have systemic issues then those need to be dealt with but no amount of modulating your tone or speaking in I statements or trying to reflect the other person is going to solve those.

We're so intent on logicking our way out of anything. But we're not Spocks. We're human beings with big big feelings.

Funny story, if you look at my comments history about two down, my father the massive criminal who raised me is the one who first introduced NVC to me. He fancied himself an armchair psychologist. He remains one of the most toxic individuals I have ever encountered to this day, certainly to my own life.

I think we're going to see a renaissance in plain speaking from the heart. That's my prediction for the next decade.


Here’s how NVC is usually taught: use this special language and make sure to communicate needs and feelings and guess the other person’s.

The thing is, without the internal alignment and commitment, it is just a set of complicated language structures and mostly annoys people.

A tool I use and recommend in relationships is having a “session” with your partner. This means they get to vent and you listen - but when they vent about you they speak in third person. So your partner would be speaking to you saying “emptysongglass is a f-ing selfish jerk! Promised to empty the dishwasher and didn’t, for the third time! And when I reminded her about it, asked me who appointed me dishwasher police! I can’t trust a person who doesn’t take responsibility!!”

The point is to have a space to vent out the emotion and be heard and seen, in connection. And, speaking about a third person lightens things and prevents defenses from going up for the listener.

Also, timing the sessions helps. 10 min is usually enough.

NVC is mostly about internal alignment and commitment to connection and empathy (empathy=the recipient of empathy feels felt)

Honestly giving up control over the other person (making requests vs demands) and honestly listening for your own and the other’s state of being (what’s alive in them) and slowing down to drop into the body is where it’s at.

It’s not an intellectual exercise.

You said it beautifully - plain speaking from the heart, while feeling the heart.


>The key thing for us has been to silo these arguments off from the rest of the relationship.

I think this is an ability that not everyone possesses.

For me and my (now ex-) wife our relationship comprised every waking moment of our existence. It was impossible to silo the fact that I said horrible things to her, and her to me. Sure these things made us each feel better at the time, but at what cost? The relationship, apparently.

Since then we've (while co-parenting a child) come to appreciate the value of separating our emotions from the issue(s) at hand. With it we've been able to successfully navigate extremely thorny issues that might otherwise compromise the well-being of our son were he to pick up on the fact that we've been sidelined by our own shit as opposed to looking out for his best interests and conducting ourselves accordingly.


"don't bring aggression to a microaggression fight".

And skillful NVC is like black belt level of microaggression fight skills.


What you described is not NVC communication. NVC communication requires at a bare minimum first listening to both sides needs.


That's the heart of GP's critique. People are masking abusive and manipulative statements with the language of NVC. Here's a mild example: "Altcongnito, when I see you leave work and there are still tickets in the queue, I feel disappointed, because I need us to work as a team. Would you be willing to work late until we get through them?" What people rightly feel is a disconnect between the language of NVC and the spirit of NVC in these situations.


And what this reinforces to me is the importance of "professionalism" in a work place setting.

Requiring everyone in your workplace to engage coworkers with a level of emotional intimacy and care can impose even greater burdens on your employees. Sometimes it can be better to just try to impose fair rules on everyone, and straight forwardly convey to everyone where they stand in terms of expectations and performance.

Blame free retrospectives are also crucial in cases where things don't go well.

Instead of:

"You make me feel X way when you didn't close out your tickets."

Try:

"I generally hate asking anyone to work extra hours, but in this case if the ticket doesn't get fixed we are likely to lose the contract we are depending on to pay everyone's salary. Can you please stay late and get this done? We can work out a way to give you some extra PTO to make up for this in the near future."


I fully agree. Zooming in on your example: I think by the definition of NVC on Wikipedia, "I need us to work as a team" is not a need as in "universal human need". It's the deposition of an assertion ("team work means not leaving work before all tickets are resolved"), wrongly or maliciously expressed as a need.

IMO the best way to respond to that would be "Aaron-santos, I understand that you feel disappointed now. Unfortunately I absolutely need to leave at X o'clock. How about we make a plan for tackling this insane workload such that everybody on the team feels supported?"


Precisely this. The book refers to the difference between a 'need' and a 'request', and what differentiates the two. In this case, this would fall under the category of a request, and is not considered NVC.


Nice, flips the script and exposes their passive aggressive, manipulative language.


I think what's missing is the consideration of how the other person is feeling. I use a three-step process 1) how I'' feeling 2) how I imagine they might be feeling and 3) say one thing to connect with love.

In this example above, if after saying "I need us to work as a team," the person were to say "and I imagine maybe you're leaving because you're worried about something at home or afraid you're gonna burnout or who knows what" and then ask "would you willing to work late (this time) until we get through them?"

I think what the NVC process lacks (or maybe I just don't know it well enough) is a way to show the other person we are considering how they feel. I have found it works absolute wonders at times, not only to show the other person I'm thinking of them, but also to actually get me to more consciously think of them, which can alter how I proceed. Maybe I even realize that the tickets aren't that important when I imagine they may be stressed to pick up their kids from school because their marriage might already be on the rocks and they don't want to push it overboard.


I've found the Kidpower Boundary Bridge to be a helpful framework when I know I need to speak up about something bothering me but I'm afraid of awkwardness and conflict.

It starts with a connecting statement where you put yourselves in the other person's shoes and you can include a disclaimer that you know they didn't mean to hurt your feelings. The rest of it seems similar to NVC.

One takeaway I got from Kidpower is that the minor conflicts I'm tempted to ignore because "it's not that big a deal" are actually great opportunities for me to practice being more assertive so I'll be prepared for situations where I do have to take action. Plus I think the act of resolving a conflict can strengthen and deepen a relationship when it's done well. So if I stay quiet out of fear of bad feelings, I'm leaving a lot on the table.

https://www.kidpower.org/library/article/kidpower-boundaries...


Ooo, I had never heard of this. Thank you for pointing it out, I'll check into it more.

At first glance, personally, I worry that I'll not remember all 7 steps so that's another reason why I like the three steps I use.

If I'm understanding you correctly, it sounds like you're saying you first communicate to them what you imagine their situation to be and that they have a good intention, I think that can work as well. I've seen that sometimes when I do that, I will passively still be angry or frustrated and the person is just waiting for me to say "but" or "and"—discounting what I'm saying in the beginning waiting for the metaphorical hammer to drop.

> the minor conflicts I'm tempted to ignore because "it's not that big a deal" are actually great opportunities for me to practice

I strongly agree. I feel less afraid apologizing for being late for a coffee than telling someone I want to get divorced and can be a great way to practice. Another way that I've found to practice is that I actually run classes and have created audios to practice dealing with such emotional conflict/attacks. I've found that role-playing it can help me gain more confidence and skills in resolving it.

Additionally, I'm starting to believe more and more that almost all big conflicts are built of many little conflicts. E.g., two people get divorced often not because of one thing, but because of many many events that created more distance over time. In this way, the better I get at resolving the micro-conflict, at the little events that drive us farther apart, the less likely big conflicts will happen.

At the end of the day, I feel excited for whatever framework/tool/strategy works for you. Again, thank you for sharing this one and for trying to do this work :-)


If it's coming from a manager it hides the power relationship and creates the false impression that the participants are peers who share and care about each others feelings. It's actually a worse way to tell someone they aren't doing a good job because not only does it criticize their performance it implies that they are inconsiderate.

If it's coming from an actual peer, it's just weird.


If the boss intended to manipulate the employee, wouldn't they be able to do that without NVC? Is the language of NVC the problem here?


Nothing is masked in that? It sounds to me pretty straightforward. The issue with that is content - the attempt to make you work late without good reason. There is no way to phrase the above to make it sounds good.

At least it sounds honest. The reason for late work is emotional (as often is) rather then rational reaction to unexpected business need.


Here's how the boss could deal with the same situation without sounding like a weasel:

"You're the only person we have who is able to fix these bugs, and if you don't fix them we'll go out of business. I need you to stay late until this backlog is cleared because if you don't, half our clients will drop us at the next renewal. I will make it up to you in your next performance evaluation."

(Substitute whatever urgent problem has lead to needing someone to work overtime.)


But that's not true, the idea that a company will go out of business if one person doesn't work overnight is simply and factually false.

The business desires that a person to work overtime to reduce costs, avoid hiring additional staff, etc... not because it's an existential threat.


>the idea that a company will go out of business if one person doesn't work overnight is simply and factually false.

If you don't think that can happen, you don't know much about startup chaos. :-)

I agree with your implication, though, that when there is no need for the employee to work overtime, there is no right way to ask them to work overtime.


I am the sole founder of a startup that is now 10 years old and prior to this I've worked at 3 other startups either as a founder or CTO, so I think I know something about it.

At no point would I ever allow the existence of my company to rely on a single individual. That is simply irresponsible.


>That is simply irresponsible.

Then we agree, because we both know that people often do things that seem irresponsible in hindsight. It is especially common in business situations that require a lot of diverse expertise, in which case having any redundancy at all could mean doubling the size of your workforce. It is easier when you're talking about pure software, but even then a nontechnical founder could allow two programmers to segregate their responsibilities without realizing it was happening.

The thing about advice is it's easy to say, "don't get in to that situation," but every day managers wake up in that situation. If your startup grows enough, some of your own managers might find themselves waking up in that situation.


We do not agree because this is a matter of assigning causal relevance to a company failure and my position is that the causal relevance you're assigning is irresponsible and results in bad decision making and hence is wrong/invalid. If you are in charge of a business, it is invalid to assign causal relevance to a business failure over a single individual who does not work overtime.

A similar situation would be assigning causal relevance to an intern deleting the production database on a company failure. Based on how you're viewing the situation, it seems like you think that would be a plausible explanation to hold; certainly interns have deleted production databases by accident before and so certainly it would seem like such an action would cause a company to fail.

My argument is that the intern deleting the database is not the cause of the company failure and has no relevance in understanding the cause of a company failure. It is simply not possible to attribute a corporate failure to an intern deleting a database. The causal reason for the failure would be a failure to protect the production database from an intern.

Similarly it is simply not possible to see a company as failing because someone decided not to work overtime. That is never a criteria that a company failure can be attributed to.

I am confident based on my experience running a successful company that my assignment of causal relevance has stronger explanatory power and results in better judgement than the causal relevance you're assigning.

I would encourage other people looking to run a business to adopt my assignment over the one you're arguing in favor of. The company did not fail because someone didn't work overtime just like the company did not fail because of the intern. The company failed because someone in a position of authority failed to properly allocate resources, failed to have good policies in place to protect production databases, failed to have security policies in place, failed to properly incentivize work, overpromised beyond what could be delivered, or a host of other reasons that have nothing to do with blaming a small group of individuals. This assignment of causal relevance will yield greater insight into how to properly prepare for a vast array of scenarios and also appreciate the risks involved in running a business and strategies to mitigate those risks.


What you say about the ultimate root cause analysis of a company failure is spot-on.

However, if production is down regardless of root cause, having engineers work overtime to bring it back up is probably overwhelmingly the right thing for the situation.

If they don’t and the company fails, it’s not because they didn’t work overtime (agreeing with you), but it would have been better if the downtime was 8 hours rather than 3.5 days (what I think whatshisface is saying).


No, not even in startups.


I don't understand your skepticism, if a deadline is in a contract, and the company is not heading towards meeting that deadline, someone has to speed up or else the client will be lost, or worse the penalty clauses will kick in. I think you're imagining B2C SAAS startups when making that assertion.

If your EULA indemnifies you from failure to provide service, and investor capital indemnifies you from failure to get revenue, then yeah it doesn't really matter what the engineers do - but that's hardly a universal principle of business.


Overworking people dont get you faster releases. It is magical thinking. This just feel good like doing something, but that is is.

Also, if you are really in this situation, you already lost, because mo way this late night code wont be complete crap. So you might just start prioritizing and negotiating now rather then later.


You mean, by lying? By pretending there is crisis that dont exists? This is way more manipulative and unethical.

You completely changed the reason for overtime.


It's only lying if you copy and paste the HN comment without following the last instruction:

(Substitute whatever urgent problem has lead to needing someone to work overtime.)

Obviously if there's no reason for them to work overtime, you won't be able to find a reason for them to work overtime, but then instead of asking, you should... not ask.


By the sound of original statement, the reason is the idea of teamwork and clearing all planned tickets.

It is completely absurd to change the situation into completely different one and then complain the original statement dont fit it.


The idea of teamwork and clearing all planned tickets aren't reasons to work overtime. Teamwork in isolation, $0. Tickets on the tracker, $0 in and of themselves. There must be some other reason behind suddenly caring more about the tickets than the manager did when making staffing decisions in the months leading up to the crisis, otherwise it wouldn't be an issue.


That is naive. If you try to say no to overtime, you will find they will just fire email they did not felt like writing.

And yes, there are managers who think common overtime to make fake deadline is good teambuilding.


If you want to handle abuses of NVC, then learn some NVC!

To begin with, a fundamental principle of NVC is that when you make a request, you cannot expect the other person to agree to the request and if you are frustrated when they decline (let alone show frustration), then you were not making a request, but a demand masked as a request. As such, call them out on it! His behavior that you're describing is literally something the book says is a violation of NVC.

Given that context, NVC is not an appropriate way to communicate an order/demand. No matter the words you use: If it's a demand, it's not NVC by definition.

So respond NVC style:

"When you say your need is to work as a team, I am confused as I do not understand how that is a need. Would you be willing to expand on that?"

Or even more boldly:

"When you say your need is to work as a team, I am confused as that sounds like a evaluation/judgement/narrative and not a need. Would you be willing to clarify your need?"

(Judgements are a fundamental violation of NVC. If he's trying to manipulate you this way, call them out on it)

"When I work late to finish the tickets, I am [exhausted/dissatisfied/insert-feeling-here] as I need rest. Would you explain what will go wrong if these tickets are addressed tomorrow?"

The other NVC lesson I'd like you all to learn is that it is very explicit:

You are not responsible for other's feelings.

If your perception is the other party is offloading feelings on to you because they use NVC, understand that NVC itself tells you not to be burdened by it. The ideal is that you respond to people's feelings out of a sense of compassion, not out of obligation. And you're never wrong if you ignore their feelings (it's merely not ideal to do so).


Interesting, what's your objection to that? Seems like a reasonable way to make a request to me. Also seems reasonable to agree to or deny the request.


Not the parent, but my objection to that would be that your feelings are yours to handle, not me. And for this kind of request, saying that you feel disappointed because I don't have time to finish the tickets will definitely backfire, with a "you should adjust your expectations", and using emotion talk in this context will immediately frame the talk as manipulative.


Anytime a manager/boss brings up "needing to work as a team" as a reason to stay late is a subtle threat of losing your job if you don't do OT.


Would it then be preferable for the manager to be more direct and assertive and state "In order to continue being employed here, you will need you to work overtime."

To me there needs to be a differentiation between communication style, and consequence. If it is the case that your job is at risk unless you work late nights, is it preferable to be direct about it, use assertive language, or is it preferable to use NVC, and express ones feelings and other details that form some sense of empathy?


My personal objection is that it purposely confuses things.

It's worded in a way that connects declining with not being a team player. Obviously that's an intentional construction and to some people it makes perfect sense. It also is emotionally manipulative because it intentionally seeks to manipulate the receivers emotional state so that they comply. Some people will comply to resolve that discomfort. The inherent power imbalance distorts the situation.

It also confuses the language of personal relationships (affective statements) with the workplace. To me, this is in the same realm as getting employees to view the workplace as a family. Again it hijacks the our relationship cognition centers in order to engage in exploitation. Declining in a regular relationship has regular relationship consequences. Declining this kind of statement from a boss has livelihood consequences.

The solution in the workplace? Just say it plainly. Bringing NVC into the workplace is fertile ground for emotional manipulation.


Agreed.

Communication in the workplace should revolve around shared goals leading to shared rewards.

"Let's impress this client with a great product so we can all get big performance bonuses from the profits made from closing the sale."

I think that's all the emotional connection the vast majority of employees are looking for in their jobs.


If I heard this, I would think that those words are coming either from a sociopath or from a very socially inept person who read a self-help book. There are probably cultural differences in how it's perceived but it sounds so fake, forced and manipulative that it would make me put my defences up immediately.


I agree with GP here, it's much better to simply commit to transparent and candid communication, without forcing people into some preset paradigm that may not fit at all with their communication style. If a pre-requisite for NVC communication is trust and the application of hanlon's razor in any case, I don't see how adding it to the equation improves upon just letting people hash it out in the way that jives best with their personalities.

Even calling it "non-violent communication" implies that more direct styles of communication are "violent", and veers towards manipulative exclusion of your peers.

The reason NVC is "a hard skill to cultivate" is because it's an unnatural method designed to suppress candor and transparency in favor of feel-good vibes, the interpersonal equivalent of corporate "synergy".


The method being called "non-violent communication" is a self referential intention for people practicing it to hopefully commit to communicate in a non-violent way. It is not making an interpretation or judgment on other communication styles which may or may not be violent. By calling itself "non-violent communication" it is in no way saying that all other communication styles are violent.

I have seen and felt NVC is a hard skill to cultivate because it takes good will, patience, and a lot of introspection to learn. From the speakers side they have to be aware of their feelings in the first place, and then additionally what needs are prompting those feelings, to even start to be able to communicate that. Even learning the gamut of feeling words and types of needs is an eye opener. And then on top of that is when listening to others, the practice of hearing their feelings and needs even when they might not communicate it in a clearly non-violent way. It seems the key is valuing the relationship between the people communicating and having an intention of openness, honesty, and genuineness even if you might in the end agree to disagree.

If one party does not want to participate then there isn't necessarily space to communicate this way. And either party can choose to remove themselves and not participate and, that is ok.


> From the speakers side they have to be aware of their feelings in the first place, and then additionally what needs are prompting those feelings, to even start to be able to communicate that.

This is exactly my point in terms of exclusion, by enforcing such a communication style you would effectively shut down this discussion (depending on the people involved) before it even begins.

My argument is that intentions of "openness, honesty, and genuineness" (in other words, transparency, candor, and trust) are by themselves enough to establish effective communication without requiring a framework that potentially shuts people out.


> This is exactly my point in terms of exclusion, by enforcing such a communication style you would effectively shut down this discussion (depending on the people involved) before it even begins.

If you've ever read the NVC book, you would realize that the notion of "enforcing an NVC communication style" is fundamentally an oxymoron.


Sure, but I’m talking about the corporate world, where these ideologies are enforced in via policy and mandatory trainings.

From the Wikipedia article that started this thread:

“CNVC certifies trainers who wish to teach NVC in a manner aligned with CNVC's understanding of the NVC process.[64] CNVC also offers trainings by certified trainers.”


I'm quite aware of the NVC trainers/certification. I'm pro-NVC, but I recommend everyone to stay away from the "NVC cult", which includes such folks.

I did not realize, however, that you had corporations utilizing them formally. That would really suck. Very reminiscent of agile vs Agile (TM). NVC is valuable only if you accept its principles - the NVC template alone is of little use. Mandating people communicate this way is very anti-NVC.

The book is quite good. The local chapters in many cities are definitely not good. They'll usually embellish and add a lot to the content in the book, and a lot of it sucks. I too would be very put off by NVC if my primary exposure had been through them.


> Even calling it "non-violent communication" implies that more direct styles of communication are "violent", and veers towards manipulative exclusion of your peers.

The increasing use of the word "violence" to describe clearly non-violent things greatly disturbs me.

It could lead to people reacting more strongly to words than literal, physical violence. And I think that is a very very bad direction for society to go.


I agree that NVC isn't best for all scenarios and it can feel unnatural, but I don't understand how it's not transparent. To me, I think telling someone about your feelings and needs requires a great deal of transparency and vulnerability. I see it as very directly conveying what the issue is, why it's an issue, and how one can help solve that issue.

One issue with "candid conversation" that NVC tries to address is that the language we use can often imply blame or thrust the onus of your emotions onto someone else, even when not intended. NVC provides a more standard framework for working out issues while reducing the likelihood that your intentions are misinterpreted.


> it's much better to simply commit to transparent and candid communication

As your responses show, what constitutes transparency and candor is widely disputed, given that NVC is fundamentally about transparency and candor. It seems you're confusing a (suggested, but not required) template with intent. The template can be used for anything good or bad. The NVC book isn't about the template, but the principles.

I've spent most of my life holding your view on this. Be direct. Don't take it personal. Etc. And my life's experiences showed me that merely committing to this is insufficient. Being well intentioned, and transparent, and candid, is not sufficient for effective communication, because there are usually barriers that prevent the other party from processing your words, no matter how clear or precise they are. What every communication book (not just NVC) teaches are methods to make it easier for the other party to listen to you. And in most cases you cannot do that without addressing the emotional aspect of humans.

I would often "excuse" myself by realizing that I've been quite unambiguous and clear, and if the other person doesn't understand it, they are the problem. In reality, I was merely accepting that I do not want to improve my communication.


I'm confused by how there can be 'violent speech', I don't believe there can be. I believe there can be aggression, but I do not think there can be physical damage done by words alone.

The paranoid in me ponders if this abuse of terminology is part of an effort to classify speech as violence, meaning that something that 'hurts the feelings' is classified as assault.


"violent speech" is commonly understood to refer to speech which threatens or incites physical violence, what has commonly been referred to by courts as "incitement to imminent lawless action" or "fighting words."


> But I often see NVC abused as passive aggressive manipulation as opposed to open communication.

That's because it is a passive aggressive framework. Violence is primarily a physical concept, and made use as as a relational metaphor with varying degrees of internal consistency.

For example when one is being "violent" in a communication, what is it that they are actually violating? If you're in violation of a narcissistic other's grandiose self-image, are you really being violent? Is saying stop to an abuser without 'I feel' statements being violent? Aren't I-feel statements at best saving your particular interaction but still enabling such behavior to be put upon the next guy who is not as savvy in such overly nice, "please don't hurt me" tactics?

"Successful communication" frameworks are sold as virtuous, harmonious constructs, but they are really an invention of 21st century to enable getting minimally along with strangers you have to interact. It is a truncated version of human self-expression that helps you survive a day with narcissists of the hyper-individualized social spheres. They don't dare to put any demands of change on the other, and as such maintain the narcissists' arena.

Real virtuousness would include the possibility of being courageous to say "hey, that's wrong!", a correction which many others who interact with the corrected would benefit. Unlike NVC it would have a skin-in-the-game, lets-be-better telos. In such a setting, pathological characters wouldn't bubble up to top, and people wouldn't need to constantly pay the NVC tax.

If you've seen the movie A Quiet Place, it perfectly exemplifies this. People don't coordinate and speak up to throw the monsters off, they just auto-censor themselves more than the other guy, and in the end reduced to bare survival.


"It's about coercing people into changing their behavior..."

Isn't that the point?


NVC is a very good tool for solving communication problems and I think it is definitely worth practicing. However, it is not always easy, as it requires that we identify and express our _feelings_ correctly.

In the example you described, there is a problem in that you are _not really_ saying a feeling. "I feel that our relationship is transactional..." is not a feeling. The rule being: when you start with "I feel like ..." then you are not naming a feeling. This is the most difficult part as we are not used to talking with actual feelings (I am certainly not). For the case your described, one option could be to state it like this: "(1) When you put so much pressure on me, (2) I feel discouraged/uncomfortable, (3) because I need work relationships that are more than purely transactional. (4) Would you mind trying to do X next time?". And then you have the four required steps of NVC :)

(I literally need to look at a list with words that are feelings to try to see which is the one that corresponds for the situation when it goes beyond happy, angry or sad.)

(*edited some typos)


agree. That's what I meant that I knew was imperfect would have done differently :) It's often hard to find words for feelings. Sadly I didn't have as much time to prep to think (and really feel) what I was feeling as much as I'd like.


I really can't stand talking to people who frame everything in terms of how it makes them feel or other emotional responses. IDK why but it just seems like such a cop-out. Say what you mean, and don't try to get what you want by guilt-tripping and psychobabble.


You're going to get an emotional response whether you acknowledge it or not, and often times, such miscomunication results in anger/escalation of the misunderstanding. "You're rude" vs "I feel like what you said to me was rude" will elicit different responses; the former is likely to trigger self-defense or the listener taking offense, whereas the latter is a statement of opinion that does not escalate.

Non-violent communication is how diplomacy gets done, as the stakes are often very high.


I disagree. Prefacing statements with "I feel" only acts to highlight the subjectivity of the statement which makes it much easier for the offending party to dismiss in practice.

"That statement was rude" makes the speaker consider their statement from their own perspective vs "I feel like that statement was rude" which causes the speaker consider whether the other party rationally feels that way. If the speaker doesn't see the offended party as a rational individual, then any statement like that will automatically be dismissed.

IMO this underscores the biggest failing of NVC - it requires both parties to abide by it. If the speaker does and has an adequate level of EQ to actually successfully use it, then they would most likely take you feelings into account even if you aren't using NVC so there's no benefit. Conversely, if they don't use it or see the benefits of EQ, explicitly adding "I feel" before every statement isn't going to achieve anything except annoying the speaker while they dismiss your feedback just as quickly as they would have anyways. Ironically, NVC strikes me as a way to _feel_ like you're communicating more effectively without much or any net positive impact on the receiving end, which doesn't seem worth it to me.


I appreciate how you highlighted two things: 1) about how it can lead to disagreement and 2) how NVC seems to require both sides to participate.

For the first one, I agree with you in that if someone says to me "I feel like (or believe or worse, know) that statement was rude," I can quickly jump into a defensive mode, "Well I believe it wasn't," and reach a stalemate. I, however, also can jump into that mode when someone says to me "that statement was rude" because I 1) may not believe it or 2) find an example of someone who doesn't believe it and then am likely to start to argue. This is why I try to avoid labeling things with these adjectives and try to dig more deeply into how I'm feeling internally.

About two, with the two-way participation of NVC I strongly agree and have found it be one of the things that frustrates me the most about it, both on the receiving and giving side of it. On receiving, I feel forced, stuck, nudged, coerced, whatever, into playing the games even if I don't want to. On the giving side, I feel stuck if the other person won't play and then can feel frustrated and passively try to trick them into playing.

This is why I really like adding another step, whereas step 1 is to say how I feel, step 2 is to tell them how I imagine they might be feeling and then step 3 is to say one thing to connect with love. I've found that even if the other person isn't playing, I can consider how I'm feeling, consider how they're feeling, and feel closer to them.


Saying something like "I feel that statement is rude" goes against the entire point of "I" statements. You are supposed to connect a specific action of theirs with the emotional reaction it caused in you. "Feeling a statement is rude" isn't you expressing an emotion or feeling, its you expressing an opinion.

A more valid way phrase it would "When you say $statement, it makes me feel $emotion/feeling", where x is an actual emotion or feeling, like angry/upset/disappointed/disrespected/worthless/don't care about me/etc.


I agree that those two statements can elicit different responses. I try to take the latter statement even closer to expressing myself. Instead of saying "I believe what you did is rude" I'll try to say "When you did that thing, I felt angry or if I'm more honest, sad."

I wrote a post on this back in the day calling it the subjective adjective, basically that when we use adjectives, often it carries an objective nature to it, aka "everyone believes this is the description" and even if you were to say to me "I believe what you did was rude" I may lock in on "rude" and forget it was your perspective. I may even ignore your emphasis on what I did and put it who I am. "This person is calling me rude!" Even though you weren't.

So I try as much as I can, especially in conflict scenarios, to avoid using adjectives about them or their actions and more so to use adverbs (I think?) about how I'm feeling.

"You're rude" to "I believe what you did is rude" to "I felt hurt when you did that."


> "I feel like what you said to me was rude" will elicit different responses

People responded negatively to you for good reason. Your statement above violates a fundamental NVC principle: Namely that you pretended to describe a feeling when you intended a judgement. It is precisely this that makes people think you're being manipulative.


> "You're rude" vs "I feel like what you said to me was rude" will elicit different responses

No it won't. They both mean exactly the same thing.

If anything, the second one will elicit a more hostile response, as the person being addressed will believe you are trying to manipulate them by obfuscating your language.


While I agree with your overall point, there is a middle third option that doesn't involve labeling someone as rude. Drop the "I feel" and just say "what you said was rude".

Being labeled often requires a defensive response as it has a sense of permanence associated with it. Temporally, it is different from describing an action as rude.


“I am X” vs “I am feeling X” are very different statements.

The first leans more toward describing to attribute as permanent, while the second is more explicit that it is a temporary state.


I think for me I get frustrated when it seems too formulaic. I think that tends to happen a lot when people use NVC, it seems as if they are very strictly following a pattern.

For example, I started this by saying how I felt but not so cookie-cutter and even your statement of "I really can't stand" communicated to me how you were feeling but again, not so rigidly in the format of "I feel X."

Does that align with what you're saying?


I'm having trouble connecting:

> I really can't stand talking to people who frame everything in terms of how it makes them feel or other emotional responses.

With:

> don't try to get what you want by guilt-tripping

Why do you think an expression of emotion is tied to guilt-tripping. When someone tells you "I'm really annoyed at my boss for giving me last minute work", who is being guilt-tripped?


This is spot-on, tbh, and helps communication in many walks of life, but, and this is important: the “with trusted people” is paramount. This sort of conversation requires, as you mention, the assumption that both parties have only the best intent.

I’ve run into a lot of people where that is decidedly untrue; they did not have the best intentions in mind.

But also, I think this is orthogonal to assertiveness. Sometimes simply learning to say “no” when you’re overwhelmed or too busy, alone, is a great habit to build. How to do it gets easier with time, and how to communicate it does too.


> I’ve run into a lot of people where that is decidedly untrue; they did not have the best intentions in mind.

The manipulative nature of "NVC" is precisely one of my triggers for assuming that someone does not have best intentions in mind. They're out to get something for themselves, and I'm being hoodwinked into agreeing to it.


If you view NVC as manipulative, isn't all communication manipulative? Can you give an example of expressing yourself during a conflict that wouldn't be manipulative?


Always excited to hear about another person who sees the value in NVC. I've got the books on my shelf and periodically have to re-read them (and I always cringe at having to re-train myself because it is such a hard initial effort!). It is a great framework, and even better if the audience or recipient is familiar with it.

> I didn't do it perfectly (this is a hard skill to cultivate). But... we left with a better way to communicate.

Sounds like you did just fine! The framework allows you to at least identify people who reject this type of communication, because not everyone is open to it.


I absolutely love NVC and found this to be a great primer: https://medium.com/s/please-advise/the-essential-guide-to-di...

However, NVC mainly talks about _giving_ constructive criticism, not about _receiving unconstructive_ one and I still missed that piece for my own assertiveness until I recently found something that clicked with me on that part:

I got some great insights from the book "When I say No, I feel guilty" that were especially easy to put in practice and helped me to massively boost my own assertiveness and to me is an extremely valuable extension to NVC on dealing with attacks on the own assertiveness.

The book goes into much more detail, but I can sum up the essence in just three paragraph here:

You have the fundamental right to be your own judge on everything. That includes being wrong, illogical or changing your opinion. Now how do you put that in practice if someone wants to impress their opinion on you?

First, stay calm, friendly and agree with something that they said — and if that something is just their own feeling! (They call it "fogging" as if trying to hit a fog bank)

Second, calmly stay with your opinion. ("broken record"). Don't stop until the other side has given up. Never explode, never yell. And that's already it.

I found that combo to be extremely effective in practice, because you don't actually give any attack surface. Here's a sample dialogue:

A: I think you should go to bed earlier, otherwise you get wrinkles. B: I agree it's good to go to bed early, but I don't want to. A: Come on, wrinkles would be ugly on you! B: I see how you might feel that way, but I don't want to. A: It would make me very sad to see you with wrinkles. B: I appreciate you caring for my appearance, but I don't want to. [...]

Obviously hair-pulled example, but you get the picture.

Works A-OK for me, it quickly entered my daily conversation.


I find that in reading your example, if I imagine myself as person A, I might start to get really annoyed. When I read "I agree it's good to go to bed early, but I don't want to" I feel suspicious that you agree it's good to go to bed early. When I read "I see how you might feel that way, but I don't want to" I feel lots of pain arise from past "I'm sorry if you feel that way" kinds of responses. When I read "I appreciate you caring for my appearance, but I don't want to" I start to doubt whether you appreciate that I care for your appearance. I guess the overall pattern is that sometimes when I sense someone's emotions underneath and they don't say them first, I'm often not listening/trusting what they say about me first, waiting for the grand reveal of the bad news.

That all being said, I can imagine it might work in standing firm on your ground and doing what you want to do. I just wonder the impact it has on the other person and how that might influence how they respond to you then or in the future.

I think when someone repeats the same thing over and over to me I can also feel that pain, maybe it's the "because I said so" re-emerging from my childhood that used to drive me so crazy.

Lastly, when I read "stay calm and friendly" and "calmly state your opinion" I imagine that, especially in conflict scenarios like this, I wouldn't be able to do so. When someone guilt trips me, I feel guilty and sometimes telling myself to "stay calm" doesn't work at all, because I feel even more guilty/frustrated.

Are you able to stay calm in the 1st and 2nd steps? And if so, how?


Was this a work colleague? If so, isn't your relationship transactional and just part of a larger transactional relationship. That between each of you and your employer.


Human relationships just can't be boiled down to a single term in that way. My relationship with the cashier at the grocery store is obviously transactional, yet we can interact in a variety of ways, and how we do so will affect how we feel, how satisfied we are with {the job|the store}, etc. There's always room for two people in an interaction to be more or less trusting, compatible, enjoyable, etc.


Honestly when you boil it down, almost all relationships we have are transactional to some degree (money, emotionally, physically...). Unconditional love is very hard.


Wtf you're coworkers. The relationship will always be, at its core, transactional. People should be nice, but nice doesn't mean the relationship isn't transactional. Someone nice can still fire you at a moment's notice.


Unfortunately, I generally find that NVC comes off as patronizing in almost all circumstances where there is real conflict that has consequences.

"I understand that you're feeling <X> because I did <Y>." generally comes off as "I disagree and I'm dismissing you." It's in the same class as "We're just going to have to agree to disagree." which is simply a polite "Fuck off and deal."

If I'm angry and tell you "You did <Y> and that made me angry. Give me a good reason why you did that or don't do <Y> again." I better hear "I'm sorry. I won't do <Y> again." or "I thought I had good reason <Z> to do <Y>." We probably are going to get into a discussion about whether <Z> is a good reason, and it may be heated. That's life.

If I hear "I'm sorry you're angry" you've probably just ratcheted my angry up a notch. In addition, I've now placed you in the "passive aggressive" category and will now deal with you as if that is your default stance--ie backstabbing manipulator.


> "You did <Y> and that made me angry. Give me a good reason why you did that or don't do <Y> again". I better hear "I'm sorry. I won't do <Y> again." or "I thought I had good reason <Z> to do <Y>."

This is horrible communication.

I did Y, but I did not make you angry. You became angry. There's a huge distinction. Instead of taking ownership of your anger, you are blaming someone else for it.

Instead of understanding and explaining why you became angry, you're making demands of me. You are demanding an explanation from me and/or a change of my behavior yet commit to nothing on your side - not even an explanation of your (likely misplaced) anger.

You are forcing the conversation into a very narrow template (either explain or apologize). Some will perceive this as "manipulative", even though in reality it's just a sign you do not know how to handle such situations with any sort of grace.

> If I hear "I'm sorry you're angry" you've probably just ratcheted my angry up a notch. In addition, I've now placed you in the "passive aggressive" category and will now deal with you as if that is your default stance--ie backstabbing manipulator.

If you're going to so easily categorize folks, you are confining yourself to an eternity of misunderstandings, with yourself being the primary culprit.

There's a reason all communications books that I've read emphasize introspection and understanding your own motives and emotions. Your communications skills will not improve if you jump to conclusions like this.


I dunno that I would rush to call it a virtue. It's def a valuable skill to have so you can defend yourself and others against bullies. But it also empowers YOU to be a bully or blowhard, so it's a double edged sword. Yes, assertiveness is a virtue in the hands of a mature, responsible, and benevolent person - but it's a disaster in the hands of an immature, uncivilized, or unscrupulous one. Martial arts come to mind


You are confusing assertiveness with aggression. Being assertive is a reaction to a stimulus (asserting a boundary), not the stimulus itself (pushing the boundary). The latter case, which is what you describe, is aggressive. There are two other interaction types: passive, and passive-aggressive. Only one of the four is healthy (generally).


I've always maintained that

Assertive = Aggressive + On my Team

You are assertive if the community around you thinks you are justified in asking for your way, and aggressive if they feel you are unjustified. We perceive our allies as assertive and our opponents as aggressive.

The GP is correct that "assertiveness" training gives someone tools which are equally useful in defending against a bully as they are in bullying. It's really just rudimentary influence training in the vein of Carnegie or Cialdini, and people can be influenced for ill just as they can be influenced for good.


You can invent whatever definition you like, but no one will understand you.

There have been a number of replies to my comment complaining that assertive is the same aggressive, but they are wrong by definition. Aggression is based on hate and anger, and assertiveness is effectively being self-confident. That's literally the definition, and you don't like it. I have no idea why without mind-reading.

If someone says they are acting assertive but are being aggressive, then guess what: that person is being aggressive. You don't redefine assertive.

I'm amazed at how many people want to redefine assertiveness. I have no idea why. It's like saying "up" is "down". It is literally nonsensical. Why does it threaten them so much? It is causing them to act in a totally non assertive, passive-aggressive why by whining about definitions.

Perhaps some people have such low self-esteem they can't handle it when they encounter someone with confidence and point their fingers shouting "aggression!!!!"


Hmmmm, if you say so


Read the article, there are paragraphs that explain why it's called a virtue.


Oxford defines virtue as "behavior showing high moral standards." I think assertiveness only conditionally falls into this category.

First, as noted above, assertion to one can be aggression to another, thus questionable high moral standards. However, if both parties agree it's not aggressive, then is it indeed morally good to be assertive? To me, morally good is a higher bar than simply being non-aggressive.

I think if virtue is defined on moral grounds, assertiveness is not consistently enough placed into that category.


> , assertion to one can be aggression to another,

Not if you understand what the two words mean.

"assertiveness" - the quality of expressing opinions or desires in a strong and confident way, so that people take notice

"aggression" - feelings of anger and hate that may result in threatening or violent behaviour.

Edit: removed 92% of snark.


The problem is those aren't mutually exclusive and it all comes down to personal perception. An asshole thinks he is just being strong and confident, NBD! Even a kind assertive person can become aggressive after amygdala hijack during an opinionated debate. Like myself once stupidly arguing Pavarotti is a superior singer to McCartney, lol I cringe now at how impassioned and rude I became.

Others may perceive this "assertive" behavior as angry or threatening. So, even with those definitions, Jobs for instance would be considered both assertive and aggressive.

So, labeling assertiveness as good or bad morally: IMO, it's conditional.


I feel this may be an issue of semantics. To my understanding, in the NVC literature, once you start being aggressive, you are no longer being assertive - you are being aggressive. IE, they are not overlapping subsets.

This is conceptually similar to the idea of addiction. Physical dependency is one component, but the definition I'm most familiar with is that it becomes an addition (instead of use/misuse) once it has a significant negative impact on your life.

YMMV, but wanted to see if I could jump in to help clear up. It's not a comment on your definition, btw - just the context of the discussion.


I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. For example, one can express their hatred of a ethnic minority group in a strong and confident way such that people take notice, which by your definitions could qualify as assertive and aggressive.


Why are you so scared of this topic? You are trying so, so very hard to make assertive = aggressive. Maybe you should reflect a little bit on why you are trying to force a narrative so hard? Perhaps this is a touchy spot for you.


Interestingly, the author uses the Aristotelian sense of virtue as moderation between extremes.

> So, tact is a virtue, which we find on a spectrum between the vices of dishonesty and brutal honesty. Courage lies between recklessness and cowardice. Friendliness lies between surliness and obsequiousness.

But unless I missed it, she fails to name the vices between which assertiveness lies.


Between Aggression — Passivity ?


Those are too broad to be the extremes of assertiveness.

It would be something like 'Rigid / inflexible refusal to accommodate' and 'Total Accomodation irrespective of impact to personal objectives'.

Yea, we need a single word for both of those for it to be more virtue-like


As with other words like "frankness" and "ambition," some people use it to mean the right amount, applied appropriately, and other people use it to mean too much, abused.

I agree with what you say about the dangers of assertiveness, but I think the picture also has to include the problems caused by lack of assertiveness. People who lack assertiveness often think it's only their problem, but it creates problems for the people around them, too. Their boss has to worry that they'll end up working on the wrong things and that the problems they discover won't get the proper attention. Their friends and family have to put in special effort to figure out how they really feel about things, and they have to partially mute their own personalities to avoid steamrolling them. There is an ideal amount of assertiveness in every situation, often difficult to get exactly right, which is why it can be seen as a virtue.


It's a virtue because it maintains balance between the two extremes of passiveness and aggressiveness. If you're being bully and a blowhard, then you're clearly being aggressive, not assertive.


My most upvoted comment is some bullshit I said off of two coffees and no breakfast without even reading the article first. Hell I hadn't even clicked the link.

Rep count on this site is worthless lol


“Tact is a virtue that we find somewhere on the spectrum of dishonesty and brutal honesty.”

I like the thought, but I don’t think it’s that simple.

More like tact is mindful honesty. The tactful statement may in fact be more honest than the brutally honest statement, because it has examined the raw feeling and mined some kind of actionable/constructive information from it.

That may be an obvious distinction for most, but as someone who struggles with tact, it’s been valuable for me to recognize that the most honest statement is one that’s been really thought through for context and impact.

Tact, for me, is the act of adding why and how to an honest feeling before expressing it.


100% agree, tact does not require dishonesty. At the same time, honesty does not require saying everything you think to everyone within earshot. Brutal honesty: Your eyebrows look awful shaved off. Tact : Those eyebrows are very unique. Dishonesty : Your eyebrows look great shaved off.


Slight disagreement - tact is not mentioning the eyebrows at all. That way you're not being even slightly false. "Those eyebrows look very unique" reads as passive aggression.


“Those eyebrows are tickling my brain’s facial recognition systems” would be my mindful take on the thought, though yeah, unless you’re asked...


Ha, that's true, I was thinking in the context of if they asked what is the most tactful response


I think "brutally honest" is often more like "brutally honest judgment." I guess I see the word honest and honesty more as openly expressing what is happening inside of me, often more related to feelings. Whereas I see people use the term "brutal honesty" often when they are about to 1) use the external orientation (2nd- or 3rd-person pronouns) and 2) make a negative judgment. E.g., "I'm gonna be brutally honest, that hat is ugly/your works sucks/you're super lazy." I think it tends to be more brutal and less honest. I'd see honest as "I don't like your hat/I wouldn't invest in your work/I'm frustrated by how little you're doing."

I like your definition of tact and appreciate you highlighting this distinction, it's helping me to pause and reflect more on the terms I use and how I use them. Thank you!


When people see they can't push you, or can't counterargue your point, they play the good manners card "you are being brutally honest".


I think that if someone's honesty tends to be brutal more then occasionally, then it says a lot about that person. There is no reason to assume that honesty must imply primary negative statements.

Also, I think that a lot of what people call "brutal honesty" is often dishonest statement meant to cause maximum discomfort. "Brutal honesty" is often exaggeration of what is wrong rather then honest description.


“I don’t like it” is a child’s statement. It is almost never calculated, and I strongly disagree with the assertion that anyone’s trying to cause discomfort.

As someone who has said some really hurtful things, I can’t tell you how much it pains me to have my thoughtlessness mistaken for cruelty.

I recognize it’s not someone else’s job to be understanding of my thoughtlessness, which is why I must employ mindfulness at all times.

I’m also 100% sure that some people come wired for tact, and some don’t.

My son is laser focused on the feelings of others, like my wife, while my daughter is totally oblivious, like me.


I have yet to see anyone classify "I don’t like it” as "brutal honesty".

> As someone who has said some really hurtful things, I can’t tell you how much it pains me to have my thoughtlessness mistaken for cruelty.

If it was throughtless or innacure, dont call it honesty then. It is not honesty no matter how brutal.

And yes, people do say hurtful untrue things on purpose. Or they just say them, but then they insist on them knowing it was throughtless.


I'm speaking in the context of tact. When someone is being tactless, they are communicating to achieve a goal without regard for the social implications of said communication.

The tactlessness has no relationship with the underlying honesty of the goal, though it makes the communication itself less honest.


A great place to practice assertiveness is at home.

If an unsolicited person knocks on your door, to sell you a product or a religion, here’s your chance. It’s your sandbox. Assert your right to privacy.

Same if you get junk mail in your mailbox that prominently displays a sign “NO JUNK MAIL”. Call them. Ask to speak to the person who put illegal advertising in your mailbox. When they blame it on the deliverer, say “Do you realise you are legally responsible for any illegal action you pay someone else to perform?”

Awkward questions are a great way to be assertive. You never have to be rude - just persist with questions that have revealing answers.


> Same if you get junk mail in your mailbox that prominently displays a sign “NO JUNK MAIL”. Call them. Ask to speak to the person who put illegal advertising in your mailbox. When they blame it on the deliverer, say “Do you realise you are legally responsible for any illegal action you pay someone else to perform?”

Asking barbed, rhetorical questions to a stranger over the phone isn't "being assertive", especially when the person you're speaking to most likely has little to no control over the thing you are complaining about.

To quote The Big Lebowski: "You're not wrong, Walter. You're just an asshole!"


Why would anyone do that to someone who has little or no control over the thing they are complaining about? That would be a waste of everybody's time.

First, ask for the name of the person responsible for the thing you want to talk about. Then ask to speak to that person by name.


The story in the article about not knowing how to conclude a conversation reminds me of a tip my brother-in-law gave me. He is a teacher, though a bit introverted, and he said he had problems wrapping up conversations during parent-teacher meetings. Some people just couldn't take a hint. Then he found that by saying, "Ok!" , while simultaneously slapping his palms on his lap (as if about to get up) would jolt everyone into wrap-up mode. I've tried this, and it mostly works. People respond to nonverbal communication (which is apparently more effective than verbal) quite well.


Yes! Reminds me of how my great uncle used to talk and talk and talk after family reunions until one time, I sat there and I think did exactly that, I slapped my hands on my lap, said, "Ok! I'm tired, I'm gonna head to sleep." And he seemed to snap out of his story and we all got up to go to bed. I had been feeling frustrated because he just kept going and my parents had been falling asleep but no one said anything.

I agree nonverbals can often help by themselves or even as a starter to more verbal communication in these situations. Thanks for posting this :-)

*edit: and my great uncle wasn't trying to harm us, he just liked to talk and probably just got caught up in the moment, not realizing how much he was talking :-)


> Perhaps she’d say: ‘Let me get back to you tomorrow about that,’ or: ‘Ask me again in a week.’

I think that example isn't strong enough to register as assertiveness.

Assertiveness looks something like this:

Someone asked me once if I'd be interested in being the musical director at a church. My response was something like:

"I have zero interest in doing that. You know, before Phyllis died she'd seen me politely brushing off an offer to 'fill in' for the organist for an unspecified number of Sundays, for an unspecified amount of money. Phyllis pulled me aside after that and said, 'Don't you ever take a position with a church. The politics are vicious. They will eat you alive.' It was hilarious at the time but she was absolutely serious and I've taken it to heart."

That typically works because most people in life have been tasked by either circumstances or other people to suggest a course of action or sell you on something. Your assertion actually gives them some relief because they can stop selling. In this case, we immediately switched to gossiping about vicious church politics for the next few minutes.

The difficult thing is to do something like that for the first time. It may feel a bit like jumping out of the plane when skydiving because you have no frame of reference for what will happen next. The key is to reflect ahead of time on a few key preferences you have-- when the time comes, just barrel through and force yourself to make a decision based on that preference. Once done, notice in the aftermath and days after that nothing bad actually happened. It's revelatory-- future moments of low willpower feel like momentary slip ups (or perhaps just reasonable compromises) rather than a complete lack of agency.

Edit: clarification


Your response was sharp for no reason if they weren't responsible for the situation. And too indirect if they were.

"Thanks. But I'm not interested. Someone warned me the politics are vicious. Please don't ask again."


Based on how it reads, your counterexample might sound significantly harsher, especially with the closing sentence.

The original example establishes shared context, evokes empathy and ultimately brings the participants closer; yours in fact increases distance (pro tip: counter-intuitively, “thanks” and “please” very much work to that effect).

From the strength of the original example, of course, comes its weakness: the context, reflection, time, initial degree of familiarity/rapport that it requires mean it can’t possibly help if dozens of [semi-]strangers approach you about the same thing every week. It also assumes that you want to firmly deny the offer, but remain willing to associate in some way with the person making it.


> the context, reflection, time, initial degree of familiarity/rapport that it requires mean it can’t possibly help if dozens of [semi-]strangers approach you about the same thing every week.

The main point is to follow through on actually asserting one's will. "Let me get back to you," doesn't achieve that.

The epiphany of experiencing nothing much happening in response to a bona fide assertion reveals that you can use the same amount of (limited) willpower to have more interactions, and to have more options in those interactions. It is like unlocking new weapons that weren't previously available to you. Even for the Groundhog Day nightmare you mention of strangers approaching about the same thing every week, you have agency to deal with the situation.

Without those advanced weapons, many people overestimate the cost of asserting will as necessarily leading to conflict, judgment, etc. It rarely does, or-- if it isn't rare then someone or some organization is probably abusing you and you're time and you should run to safety before your energy meter gets depleted. :)


Assertiveness fundamentally is just clarity of thought. Everybody has experienced that at one point or another.

Given enough experience or training, you can fake it.

But nothing beats the real thing. Achieve clarity of thought in whatever you do, and assertiveness and other positive traits will follow.

Practicing assertiveness without achieving clarity of thought is just disaster delayed slightly thanks to technique.


Successful assertiveness is a learned skill.

successful assertiveness = speaking up (at the right time, being articulate, tone, etc)

successful assertiveness = being heard (not just speaking)

successful assertiveness = being prioritized (not just bl adding to the noise)

successful assertiveness = not being penalized / oostracized (so next time you're heard+prioritized)

successful != ambition, promotion, raises etc

successful != hurting others


This is definitely true.

I was given assertiveness training when I was a young boy- I had a troubled time and was put through the training with other trouble makers.

It really changed me, I went from being an anxious and shy person to being a generally motivated and quite confident person.

Which, is strange given that assertiveness training is mostly identifying assertive behaviour as it differs from aggressive or non-direct behaviour. It doesn’t (or didn’t) force you to be assertive, but identifying it leads you to understanding that you can _be_ assertive.


Yup. The majority of leaders I know are just average people who are more comfortable being assertive. Often aggressively to shut down nay sayers. Listen in meetings and hear how the people talking are normally not the most correct or the right ones but the most assertive.


Sure, most leaders are bad leaders. They're assertive enough to get promoted but too stupid/ignorant/mean/lazy to actually lead well.

Good leaders, by definition, are the kind of people that will elevate the voices of the non-assertive-but-right people.


Yup. This is often why smaller companies are dominated by poor leaders as well. There may not be many that many other voices and the non assertive people realize they are not being valued and leave or they don't join to begin with.

The later I get in my career the more I realize I care a lot about who my manager will be.


"You can’t stop people making demands on your time and energy, but you can develop the skills to protect yourself..."

Wouldn't it be nice if the article had at least identified those skills?


The article did make a start, when it suggested ‘Let me get back to you tomorrow about that,’ or: ‘Ask me again in a week.’

Are you wondering what comes next?

Perhaps you're dreading being hectored or criticised in response? Don't worry. There are ways to overcome that.

Here's one key paradigm that will make you bulletproof against anyone's unreasonable overture, comment or passive aggression:

"Don't let it in."

How?

Watch this.

If what Marisa Peer says resonates with you at all, watch it over and over again. After a few times, you'll learn the words by heart. A few more times and the emotional intelligence of it will be imprinted on your psyche so effectively, your answer will be automatic. Practice and you will be free.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeDt9dgFXFk&t=18s


From personal experience: I thought my lack of assertiveness came from the lack of self-confidence. But once my self confidence got fixed (which is a whole separate story), it turned out assertiveness is rarely needed. The fine art of not giving a shit trumps all other virtues.


Agreed. Not feeling obligated to care is a valuable way to moderate overreaching requests. This is different than apathy, as it is not a nihilistic impulse. Instead it is a refusal agree to the implicit premise of level of 'importance'.

Some people will be offended at this as not taking their request as seriously as they are but it can be expressed in such a way as to say "No, I'd like to be helpful but I have other priorities which require my attention". Or "No, I'd like to be helpful but this is outside the scope of my responsibilities".


>> The fine art of not giving a shit trumps all other virtues.

That's pretty much where I'm at. Assertiveness might be needed once in a while but if it's some sort of daily thing for you there's probably something not right in your life.

It's like in Caddyshack when Carl thinks the groundskeeper is asking him to kill all the golfers on the course so he has to start to push back a little bit but when he figures out that its just gophers instead of golfers he's OK with it, "We can do that. We don't even need a reason".

That's my attitude towards product managers these days. Sure, we don't even need a reason. They come to me with some poorly thought out unspecced idea that doesn't make much business sense or solve any problem that anyone has ever had, so OK, you know what team? We're gonna ship some fucking code.


I would like to become more assertive but I find that just complying makes the problem go away faster and is easier. I say yes way too often but it s easier often than trying to stand my ground. Assertiveness can work better if you have a position of authority


It might be helpful to think of assertiveness as a communication style rather than a problem-solving method. I like this definition:

>Assertiveness is a communication style where you can express your thoughts and feelings in an open manner that doesn't violate the rights of others.

You can't control how the other person responds or how the situation will play out, but you have the right to be assertive. People who aren't good with assertiveness tend to have lower self-esteem[^1], so if there is a problem assertiveness solves, it is more related to our relationship to ourselves than with any external problem.

[^1]: https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Consumer-Module...


The path to positions of authority is often paved by diligent applications of assertiveness.


Spot on comment. It distills many books on leadership in one sentence. Thank you.


IMO Assertiveness is not a virtue but a behavior.

It's a behavior that is not beneficial for every person. Neurodiversity requires flexibility of social systems in order to thrive and facilitate innovation. When a social system contains a large bias for assertive behavior then the participants of that system may overvalue the behavior and react to individuals that lack assertiveness as lesser (recognition of environmentally favored behaviors.)

When character values are aligned in behavior and attitudes then the assertive behavior can manifest with different motives. In the article the author tells a story of their character decisions when choosing to accomplish their goals through stimulating activity (writing their document with a deadline) or focus their attention on the needs of a member of their group (benevolence and conformity.)

The internal dilemma the author went through was the misalignment of their behavior and motives (cognitive dissonance.)

"But I couldn’t imagine myself saying those things. I wasn’t that sort of person, and everyone knew it."

The author's solution is to focus on protecting themselves (Safety, a conservation life focus.)

"You can’t stop people making demands on your time and energy, but you can develop the skills to protect yourself"

I urge the author to escape the group mentality that feels safe and explore uncomfortable social environments with the objective of increasing awareness of what matters most to them, not just in theory but in practicality.



Thank you for this, I laughed so hard.


I mean I've read some of the Aristotle mentioned, and I think it's a very and unservingly individualistic approach.

The bits that I read took into account your effects on others, but not others' effects on you, aside from the mention of teaching. If we accept that individual virtues are the determining factors of morality, we can't really ask any questions about the effect of others on my own morality, which, in my opinion and experience, is pretty important too. So yeah, be assertive and all, but Aristotle feels like the wrong place to root an analysis of inter-personal interaction.


I would love to see some suggestions on books or videos for assertiveness training. I saw the book suggestion "When I Say No I Feel Guilty" below and would love to hear any others the community has.


Here's a non-Amazon link to a very popular text:

https://www.powells.com/book/nonviolent-communication-978189...

Also, this book is questionable because of certain phrases and perspectives, but I enjoyed it because it is an attempt to boost confidence (another non-Amazon link):

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/no-more-mr-nice-guy-robert-...

I think the author of this book wrote it specifically for angry right-wing types who think therapy is a weakness, because inside the book is hidden messages of self-acceptance and assertiveness wrapped up in tough-guy sounding language.


A few years ago I stumbled on and worked through [this excellent content on assertiveness](https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/Looking-After-You...) offered free of charge by a government health agency in Western Australia. It's includes methods for practical application and prompts for reflection. There are 10 PDF modules:

1. What is Assertiveness? 2. How to Recognise Assertive Behaviour 3. How to Think More Assertively 4. How to Behave More Assertively 5. Reducing Physical Tension 6. How to Say “No” Assertively 7. How to Deal Assertively with Criticism 8. How to Deal with Disappointment Assertively 9. How to Give and Receive Compliments Assertively 10. Putting it All Together

It was incredibly beneficial for me and I'd highly recommend giving it a shot.


This is an essential skill for everyone to learn. The article lightly touches on how to learn to be more assertive. If you want a more thorough guide I highly recommend the book, When I Say No I Feel Guilty.


When you reach a certain age e.g. 40 you start to realize that you only need to appeal for yourself and no one else matters including you family members.

And then suddenly everything goes much better from there.


I assume you mean parents and siblings, as opposed to spouse and children?


Everyone. You have to be happy if you want your kid and wife to be happy. Otherwise one just becomes some grumpy husband that everyone tries to avoid.

Individual->Family->Company/Organization/State, I believe that's the way it works. You have to take care of the things on left side to make the things on the right side to feel "happy".


You'd be surprised how many people open up for your influence, when you "Seek first to understand, then to be understood".

Thinking through their problems as well as yours helps come up with a better solution for both of you.

All of Covey's advice resonated with me.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effecti...


From the article:

> Women have more trouble with assertiveness than men do: a study by the Gender Action Portal at Harvard University found that, in salary negotiations, women concede earlier than men, anticipate greater backlash, and are discouraged by others’ perceptions of assertiveness as a non-feminine trait.

Suspected this was the case for a while. Any time somebody mentions the "gender pay gap" I'll remind them of this.


thinkers like to assert vs feelers prefer to go with the flow. Introverts vs extroverts.

women can be more assertive in some areas (aka swipe left).

It’s hard to be assertive when you don’t know what you want , or you don’t know which course of action maximizes what you want… she didn’t know what she wanted more (be helpful to her colleague, or do her work). Or she didn’t know what would be better for her career… altruism frequently involves this problem. practice asserting to pay the restaurant bill… (what’s more valuable ? The good will gained or the money lost ?)


> All-or-nothing thinking – which psychologists call ‘splitting’ – is a symptom of certain personality disorders.

And yet it permeates American culture right through its core.

With me or against me. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Amazing or horrible. Left or right. Freedom or communism. No compromise.

As a corollary, I wonder if it follows that the American culture counts as a personality disorder. (Let the downvotes come!)


Some good advice here. But the author sure works hard to needlessly connect it to her background in philosophy, and to Aristotle in particular.


I am an assertive person. Believe me when I say it is not a virtue. It doesn't earn you much in practice.


news: everything can be developed with practice. being successful is 90% work and 10% opportunity.


In my experience, assertiveness in of itself isn't a virtue, but knowing specifically who you can be assertive with. For instance, some random middle manager that is making things up about a problem they want you to deal with but sound like they're doing their job. In reality looks like a complete moron on your teams end and don't even understand what they're talking about. Also, the obligatory cc everyone involved cya tactic.

These people you don't want to be assertive to. You want to milk them, play dumb, and make them feel like they're always right? You know why? These are the ego driven "mommy and daddy never told me I was wrong" types that will rat you out with every fiber of their being because they think they're entitled it. It's best you make them think you are so incompetent that they don't want to work with you in general. The kicker is, you need to have many of your team members and managers on your side vouch for you. That way when they tattle on you, you've got a solid defense that will fly back in their face to stfu and deal with it.

It's pretty disingenuous and sociopathic, but in order to not get walked all over, sometimes you gotta humble yourself to save yourself some stress. Not like a company is gonna fire you cause some Karen doesn't understand the complexity of some programming thing but demands you solve the technical problem asap.


It's not a virtue


I agree.




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