Assertiveness, frustration and the lockdown
Do you need calm to be able to work well from home? Are you struggling with your personal relationships? Do you want to better express your needs with friends, family, your partner and colleagues?
The lockdown, with its essential restrictions on what we can do, where we can go, who we can be with and how close we can get to others, has brought unprecedented challenges economically and in our personal relationships.
Perhaps you have discovered you fare well working from home without the pressure of travelling to work and gaining that welcome extra time for yourself and with those you live with. Alternatively, do you find that financial strains and uncertainty or being in close proximity to those you live with for much of the day, has triggered frustrations, stress and interpersonal difficulties?
So how can you deal with these situations assertively, rather than passively enduring them or aggressively combatting them and exacerbating tensions?
What is assertiveness?
In short, assertiveness is a way of behaving and communicating that shows self-respect and respect for others. You are able to recognise and express clearly and courteously your needs, feelings and opinions without trampling on the needs, feelings and opinions of others and indeed being sensitive to them. It incorporates skills and strategies, and the principle of ‘win-win’, rather than ‘I win – you lose’ or ‘You win – I lose’.
How can it help?
Assertive approaches can be helpful in diverse situations, such as:
- Expressing what you want and saying no to what you don’t want.
- Setting boundaries to enable you to work from home or have some for yourself.
- Listening to others and being empathetic, not dismissive.
- Coping with criticism and put-downs when things get difficult.
- Managing and defusing anger and frustration, your own and others.
Assertiveness with yourself
Take five or ten minutes each day to think about what you want from that day, what you will do for yourself and what you need from others so that ideally you can be as productive as possible in the knowledge you won’t be interrupted whilst working or prevented from taking time out, such as for daily exercise.
Assertiveness with others
- Ask for what you want and agree boundaries
Make your needs known, listen to the needs of others and work to find compromise. If you’re home working, convey clearly what will help you work effectively, to keep the door closed, the TV down, not to come in the room at certain times. Check with others what they need too so you can fit together the jigsaw of timing, for talking, eating and other things that need doing, to find the best arrangement. Agreeing on clear boundaries is an important preventive of later disagreements.
- Say no and set boundaries
If you’re working and friends and family are not, then clarifying your timing and refusing intrusions on your time is vital for concentration. It may be hard for others to understand and they may want the connection, perhaps a friend who’s living alone and been furloughed or someone in the family who keeps calling. Maybe people at home come into the room when you’re on the phone or video conferencing. Remind people you are at work in the same way you were working before, only your location is different. Let them know both when you aren’t available and when you are free to speak.
- Be a great listener
“You’re not listening” is a common accusation, yet it’s a key to preventing conflict and engendering good relationships. Do your best to give time, to listen and show understanding, not make assumptions or to tell others how they should or shouldn’t feel. Also encourage others to listen to you by checking when it’s a good time to talk, asking them to hear you to the end and then invite their thoughts
- Respond to criticism and put downs
When tensions and stresses do build, you may find yourself more on the receiving end of criticisms about what you do or don’t do: “You’re spending more time on work than you did before” can descend into personal put-downs about who you are: “You don’t care about us. It’s all about your work. You’re so selfish.” Avoid any sudden, dismissive reactions and listen. Find out what others want and see where you can all compromise. Explain the requirements of your work and what you need from others and meet their needs where you reasonably can, i.e. a win-win situation. Setting boundaries in advance can pre-empt such friction.
- Manage your anger
Under pressure and stress, you may feel anger welling up about the general situation, towards those you know or when outside for your daily exercise. Angry knee jerk reactions, talking fast and loudly, can only serve to raise the temperature. Best to find other outlets for strong feelings like a fast walk or run or beating a cushion on your own in a room. Think most importantly of what you want to gain from a situation. For example, to maintain social distancing outside, if someone is coming towards you indicate with a gesture so that either you or they, distance and then say thank you. Try not to shout. If the children drop stuff all over the place and you’ve got to work, ask them kindly for what you want, it’s more effective than an explosion. For example: “I know it isn’t easy being at home so much" (empathy). "I also have to work and I’d be so pleased if you keep the place tidy” (request).
- Respond to others’ anger
One of the commonest reactions is to tell someone to “calm down” yet it may be the worst trigger of all since it denies the other person’s feelings. Allow them to vent a little, though if it gets too much you may want to withdraw, telling them you’re stepping out and will of course talk at a later time. Try to find out what they want that will alleviate that anger; it may be a general anger not directed at you, though it feels that way; they may simply want an ear. Or do they want you to do something differently? See where you can find common ground in disagreement and mutually acceptable solutions.
The one behaviour you can definitely change if you choose to is your own. You can ask others to change theirs, though cannot guarantee it. The above offers some tools and strategies to cope during lockdown and social distancing.