Don’t beg or bully … ask assertively

Do you find it hard to ask?

Have you ever pleaded passively for a favour?

Conversely, can you demand that something is done …NOW!

Yet asking assertively is far more likely to produce a positive response.

As a coach, and specialist in assertiveness, clients often describe the angst that precedes making a request, requests such as asking:

  • a colleague for help
  • their boss for time off to go on holiday, to study, to see their GP
  • their doctor for a referral or what the side-effects of a drug will be
  • for greater responsibility at work and a job title to reflect it
  • work to fund a training programme
  • a flatmate, the children or partner to tidy up or share the household chores
  • the list is never-ending. Indeed, you are likely to need to make several requests a day, some of which feel easy while others are a struggle.

What requests do you find hard to make?

What are the reasons for the difficulty?

You may find it hard to ask because of:

  • fear of the response
  • fear it will make things worse
  • fear the other person will say “No”
  • fear the other person won’t like you asking
  • fear you’ll come across as incompetent, such as when asking for help
  • take your cue from the title of Susan Jeffers’ highly successful book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”.

However, it isn’t only about doing it, it’s about how you do it, and you can choose to ask passively, aggressively, passive-aggressively… or assertively. So what’s the difference between these four behaviours?

Passive requests involve apologies such as “Sorry to ask”, “Sorry to disturb you”, minimising language like “I know this may not be important but” and subservient pleading e.g “I’d be sooooo grateful if you could possibly... "Indeed, all too often passive behaviour means saying nothing at all, sitting and regretting in silence.

Aggressive requests draw on demanding, intimidating and even bullying tactics, such as “You need to do this right now”, “Do this today. If you don’t…”

Passive-aggressive people don’t have the courage to ask directly and so go about it in a roundabout way “I helped you last week so can you do this for me this week?” or “I think you ought to do this” or “Can you do this as you’re so good at it?” They are experts at drawing on guilt, flattery and other clever techniques which the recipient may buy into initially but feel annoyed when they realise they’ve been drawn in against their better judgement.

Assertive requests are different. They are clear, direct, polite and specific. They get to the point…respectfully. “I’d be grateful (polite ‘I’ statement) if you could read the report this morning and suggest changes if needed (request) so we can distribute it by the end of the day” (positive outcome).

One request – 4 ways of asking

Imagine you’re in the cinema and the people behind you are talking. You’ve come to watch the film while they seem more interested in having a chat with their friends. What choices do you have?

Passive action: will most likely be sitting, doing nothing, seething, feeling resentful towards them and angry with yourself. They, of course, will have no idea that you want them to be quiet.

Passive-aggressive action: passivity frequently turns into passive-aggression. You might start sighing or half-turning or shaking your head and hope they notice. They probably won’t and, if they do, you may well hear words such as “So what’s the matter with her/him?”

Aggressive action: this is certainly direct, but not respectful, and may point the finger judgementally. You might turn right round and raise your voice, drawing the attention of all to the offenders. “The trouble with people like you is you’ve got no consideration for anyone else”. This is not a request but a put down and likely to produce a hostile response.

Assertive action is different. Turn round to face the people talking, smile and politely say what you’d like e.g “I’d be grateful if you could keep your voices down so I can hear the film”. Hopefully, they’ll say “Yes” and you’ll thank them.

Assertiveness means:

  • keeping dialogue open
  • using the confident “I” to ask, not the blaming “You”
  • being clear about what you want
  • asking politely and respectfully and
  • thanking people when they agree to your request.

Help is at hand!

Are you having trouble asserting yourself? Is it difficult to ask or to say no?

It may be easy to understand how assertiveness differs from other behaviours, yet hard to put it into practice.

Assertiveness coaching can help you gain confidence in your communication at home, at work and with friends.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, NW11
Written by Lucy Seifert, Life Coach London
London, NW11

As one of the most experienced coaches and trainers in the UK, my knowledge and approach have been developed over 30 years of coaching and training. I have worked with individuals and within organisations across all sectors, including NatWest IT R&D, Stuart Low Trust (charity) and University of...

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