Judy Murphy’s classic book on assertiveness is a short guide on how to become more assertive communicators.
The full title is: “Assertiveness: How to Stand Up for Yourself and Still Win the Respect of Others”.
- Assertiveness is about demanding fair treatment
- Assertiveness is all about respect: for yourself and for others
- There is no magic bullet: you will have to try hard daily. But you can train at home and in easier situations
Judy Murphy starts with an important question:
Assertiveness, the author says, is not about being liked.
Assertiveness is about standing up for your right to be treated fairly.
The Advantages of Assertiveness
There are many advantages to becoming and learning to communicate assertively, including:
- It gives you confidence and enhances your self-esteem
- It helps you gain respect
- Improves your decision-making skills
- Reduces bitterness when your needs and wants aren’t met
- You become a better problem solver
- You gain the feeling you’re in control of your life
Assertive VS Aggressive VS Passive
The author says that the difference between all three of them can be summarized with one word: respect.
Aggressive people do not show respect for others while passive people do not show respect for themselves.
Since assertive means respecting both yourself and others, says the author, you don’t need to change your style whether you speak with a lowly service worker or with your boss.
How You See Yourself Determines Your Assertiveness
Judy Murphy says that how you see yourself determines how assertive you are.
People with low self-esteem and who see themselves poorly tend to have bigger difficulties in being assertive.
Similar as to what happens in intimate relationships, people with low self-esteem allow others to trample their right because they don’t see themselves as worthy of proper treatment.
Hence, to become assertive, you need to develop a healthy self-respect.
Elements of Assertiveness
The author outlines four major elements of assertiveness:
- Basic assertions
Basic assertions are very basic statements or what you want, don’t want or feel like.
They can be something like “I want to go to the Italian for lunch” or “I’m talking to someone now, can I call you back?”
Empathy recognizes the needs and feelings of the other person.
One example is “I realize this can make you sad, but I need to tell you the truth”
Escalation means that you become increasingly firm, or explains the consequences of non-compliance while you also remain calm and rational.
Indeed, remember this: you escalate the conversation, not your tone or mood.
- “I” and “me” statements
Honestly, this one wasn’t too clear for me, but it seemed like the typical “assertive” sentence structure, for example:
When you call me stupid, it makes me angry and it does not want to make me deal with you. If you want to have a functioning relationship with me, I want you to use respectful words
The author says that you can use this format to avoid labels, accusations or escalations.
For example instead of saying “you are rude”, you can say “I feel like you are acting rude”.
Assertive Messages Examples
The author goes on to present many real life examples.
I will only present one here quoting the author, and it relates to a working situation where a colleague of yours is talking behind your back:
Cristina, you seem to have a problem with me.
We don’t have to be friends, but we do have to work together.
When you are openly hostile toward me, it is disrespectful and makes me feel negative about working together.
As your colleague, I deserve your respect. I would like to improve our communication.
I want you to know that I will no longer accept your aggressive attitude toward me.
If it doesn’t cease, I’ll be setting up a meeting for us with Human Resources to discuss it further.
I would appreciate it if you would consider how you speak to me and treat me with more respect
The author says the colleague is likely going to be shocked -indeed-. If she keeps doing the same or gets threatening or aggressive, your next step will be indeed to escalate the matter with HR. You defined your boundaries and if they keep being overstepped, then you have to escalate.
Train & Push Your Limits
The author says that most people are looking for a magic pill that will solve all their problems. She wished she could provide such a pill, but unluckily there is none.
She understands that position because she wast here. And she tried hard and slipped many times and at times felt like there was no hope. But, she says, with persistence and practice you will eventually get better.
She also says it’s normal in the beginning to overdo it and be a bit confrontational or aggressive.
It’s because pushing yourself will require so much force in the beginning that you will naturally over-push it.
That’s also part of becoming a more assertive individual.
Practice at Home
Because it’s so difficult and because the tendency is to overdo it, the author recommends that you practice at home with a friend, a family member or in front of a mirror.
And you can use minor daily interactions where you otherwise would have let it slip, like with a wrong order, just to train your assertive skills.
Finally, the author says that you can learn by watching more naturally assertive indivdual and role-modeling them.
Real Life Applications
Role Play and Train in Front of Mirror
I liked the idea of role-playing and training in front of a mirror. Using smaller daily occasions to practice your assertiveness is also a wonderful recommendation.
I Didn’t Like Some Examples
I disagreed with some of the communication examples.
Some didn’t seem to be very effective to me, some not the best possible options, and some even slightly unethical.
For example in one of the case studies, a man calls a company to “assertively” ask for money back on an item that is out of warranty. That’s not assertive, that’s aggressive.
Or, better, that’s cunning and sly.
This is a detail, but there were several misspelling. From calling the book “audiobook” to “nerve-racking” to some sentences repeated twice.
Short & To The Point
I’m a sucker for a book that can share helpful advice in a short and concise format and doesn’t waste any time. “Assertiveness: How to Stand Up for Yourself” is one such books.
I didn’t agree with some of the examples but I appreciated the structure and short format.