Building Self Confidence Blog

How to be Assertive in Relationships

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Madeleine Morgan The Confidence Coach

The Confidence Coach

As a result of being one of the Chat Room guests on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire recently, it got me thinking...

We discussed 2 topics I thought were related. One was about how we felt about lending money to friends and family – could we live by the motto, ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be’? The other was - what was our worst experience of having someone to stay in our home?

So how are those related, I hear you ask?

Well, what I realised was that those situations tend to be dilemmas for us if we’re not sure how, confidently, to set wise boundaries with people. Or if we are uncomfortable about dealing with people’s upset, or even our own guilt, when we do set boundaries. In fact that’s at the heart of many relationships we find difficult.

A common question my clients ask is, ‘How can I tell/refuse/ask……without upsetting them?’

The answers lie on lots of different levels. But here are a few ideas:

Remember that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. People become upset for lots of reasons – many of them you couldn’t be expected to guess. Instead of avoiding a conversation for fear of upsetting someone, get skilled at communicating effectively with that kind of person/situation and dealing with any upset that comes up.

For instance, if someone is upset about something you’ve asked them for or refused to give them, avoid becoming defensive. Try to have an open discussion about the real issues rather than about the emotions and the way they were communicated.

After all, if you avoid asking someone for something or to do something for fear of upsetting them, you never give them an opportunity to say, ‘Yes!’

Remember that you have a right to ask and they have a right to refuse. At the same time they have a right to ask you and you have a right to refuse!

Wouldn’t life be easier if we could be direct and assert our right to just ask or to just refuse?

For one of my coaching clients that belief system I’ve just described about asking and refusing just didn’t fit.

She came from a culture where if a member of the family asked for financial support she would give it, few questions asked. For instance, she was supporting a nephew to go to a very expensive college in the America and a cousin who kept wasting money and then finding himself on the breadline.

At the same time she had financial difficulties of her own because her business clients were late paying for her services.

Her belief that she should help her family was so strong that she felt guilty about refusing her family even though she had made her own luck in life and she was feeling very stressed by the financial state of her business.

The situation could only get worse because she was training her family to treat her like a bank.

One perspective that helped her was to realise that she could be more helpful to her family by asking curious and open questions that helped them realise how they could help themselves more. I call it ‘teaching them to fish so that they can feed themselves for a lifetime’ rather than ‘giving them fish which might feed them for only a day’.

The ‘win’ for her family members was that they enjoyed feeling more successful and the ‘win’ for her was she felt good about helping them find out how to be resourceful. She could also feel loved for herself rather than for her money.

Where in your life could you be creating a win-win by ‘teaching someone to fish’?

When you’re having family and friends to stay, think about how you can create a win-win situation.

I like to feel relaxed when people come to stay. One way I can be relaxed is by not having to second guess everyone’s needs. So for instance, I tell them that if they feel like having a hot drink, feel free to make one – they don’t have to wait for me to ask (Of course I do ask sometimes too). Or if they wake up before me and feel hungry – feel free to go and make some toast or get some cereal. My guests feel relaxed too because they don’t have to follow my routine all the time. Of course, we also plan to eat meals together as well.

How can you make sure that visits from your family and friends are win-win ones?

Please let me know how you get on or if you have any questions.

With 2012 here, I thought I’d give you a free tool to help you get clear about where you are in your life, where you’d like to be and how to get there. Just email me and I’ll send it to you.

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