Tuesday, January 2, 2000,
Chandigarh, India

Don’t say yes when you want to say no
By Rajshree Sarda
uman beings want a life of dignity and self-fulfilment. Yet living leaves scars that distracts us from these goals. As a result many people do not recognise their own strengths or have learnt to act in inferior ways because they believe themselves to be inferior. 

An elderly low-income woman walks past a Bombay hoarding featuring Miss Universe Lara Dutta (Left), Miss World Priyanka Chopra (Centre) and Miss Asia Pacific Diya Mirza. India has set a world record of sorts, making a clean sweep of all major beauty contests this year.





Don’t say yes when you want to say no
By Rajshree Sarda

Human beings want a life of dignity and self-fulfilment. Yet living leaves scars that distracts us from these goals. As a result many people do not recognise their own strengths or have learnt to act in inferior ways because they believe themselves to be inferior. They find it impossible to display emotions like anger or tenderness. They bow to the wishes of others and hold their own desires inside themselves. They accept the state of lack of assertiveness. In contrast people who do not feel closeness or combat are the people who show strength in their behaviour. They know who they are and what they want. They are called assertive people.

Here I shall talk of assertiveness and how important a trait it is in building and shaping a complete personality. Again it should be distinguished from aggression. Assertive behaviour is not the same as aggressive behaviour. Assertion aims at equalising the balance of social power-or solving mutual problems by negotiations. Aggressiveness is a weapon for battle. Assertiveness is a skill that when practiced effectively helps everyone involved.

I will just cite an example that I witnessed at a sale in a leading readymade clothes store in Sector 17. Everybody was waiting for their turn in a line to get their bills cleared. The lady clerk was about to finish up with the customer in front of her when another woman out of the blue comes by and edges in. The lady clerk asks “Who’s next?” and this woman says “I am.” Just then, the woman whose turn it was says simply and firmly “Sorry you will have to wait and stand in the queue like all of us have being doing”.

Now this is what I call assertive behaviour. The lady in the queue could communicate to the pushy lady strongly, that what she was doing was not right and that she cannot get away with it. Conversely, an aggressive behaviour could lead to a fight or an outburst of strong feelings and an ugly scene thereafter.

Many woman have an erroneous concept of assertion confusing it with aggression and telling themselves that “assertion is always bad”. They fail to distinguish between being liked and being respected. They mistake the essential difference between being selfish in the bad sense and selfish in the good sense. Aggressive behaviour almost always centres around the goal of hurting others, sometimes out of vindictiveness, at other times out of a perceived need to defend oneself. Aggressive behaviour may accomplish your goals temporarily but in most cases it leads to disrupted communication with friends, calls forth counter-aggression from others and tends to make an already aggressive person more aggressive. This reverberating circuit keeps you on the neurotic spiral. By contrast, properly assertive behaviour does not always lead to the accomplishment of your desired goals but it does lead to a good feeling about yourself. When things don’t work out, you may feel disappointed, but you will not feel irrationally hostile.

Like Neena Memani, wife of a well established businessman prefers to do her own things and teaches at Saupins School Chandigarh (“call it assertiveness, if you want”: she laughs) she says “Assertiveness in a woman is often misconstrued as arrogance or aggression and is not well accepted, but to me it is definitely a positive trait. It does not require one to be pushy, loud or brash. On the contrary, I have witnessed my mother- in-law running the house efficiently with quite assertion; at my work place. I have seen my principal , Anuradha Saupin, managing affairs with calm assertion and I have also seen a close friend holding the fort singlehanded with cool assertion while her hubby is out at sea. I conclude, assertiveness works. I would rather be labelled assertive and be effective in my undertakings than otherwise”.

In today’s times, assertiveness is being viewed as an integral part of your personality especially if it is in a woman. Men, since centuries have always had the prerogative of being assertive but these days even woman are taking themselves more seriously. Why shouldn’t they? After all, “Assertive difficulties do lead to inadequate behaviour. If you are basically non-assertive you come on too weak. Because you don’t stand up for yourself, you feel hurt, anxious and self-contemptuous, says Dipali Aggarwal, savvy wife of an industrialist. Dipali also says “that assertion is important in every day’s life-even as a lady of the house I feel I gain in self-respect and sense of identity because I can discern between good and not so good, right and wrong. Even my children realise that I will bend upto a point to accommodate their wishes and after that no matter what, I will not. This assertive behaviour is important to keep the children in check so that they don’t go astray tomorrow. Assertiveness in a right manner and in a positive direction always leads to a healthy atmosphere and I am all for it”.

Rinnie Khanna wife of a businessman also had something very interesting to say: “Assertiveness is a quality that is essential for a lady in today’s environment, specially the roles that a lady performs are multifaceted. She is a daughter, sister, wife, mother, mother-in-law and in society she is the anchor that provides stability to these multifaceted relationships. Assertiveness is important to make her views be heard, respected, taken cognisance off in any decisions that involves her family or working life. Assertiveness does not mean lack of flexibility or by any means an attitude bordering on obstinacy but an important virtue that lets her assume her role of a pillar of strength for her entire family”.

I will now tell you about this lady called Savita; she always behaved apologetically saying “I shouldn’t have said it” or “I am sorry” she had learnt to conceal her feeling and true thoughts. If one asked her how she was, she would always say “Fine” and when her husband suggested a week of mountain trekking she said “Great” when in reality she preferred another kind of holiday entirely. She gave in readily even to unfair demands of her children. In fact she begun to think of her own needs as unimportant. She started looking listless and melancholic most of the time and after persuading her she agreed for counselling in assertive training (AT).

After three sessions she felt better more confident and relaxed. “I am like a new person” she says and “I wonder what took me so long to take this step”.

This is just one example to show you what assertiveness can do to your overall personality but remember one cardinal rule — once you have begun to assert yourself, do not back out. A half hearted assertion may bring a hostile aggressive response and if you panic at the first sign of resistance you have begun to assert yourself, do not back out. A half-hearted assertion may bring a hostile, aggressive response and if you panic at the first sign of resistance you will reinforce it. It is, therefore, important to consider in advance the other person’s possible reactions and prepare for them.

Whatever problems may be, there are certain basic principles for the “would be assertive” They are:

1. Reveal as much of your personal self as is appropriate to the situation and the relationship.

2. Strive to express all feelings whether angry or tender.

3. Act in ways that increase your liking and respect yourself.

4. Examine your own behaviour and determine areas where you would like to become more assertive.

5. Do not confuse aggression with assertion. Aggression is an act against others. Assertion is appropriate standing for yourself.

6. Realise you may be unassertive in one area like business and assertive in marriage. Apply the techniques you use successfully in one area to the other.

7. Do not confuse glib manipulatory behaviour with the need for assertion.

8. Understand assertion is not a permanent state. As you change, life situation changes and you face new challenges and need new skills. 

Assertive rights must always be based on the personal situation, the person in the situation and the possible consequences. There are four basic rights and they are:

1. You have the right to do anything as long as it does not hurt someone else.

2. You have the right to maintain your dignity by being properly assertive — even if it hurts someone else as long as your motive is assertive and not aggressive.

3. You always have the right to make a request to another person as long as you realise the other person has the right to say no.

4. You must realise that there are certain borderline cases in interpersonal situations where the rights are not clear. But you always have the right to discuss the problem with the person involved and so classify it accordingly.


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