Apropos of blogger Clay Shirky's recommendation that women learn to behave like "arrogant, self-aggrandizing jerks," Guardian writer Trisha Andres attended a one-day assertiveness workshop — which appears to have transformed her life.
Andres learned the following basic technique: "(1) use your colleague's name; (2) name the topic; (3) explain what you understand their position as; (4) state your feelings; (5) and what you would like; (6) point to the positive outcome for them, and for you." After a practice session and a little coaching from her assigned partner ("Saying that you know he's very busy and asking whether if he can make time for you makes it seem like it's an option"), Andres tests out the six steps in the real world:
My efforts have been met with considerable success: concessions that I never have to buy toilet paper for our flat ever again; a discount (and promises of an arranged meeting with son) from a taxi driver who had taken the wrong route; an apology and a fresh bowl of soup, this time without a floating kinky hair strand; a few more commissions; free Reese's Cups (I asserted myself and told the corner shop owner they must restock it at once). All this without being an arrogant, self-aggrandising jerk. I couldn't exalt the benefits of assertiveness more.
I wish she'd explained how she got "more commissions" — I still fear that, as I said in my response to Shirky, assertive women aren't rewarded in all workplaces. But overall, I was pretty impressed with Andres's successes, enough to wonder what I might get in my life if I were more assertive. Despite my ability to write about my opinions on the Internet, in real life I'm deeply embarrassed by people who send food back at restaurants, and I tend to simply do without something if asking for it feels too difficult. Part of this is probably personal, but part of it has to do, I think, with the very thing Shirky advocates: conflating assertiveness with being a jerk.
This problem cuts both ways. For Shirky, it means advocating qualities — like narcissism — that are actually bad for the people around you. But while some aspects of business are no doubt zero-sum games, life isn't, and being assertive can actually be good for other people as well as the asserter. Relationships, for instance, are healthier when both parties are clear about their expectations, rather than leaving the other to guess. A little assertiveness early on can prevent a lot of simmering resentment later in work, friendship, roommate-ship, and love. Unfortunately, for me and for many women raised in a culture of female niceness, any assertiveness can feel like jerkitude. When I read "(1) use your colleague's name," I initially thought, "wow, that sounds kind of confrontational." But there's no reason it should be, and as Andres points out, at no point in her assertiveness program did she have to behave like a dick.
Reading about Andres's success made me want to try the six steps myself, but I also think a little larger-scale social modification is in order. Yes, we should be teaching girls to ask for what they want and state their opinions without apology. But we also need to teach boys and men to respect assertiveness in the opposite sex as much as they do in their own. Because while an assertiveness workshop might net one woman some free Reese's — or even a raise — it's going to take more than that to get equality for all of us.
Image via Consumerist's Flickr photostream.
Assertiveness Is Not Just For Men [Guardian]