I am in the process of preparing a short presentation on ‘Assertive Communication’ and as per my normal practice I take my ideas and talk them through at the breakfast table with the husband.

I think I may have mentioned before that we are fond of some intellectual discussion over the boiled eggs and toast; and even the granddaughters are now getting in on the act. The last time I had the pleasure of a gd’s sleepover I was delighted when my twelve year old gd said with a smile “What are we going to talk about this morning, Gran?” I think we ended up discussing ‘Guilt Free ‘No Thank You’ to pills and potions!’ However I digress.

Back to assertive communication; I was enthusing about this new book I had discovered, which seemed perfect for the particular group I was presenting to. “What I have to do” I said excitedly to the indifferent husband “Is to show them what assertive communication looks like” I am not sure, but I thought I heard him mutter something like “Look in the mirror!” but I was probably wrong.

This book links the use of Assertive Communication to Personal Rights – and I was interested in what was said to be “my rights”. Understanding what are considered to be personal rights dictates where and when assertive communication is appropriate. And so it behoved me to give them some real consideration.

“I have the right to be heard!” I pointed out to the husband, who was reading the newspaper. He grunted, so he had obviously heard me. Right Number One was being allowed.

“I have the right to decide who will fix what – which means you’ll have to fix the leaky tap” – another grunt (although to be honest I am not sure that I had the correct interpretation of that particular right!)

I went through a list of personal rights, such as the ‘right to be consulted’; ‘the right to be considered’; ‘the right to object’ and the ‘right to refuse’ and the ‘right to …’ at which point the husband looked up and said ‘What about my right to read the newspaper in peace!’ It was a nasty moment.

But, in the ensuing silence, I did ponder on the problems of exerting my ‘rights’ and wondered where the ‘responsibility’ of allowing others their rights stepped in. I recall someone in the army once told me that “Your personal rights end at the start of my fist” which is a bit dramatic, but does tend to make the point that my personal rights should never impinge upon the rights of others.

My insistence at the breakfast table of having my right to be heard, impinged upon the husband’s right to read his newspaper in peace. Rather than being ‘assertive’, I was actually being ‘aggressive’.

Which is probably what the author of my new book meant when she said that an understanding of personal rights was important to understanding where assertive communication was appropriate. Apparently, it was not appropriate this morning at the breakfast table. We therefore completed breakfast in a subdued, but companionable silence.

I think we all may be familiar with the annoying person who is only too willing to trumpet their rights, without ever considering the rights of others to ‘disagree’ or ‘object’. Both of which were listed in my book as being ‘unalienable personal rights’.

So perhaps what is also needed, along with the understanding of what are our personal rights, is an acceptance of our personal responsibility to ensure that those rights do not infringe upon the rights of others.

Then, when we have that clearly defined in our minds, we can consider the ways in which we can use Assertive Communication to avoid being imposed on; discriminated against; overlooked and overworked.

Because while I have the right to (a) have my personal rights considered in my work place; I also have (b) the responsibility to deliver the outcome I was hired to achieve. Where (b) – work responsibility – is being affected by (a) – lack of personal rights – I can assert my rights and should. But what if (a) has no impact on (b) – would my assertion of my rights be counterproductive? And what if I refused to fulfill my responsibilities until my rights had been addressed – what then?

I opened my mouth to ask the husband what his views were, and a raised eyebrow indicated that he was still asserting his rights – so I shut up.

It appears that sometimes my rights should give way to other’s rights if we are to maintain a friendly relationship – and what is true of my breakfast table could also be true of your company.

What do you think – or are you too maintaining your right to silence?

Michele @ Trischel

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