The next few blog posts focus on the subject of “Life Skills” and just how important they really are. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve actually realised the degree that having good (or bad) life skills can impact upon your happiness and ability to live an authentic life that is true to your own personal values.
So what exactly do I mean by that and WTF are life skills anyway? Let’s face it the term can sound…a bit…well..lame. Here’s my view. Life skills are those things that we do almost every day, quite often without knowing it. Our approach to these skills is embedded in us early on but all too often we do nothing to develop them; simply because we are ignorant of their existence. It’s like driving a car, right? How often have you driven to work only to realise later that you remember nothing of the journey. This is because you were on auto-pilot. Your ability to drive a car is now so embedded within you and the route so familiar; you’re actually no longer present for the experience. And that’s the problem with poor life skills. Just like the car scenario, you can end up with life driving you and not the other way around.
Now I am not saying in any way here that I am an ace at life skills. However, having come fairly recently from a place where my life skills were quite frankly very poor, I had to really focus on my lack of aptitude and recognise the damage this was doing. Damage to my own happiness. I’ve spent literally YEARS living an unauthentic life, not being fully happy and that is mostly down to a real lack of mastery in this area. And I’m quite sure I’m not the only one. This led me to think about just how invaluable a tuition in them would have been in my younger, more formative years. Unfortunately, as a “soft skill” we don’t give these attributes and learned behaviours any education airtime. But at a time when life has never moved at a faster pace or been more stressful; I’m personally convinced a lack of “programming” in this area is leading to an increase in mental health issues.
So, for Part One of this Blog post, I’m going to cover the first life skill I wish they’d taught me in school: Assertiveness. There was never any question as to what would be number one on my list. In fact, if you look at all of the other life skills on my list, you will see that arguably their application is very linked to the ability to assert oneself.
What does assertiveness mean to you? Whilst many people reading this will straight away recognise it as a positive attribute, chances are for a high proportion of people, it’s a scary term. Perhaps one that conjures up thoughts of someone who is….. well actually quite forthright and maybe even…well a tad aggressive?
Truth is there is a world of difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Having said that it is very easy to cross from one into the other; so it’s important to understand how not to fall into that trap. Being assertive is all about ensuring that your viewpoint/wish/desired outcome is brought to the table WITHOUT running roughshod all over the viewpoints/wishes and desired outcomes of others.
But you have to commit to assertiveness as a way of life. That may mean from time to time you have to say no, walk away from situations that don’t suit your morals or purpose and say goodbye to people who constantly disrespect your boundaries. Trust me, the short- term pain this may cause, is nothing compared to the insidious internal torture you put yourself through in not being clear.
Generally speaking; people who don’t master assertiveness will fall into two camps – aggressive personalities and passive aggressive personalities. Aggressive personalities are so full of anger, hurt and negativity that they just steam-roller their way through life, taking no prisoners and leaving a trail of emotional destruction behind them. Passive aggressive types on the other hand, are the silent assassins. The ones that smile and nod in agreement with you, only to throw you under the bus at the first opportunity. Passive aggressives delight in sabotaging your plans because of their own inner feelings of inadequacy. It’s highly likely that neither of these personality types have a close group of long-term friends, due to these toxic patterns of behaviour.
In the past, if I’ve not been in a good place myself and have been refusing to deal with why, I too have certainly fallen into both of these behaviours. Fortunately, I hated these versions of myself sufficiently to at least try to change things. Nonetheless, it’s really easy to slip, which I do from time to time, even now. However, in embracing and encouraging assertiveness from an early age, the behaviours and mindsets become embedded and therefore, more natural.
Okay so that’s the theory but how might assertiveness work in real life? Let’s say, you’re doing a negotiation for a new car; you’ve saved up and are paying cash (this is a scenario, please never pay cash for a new car, please read my up and coming motoring column). Having negotiated a good discount already and agreed with the dealer that you will take the car this month to help his figures; you notice a three- year servicing deal that is available to finance customers. As someone paying cash, you really feel you should get this deal too but the sales executive (Dan) is standing firm and saying he can’t budge on the price. After what seems like an age, you’ve still not signed on the dotted line. Quite frankly, you’re getting a bit fed up with the whole thing and are close to walking…
The aggressive response “I’m doing you a favour here pal. You’re just trying to rip me off. I’m paying cash straight into your bank and you’re not prepared to give me the servicing deal. You’re a gang of sharks. It’s your commission that’s on the line here. I can go to XYZ motors up the road……etc etc.” This outburst has probably been matched with some fairly negative body language such as folded arms (you’re stood up at this point) and your facial expression is probably something like this…(more of a death stare than actual eye contact).
Dealer thinks: “Go to XYZ motors then and waste their time. They’re welcome to you. I’ve spent ages with you, made you two cups of coffee, listened to you droning on about your promotion and now I’m losing the will to live. And stop pulling that sulky, stupid face you moron.”
The Assertive Response: “Look Dan, you’ve been absolutely fantastic and I really want to give you my business but this three year servicing deal is just a point of principle for me. I’ve got a budget for this and having to pay for servicing on the car pushes me over it. I will sign now if you can include that for me. I don’t want to walk away from doing a deal today but I will if I have to because this is important to me.”
Your body language is likely to be “open” and your eye contact soft but steady. You’ve used the sales executives actual name and explained why you need this deal, without inferring that by not giving it to you he (or the company he works for) are crooks.
Dealer thinks: “Okay so he/she isn’t making this easy for me but they seem like a reasonable individual and this servicing thing is obviously really important to them. I’m going to talk to my Manager and see what I can do for them as they’ve made it clear they will take the car this month.”
The key difference between being assertive and aggressive is not making it about the other person. The aggressive approach is all about emphasising what you considered to be the negative attributes of the other side and just how bad their terrible behaviour made you feel. Whereas, the assertive one is all about stating what you need in the situation and (most importantly) why. Does that mean you should always walk away if you don’t get your own way? Of course not – you’re not five. By being clear from the outset about what you need in a situation, you give it the other person scope to perhaps offer a solution that works for both parties. By compromising you can still often get what you want; you just might have to take a slightly different route to get there.
I admit that my example was a somewhat contrived scenario but you catch my drift, right? Being assertive is something that can benefit everyone in their daily lives, be it relationships, work or just buying a bloody car. Plus you’ll just be happier.