My version of the basic assertive statement is: “When you (name the behaviour you would liked changed), I feel (name your experience). I would like you to (name the desired behaviour), then I would (name the helpful outcome). For example: “When you say these pants make me look ridiculous, I feel embarrassed and insulted. I would like you to ask if I want negative feedback before sharing it, and then be kind if I do agree to hear you. If you put it kindly, I’ll want to go out with you, not just hide under a rock.” If you don’t like my example, don’t get stuck on it. The point is we need to speak up for ourselves.
Speaking up for ourselves is our responsibility. Assertive statements are taught in so many forums because, a) many of us don’t have the habit, and b) there are benefits ranging from heart health to relationship longevity to increased civility in communications and an associated reduction in charges of uttering threats. When we speak for ourselves we own our emotional and behavioral realms. Further, since I can and should ask you to get off my toe, the health of my toe is actually in my control! Further still, if in a relationship I take care of me, and you take care of you, then the energy we might spend mindreading the other can be put into tending the relationship. But this isn’t about relationships....
There are a few common pitfalls in asking for what we want, naming what we need. One of my favorites is expecting that we will get it just because we’ve asked for it. That isn’t the case. If you always expect to get what you want, you will inevitably be frustrated and disappointed. Insisting on having what we want drifts into aggressive territory.
It can also be hard to objectively name a behaviour that is irritating you. In the example above it might feel more natural to say, “When you decide to be the smart mouth fashion police....” But if you name something specific that I did, then we won’t go onto a tangent about whether I think I’m the police or you do. Similarly we can disguise thoughts as feelings. I love pointing out that, “I feel you are an asshole” doesn’t actually name an emotion. And it doesn’t make a statement about me. About-me is my domain and my responsibility.
By now you should be seeing that personal responsibility is a theme here. In my life and work I find that once we accept that we are responsible for our thoughts and feelings, there is an increased sense of control of our lives. Responsible actions follow responsible thoughts and feelings. So what of radical responsibility?
Recently I was introduced to another variation of the assertive statement above. This one leaves the other person right out of the equation and asks for nothing, that’s why I call it radical responsibility. Since this format doesn't ask for anything, it serves me as a learning tool; it provides me with information about myself.
To use the template you need to have your wits about you enough that you recognize you are bumping up against an unmet need - generally I would be getting angry or annoyed. (Hopefully I haven’t already embarrassed myself.) In that moment of annoyance, I fill in these blanks: “I need ___________, because I ____________”. e.g. I need to get out of here because I really don’t like accordions.” “I need not to be yelled at because it hurts.” “I need others to drive better because I ......... hmm, don’t want to have to change my driving to make room for them?”
My anger is about my musical preferences; my human need to be emotionally safe; my.... hmm, being judgmental and self centered as a driver. It is not about the musical merit of accordions, or a change I need someone else to make. Try it on. Let me know how it goes. It can be a powerful tool for focusing on ones own part in any situation. And as responsibility rises, so does that sense of control in life.
Radical responsibility isn't intended to atomize life or isolate people; it is a way of looking at ourselves within the dynamic interactions that make up life. Our responsibility to ask for what we want remains; we still need to maintain our personal boundaries. And awkward as that stock statement above may seem, using it can be a good way of developing the habit of speaking up for ourselves.