In one context, we may be incredible at saying what we want and sticking to our guns.
Let’s say you have a weekly poker night with friends. You have a long-running relationship. In this context, everyone is on roughly equal footing. You’ve been through enough together that you know you can be you, say what you want, do what you want, and even if you make someone unhappy today, nothing fundamental will change in you or the relationship.
But in other contexts, we stammer and get stuck, hot under the collar, and we either relinquish our desires or lash out aggressively when we don’t get what we want.
For example, you want a raise. Not only that, you know you deserve it. So you go in to ask your boss for it — practically demanding it, though with the best of intentions — and they shut you down. You’re thrown off. There’s that old familiar feeling of being hot under the collar, and red in the face. You stammer. You fume. And you resort to desperate whining to try to get your way. To no avail.
Wanna be more assertive? Get this…
So I’ve been listening to the audiobook of When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by the late psychologist Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D.
This is an old book — first published in 1975.
But like anything dealing with the truths of human psychology (including marketing and selling principles), nothing has really changed with regards to its core principles.
And there’s really just one core principle you need to get if you want to be more assertive.
You are the ultimate judge of you.
There is absolutely nothing more powerful when it comes to asserting yourself.
People will try to manipulate you. They will try to shame you. They will defend themselves by cutting you down and making you “wrong.”
It’s automatic. It’s ingrained. I don’t even know if it’s cultural — although I’m sure some cultures are better or worse at teaching assertiveness. It’s human.
We’re all stubborn assholes. When met with conflict, we fight for our right to be right, even if it means we have to attack the other person to make it happen.
Of course, we’re also often polite assholes. At least, we want to be seen as polite. So we cut other people down with subtle shaming (we use or imply the word “should”), rather than coming out and assertively meeting the conflict they raise.
And if you’re the one raising the conflict, this is a painful truth. Since most people suck at responding to conflict, you can practically expect that if you have a different opinion, you’re either going to be met with insidious passive-aggressiveness or outright hostility. Either way, it’s hard to hold your frame and stay calm while sticking to your guns…
It’s hard to be assertive — that is — unless you choose to be the ultimate judge of you…
Here’s the thing. Most people attack assertiveness because they don’t have it.
It’s like the bully who wants to make everyone feel bad because he or she feels like crap themselves — and can’t stand to see others happy. That’s really just an exaggerated version of who we can all be sometimes.
But you can bring consciousness to this. You can choose not to accept it. (BOTH from others and from yourself.) Either the passive-aggressiveness that comes out in the form of sarcasm and attempts to gently manipulate you. Or the aggression and hostility of someone who is too mentally weak to maintain control through anything other than intimidation.
If you let either the soft or hard manipulation get to you, what you’re essentially saying is, “Your opinion of me in this situation is more important than mine.”
Why the heck would you do that? Why the heck would you hand over the right to judge you to ANYBODY? Whether it’s a random stranger or a loved one?
Sure, if you’ve got a boss who can fire you and they don’t like you asserting yourself, it’s possible you’re going to get fired. In which case I’d ask, is that really who you want to work with?
Or maybe you have friends or loved ones in your life who are manipulating you through either subtle shaming or more outright attacks. If this is happening, you should make a conscious decision about how much time you want to spend with them in the future.
But likely, if you’re calmly assertive… If you choose to be the ultimate judge of yourself in every situation, especially those that have some level of conflict… If you clearly state what you want and need in any situation, without either active or passive aggression… If you embrace you and choose to be your ultimate judge, even with those who you are very close to and whose opinion of you you value highly…
People actually love and respect people who are assertive!
If you can’t say no without overwhelming feelings of guilt, people may use you. Which may feel like they like you, because they want to keep you around to get what they want out of you.
If you say no and back it up with implied out outright hostility, you may coerce people into doing what you want. But it won’t be because they like you or agree with you. It will be because they’re scared of you.
However, if you are assertive, and can say what you want and what needs to happen without pushing any “shoulds” on them (that’s a nasty word that manipulates people into feeling guilty)…
People will respect you and, in most cases, go along with you.
You are a rock. An anchor. A source of stability.
You won’t always be right. They know that. Nobody is. But they will know you are making decisions based on your own internal compass of what you believe to be right.
And that is incredibly attractive.
It all comes back to that simple principle: you must first decide that you are the ultimate judge of you, your actions, your beliefs, and what you bring to each situation. And that nobody — not your spouse or partner, not your parents, not your boss, not me, not anybody — can supersede your ultimate judgment of you.
People don’t have to agree with you. One of the ultimate determinants of how well you’re implementing this principle is whether or not you let OTHERS be the ultimate judge of themselves, too. But they will respect that you make your own decisions, and reserve that right to be the judge of yourself. And that you act with integrity based on that.
A quick note about applying this principle…
It should be noted that even when you act with confidence and integrity and you choose what you believe will be the right path, it won’t always be.
In fact, you will often choose the WRONG path, and have to acknowledge it and admit fault, in order to keep your integrity.
We are not all-knowing beings. We can’t predict the future. And especially when it comes to something like marketing, we can’t predict how someone will respond to a specific selling message.
And so while we have to be our own ultimate judge and make our own decisions, we must also remain humble.
While you are the ultimate judge of you, for example, the market is the ultimate judge of the effectiveness of your marketing. If you write a sales letter, and are completely confident in it, that’s great. It may be great. But if you test it and it doesn’t get enough response, then it’s not a good sales letter. Doesn’t mean you are not a good marketer (a good marketer will pivot and test something else). But it does mean that message is not a fit for your market.
And if you are doing work that involves others, being the ultimate judge of you doesn’t always mean you get your way. For example, you could think what you wrote was a really good sales letter. But you have a mentor with experience who is able to point out a handful of reasonable changes that could improve it. A good mentor will let you make the decisions on your own as to what to change, but a good mentee will also recognize the voice of experience and wisdom. You can believe you’re right, and then change your mind in the face of feedback.
The fundamentals of assertiveness may take minutes to learn, but they do take a lifetime to master. You can recognize the fundamental truth that nobody is a better judge of you than you are. And it will change you, starting today. Yet, there will be moments where you forget, where you’re still learning how to really live that truth, and where you don’t know what to do.
That’s okay. Keep moving forward — you are on the right track.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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