Respect is an important component of personal safety. My friend Carmel describes self defense as a way to feel “safe, strong, and respected in all situations”—a description I love. Being treated disrespectfully is unpleasant, and it can also warn us of an impending threat to our safety: If someone doesn’t respect your feelings or rights, there’s a good chance they won’t respect your physical boundaries either. But we don’t always have to fight for respect—many times, we can convince people to treat us respectfully simply by using assertive communication.
An assertive response when our boundaries aren’t being respected has three parts:
- Name the behavior that is causing problems.
- State the effect the behavior is having.
- Say what you want the person to do. (You can say “please” if you want.)
Example: “The way you keep following me feels threatening. I want you to stay away from me.”
If you know the offender’s name, use it:
“John, your email and text messages are making me feel uncomfortable. Please stop contacting me.”
“Emily, your requests for money are disturbing our customers. You need to leave the store.”
Notice that you can employ this approach on behalf of someone else, if you witness disrespectful behavior:
“Hey—touching her like that is inappropriate and it’s making you unwelcome here. Keep your hands to yourself.”
For the rest of the week, try this strategy out at least once. You don’t necessarily have to use when you’re angry. It could be something as simple as telling your roommate, “When you play video games late at night, the sound of gunfire and yelling makes it hard for me to sleep. I’d like you to keep the volume lower once I’ve gone to bed, please.”
You can also think ahead to situations where you might use this strategy—on the job, with strangers, or with friends and family. Or you can analyze past situations where you might have used it, and decide what to say in the future if a similar situation arises.
When you employ this strategy, remember not to argue with the other person over whether your feelings are justified. Reasonable people, when told they are making someone uncomfortable, will alter their behavior. You don’t need to waste your time arguing with an unreasonable person. If the behavior continues, use another self defense strategy, like using a loud voice to attract attention, or leaving and getting help.
By Friday, I hope you’ll feel more confident about speaking up when you’re not being treated appropriately. You may also have a better understanding of how clear, direct communication can resolve a minor irritation before it grows into a big problem.
Extra Credit! Another way to use assertive communication for safety is by learning to give clear, explicit directions that involve bystanders in an emergency. This article by Irene van der Zande at the non-profit safety organization Kidpower has great information on how to practice this skill: Overcoming the Bystander Effect. Go take a look!
Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in below in the comments to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays. You can find all the FearLess Fridays activities on the main page.