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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Boyett

How to Be Assertive with Sensitive People

1. Don't assume that the other person will react badly (even if they have in the past). When you assume the worst, the worst will happen.

2. Remember to use "I" language, such as "I feel/felt ________ when ________________ happened."

3. Avoid using "You" language, such as "You made me feel _________."

4. Ask the other person how they are feeling, and really listen without interrupting. Sometimes people just want to be heard, and they really don't need you to do anything but listen.

5. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Think about how you might feel if you were them.

6. Remember that NOT being assertive is only harming you and causing your needs to not be met. That makes your mental health worse.

7. Do not claim ownership of the other person's thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. You are only responsible for yourself, and they choose how they want to respond. Their response is not your fault.

8. Share about a way that you have struggled in the past or are currently struggling, and approach it as if you are seeking the other person's feedback and guidance. This will help decrease defensiveness. For example, you want your boyfriend to go to counseling so he will stop trying to dump emotional baggage on you. Tell him, "I've been going to counseling for a while, and sometimes it just seems so hard. Have you been to counseling before? I wish you had so that you could give me some advice about it." This could lead into discussion about how it would help you if he would seek help. Another example: Your mom doesn't want you to move to another state. You could say, "Mom, I'm pretty confident about moving, but I know deep down that I have a little doubt about it. How did you know you were making the right choice when you moved?" (or whatever the situation is). This gently guides the other person into putting themselves in your shoes, and they will have more empathy for you. They will also feel important and feel that their feelings matter to you, instead of feeling angry and defensive.

9. Preface the conversation by making it clear that the issue is not about the other person. For example, if you want someone who is disruptive to be quiet. "__________, I'm having a hard time concentrating on _________. Sometimes I feel like I just can't get my mind together! It would help if you could go to the other room for a little while so I can get my thoughts together." 10. Quit blaming yourself or thinking that you did something  wrong because the other person is upset. Most of the time, the person is upset about something completely unrelated and is directing their anger at you because you are in the line of fire. Ask questions to help guide them to what is really making them feel upset instead of letting them bring up something from your past to defuse anger about the underlying situation.

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