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Mona Pereth
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19 Apr 2021, 7:41 am

On my website, I just now added a page containing a bunch of tutorials on assertiveness.

At some point in the future I'll post comments about some of these tutorials. In the meantime, I would be interested to hear anyone else's comments about them.


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Mona Pereth
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05 May 2021, 7:43 am

In a separate thread (Responding gracefully to constructive criticism) there appears to be some confusion about the meaning of "assertiveness." I would like to ask that we discuss that issue here instead of in the other thread.

Assertiveness is distinct from aggressiveness. Assertiveness means expressing your concerns clearly and explicitly, but in a way that tries to avoid being outright insulting. Aggressiveness means verbally attacking the person, not just the issue.


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Oculus
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09 Jun 2021, 11:16 am

These links look great! Thank you for making them available. Yes, clear and polite communication is an important life skill which we should all try to cultivate.

My wife comes from a family where communication is often indirect and mind-reading is the rule, and it took us years to figure out how to communicate clearly with each other. Because of that, she has a reputation in her own family now as a communicator, which has frequently put her in a position to arbitrate disagreements between family members. The take-away there is that developing these communication skills didn't just benefit us. It benefits everyone in our extended social circle.

The hard part, for me, is avoiding offensive implications, so I have developed recovery skills, for when communication gets off track. Things which are said mean more than what they literally mean. They also mean whatever the listener's mind associates with them, which can have less to do with the words and more to do with the listener's past experiences with similar words or phrasings. Pulling their attention back in the intended direction is a valuable communication skill in its own right.



Mona Pereth
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14 Jun 2021, 5:14 pm

Oculus wrote:
These links look great! Thank you for making them available. Yes, clear and polite communication is an important life skill which we should all try to cultivate.

Glad to hear you like the page.

Oculus wrote:
My wife comes from a family where communication is often indirect and mind-reading is the rule, and it took us years to figure out how to communicate clearly with each other. Because of that, she has a reputation in her own family now as a communicator, which has frequently put her in a position to arbitrate disagreements between family members. The take-away there is that developing these communication skills didn't just benefit us. It benefits everyone in our extended social circle.

The hard part, for me, is avoiding offensive implications, so I have developed recovery skills, for when communication gets off track. Things which are said mean more than what they literally mean. They also mean whatever the listener's mind associates with them, which can have less to do with the words and more to do with the listener's past experiences with similar words or phrasings. Pulling their attention back in the intended direction is a valuable communication skill in its own right.

It would be great if you could share some of what you've learned about how to do this.


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14 Jun 2021, 5:23 pm

There's no doubt that most people respond more to assertiveness than to aggressiveness most of the time. There are times when people like aggressiveness better----but I'm just not the type to WANT to be aggressive. It's not my nature.

My aim....is to be better at being assertive, rather than seeming to be aggressive. I've had 60 years of training on this---and I think I've learned to be pretty good, but not great.

There's always the nagging feeling that some people like bluntness better than subtlety. My nature is pretty subtle at times, and pretty direct at times. My aim is to learn how to cater to people's assertiveness/aggressive styles better.



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12 Jul 2021, 9:07 pm

Tomorrow (Tuesday) evening, from 7:00 to 9:00 PM Eastern time (New York City), 4:00 to 6:00 PM Pacific time, the Autistic in NYC / Queens support group will have a text-based chat meeting on the topic of "Assertiveness within one's family."

If you'd like to participate, please join the Autistic in NYC / Queens Meetup group and then RSVP here. The latter page also has a link to our chatroom, which will be visible once you've joined the Meetup group.


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Mona Pereth
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20 Jul 2021, 11:37 pm

In a separate thread on Responding gracefully to constructive criticism, someone wrote: "I don't want people to be assertive with me, I want them to be clear and explicit with me."

I was puzzled by that, because it seems to me that assertiveness, itself, necessarily entails being clear and explicit. Or so say all of the tutorials, by a wide variety of authors, that I listed on my page of tutorials on assertiveness.

I then asked that any further discussion of a perceived difference between being "assertive" and being "clear and explicit" be redirected into this thread on the topic of assertiveness, to avoid taking the other thread off-topic. So here's the place where I would prefer to continue that discussion, if anyone wants to.


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AngelL
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21 Jul 2021, 12:32 pm

Mona Pereth wrote:
In a separate thread (Responding gracefully to constructive criticism) there appears to be some confusion about the meaning of "assertiveness." I would like to ask that we discuss that issue here instead of in the other thread.

Assertiveness is distinct from aggressiveness. Assertiveness means expressing your concerns clearly and explicitly, but in a way that tries to avoid being outright insulting. Aggressiveness means verbally attacking the person, not just the issue.


I do see an actual difference between ‘assertive’ and ‘clear and explicit’ but then I regularly see differences where others tell me a difference doesn’t exist. So, although I mentioned this in my other post, I am well aware that this could be a shortcoming of mine – not yours.

As you know, ND folks often have challenges being assertive. It has been my experience that we don’t have challenges being clear and explicit (assuming they possess verbal communication skills that are up to the task). In fact, someone recently asked me if I had any tips for them while playing Klondike solitaire and I sent them a tutorial (without directions on HOW the game is played, since they already knew that) and it turned out to be twenty-one pages typewritten (New Times Roman font size 12). It may have been a little too clear and explicit for them.

Contrasting this is ‘assertive’ which, according to Oxford means, “Having or showing a confident and forceful personality.” Most ND folks, in my opinion, avoid confrontation. When someone approaches me bursting with self-confidence and self-assuredness (the definition of ‘confident’ – part of the assertiveness definition), I react as if a social hierarchy was just created and I’ve been relegated to the bottom. In any social situation to which I am part, if there is a problem, I assume I’m the cause unless it is ridiculously obvious. The assertive person’s confidence and delivery imply, to me, that they KNOW. Disagreement will cause confrontation because that’s what happens when people KNOW. Just recall a conversation with a Jehovah Witness who came knocking on your door – they may have asked if you wanted to discuss the Good News, but they aren’t offering you a discussion, they’re offering you a sales pitch.

That’s how, “Let’s discuss it in another thread” followed by presenting them with a definition, “Assertive means clear and explicit” struck me as condescending, even if it wasn't meant that way. Even the Jehovah Witness will say, “I believe…” but without that, it sounded authoritative (to me) and I find that off-putting (because I’m afraid of authority – nothing to do with you). “Forceful” the other leg of the ‘assertive” definition, means ‘strong, vigorous and powerful’. Again, when someone approaches me with strength and power, I get defensive. Because I am uncomfortable in social interactions, I can act confident and forceful – but I never actually feel that way. Regardless of how I greet such a presentation, inside I’m cowering, looking for a way to escape, and managing anxiety. It is rare I actually hear what they are saying.

Clear and explicit – taking a look at the definition of ‘clear’ we get: easy to perceive, understand, or interpret. Explicit is defined as: stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt. So, for me, I’d say that clear and explicit means stated in a way that it easy to understand, with lots of details so that there is no room for confusion. It seems (again, to me) to be devoid of those traits that strike me as authoritative because they share the traits of strength and forcefulness with ‘assertiveness’ - and since running up against authority has resulted in unfortunate misunderstandings, I see it as dangerous. I think it is human nature that when faced with an ambiguous situation that is either neutral or dangerous, but they can't tell, to become defensive in the event that it turns out to be dangerous.

That said, I do understand that you are only trying to help. I didn’t know that in the beginning, so I’m grateful for that understanding. Please know that I only wrote this to try and let you into my head because I thought it might be helpful to you…I am not trying to be ‘right’ here, just communicate.



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21 Jul 2021, 1:47 pm

This website has always been useful:  People Skills Decoded 


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Mona Pereth
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21 Jul 2021, 5:37 pm

AngelL wrote:
I do see an actual difference between ‘assertive’ and ‘clear and explicit’ but then I regularly see differences where others tell me a difference doesn’t exist. So, although I mentioned this in my other post, I am well aware that this could be a shortcoming of mine – not yours.

As you know, ND folks often have challenges being assertive. It has been my experience that we don’t have challenges being clear and explicit (assuming they possess verbal communication skills that are up to the task). In fact, someone recently asked me if I had any tips for them while playing Klondike solitaire and I sent them a tutorial (without directions on HOW the game is played, since they already knew that) and it turned out to be twenty-one pages typewritten (New Times Roman font size 12). It may have been a little too clear and explicit for them.

Contrasting this is ‘assertive’ which, according to Oxford means, “Having or showing a confident and forceful personality.”

One source of misunderstanding here, perhaps, is the difference between popular and technical meanings of the word "assertiveness." I'm surprised that the Oxford English Dictionary does not include the technical meaning of "assertiveness" as used in psychology, in addition to what is apparently the more popular meaning of the term.

The American Psychological Association's APA Dictionary of Psychology defines "assertiveness" as: "an adaptive style of communication in which individuals express their feelings and needs directly, while maintaining respect for others. A lack of assertiveness may contribute to depression and anxiety, whereas maladaptive approaches to assertiveness may manifest as aggression."

I see that the Oxford definition does not distinguish between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Unlike the Oxford definition, the APA definition of "assertiveness" includes "... while maintaining respect for others" and does not necessarily entail being "forceful."

Thus the Oxford definition of "assertiveness" differs significantly from the way the word "assertiveness" is used in most assertiveness tutorials and by most psychotherapists and other professionals who do "assertiveness training." As used in the context of "assertiveness training," being "assertive" is very distinct from being "aggressive."

AngelL wrote:
Most ND folks, in my opinion, avoid confrontation. When someone approaches me bursting with self-confidence and self-assuredness (the definition of ‘confident’ – part of the assertiveness definition), I react as if a social hierarchy was just created and I’ve been relegated to the bottom. In any social situation to which I am part, if there is a problem, I assume I’m the cause unless it is ridiculously obvious. The assertive person’s confidence and delivery imply, to me, that they KNOW. Disagreement will cause confrontation because that’s what happens when people KNOW.

Regarding your last sentence above, I would say that that's what happens often, but not always, in my experience. A lot depends on how willing people are to discuss their disagreements in a civil manner, and on how emotionally attached people are to what they think they know.

AngelL wrote:
Just recall a conversation with a Jehovah Witness who came knocking on your door – they may have asked if you wanted to discuss the Good News, but they aren’t offering you a discussion, they’re offering you a sales pitch.

That’s how, “Let’s discuss it in another thread” followed by presenting them with a definition, “Assertive means clear and explicit” struck me as condescending, even if it wasn't meant that way. Even the Jehovah Witness will say, “I believe…” but without that, it sounded authoritative (to me) and I find that off-putting (because I’m afraid of authority – nothing to do with you).

You're probably not the only person here on WP who feels this way. Thanks for explaining it to me in such detail.

AngelL wrote:
“Forceful” the other leg of the ‘assertive” definition, means ‘strong, vigorous and powerful’. Again, when someone approaches me with strength and power, I get defensive. Because I am uncomfortable in social interactions, I can act confident and forceful – but I never actually feel that way.

Are there any topics on which you feel reasonably confident of your knowledge? If so, have you ever been in a social situation where your knowledge was in demand? For example, have you ever worked as a tutor?

AngelL wrote:
Regardless of how I greet such a presentation, inside I’m cowering, looking for a way to escape, and managing anxiety. It is rare I actually hear what they are saying.

Well then, thanks for sticking around to see what I was saying, and thanks for giving me a thorough response to my question.

AngelL wrote:
Clear and explicit – taking a look at the definition of ‘clear’ we get: easy to perceive, understand, or interpret. Explicit is defined as: stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt. So, for me, I’d say that clear and explicit means stated in a way that it easy to understand, with lots of details so that there is no room for confusion.

This is consistent with, though not precisely synonymous with, "assertiveness" in the APA dictionary's sense of the term. It is, for the most part, consistent with the advice given in most tutorials on assertiveness (and in most tutorials on how to give constructive criticism, which is a form of assertiveness).

AngelL wrote:
It seems (again, to me) to be devoid of those traits that strike me as authoritative because they share the traits of strength and forcefulness with ‘assertiveness’

One problem here may be that I am so accustomed to seeing and using the word "assertive" in the sense in which that word is used in "assertiveness training" tutorials that I simply forgot that other people here might assume the word "assertive" means "aggressive" or "authoritative."

AngelL wrote:
- and since running up against authority has resulted in unfortunate misunderstandings, I see it as dangerous. I think it is human nature that when faced with an ambiguous situation that is either neutral or dangerous, but they can't tell, to become defensive in the event that it turns out to be dangerous.

That said, I do understand that you are only trying to help. I didn’t know that in the beginning, so I’m grateful for that understanding. Please know that I only wrote this to try and let you into my head because I thought it might be helpful to you…I am not trying to be ‘right’ here, just communicate.

Again, thanks for the detailed explanation.

Thanks also for honoring my request to move the discussion about "assertiveness" to this thread on assertiveness. (Note to other readers: Above, AngelL was responding not only to the quoted post in this thread but also to this post of mine in the separate thread on Responding gracefully to constructive criticism.)


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Last edited by Mona Pereth on 21 Jul 2021, 7:25 pm, edited 9 times in total.

Mona Pereth
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21 Jul 2021, 6:08 pm

Fnord wrote:
This website has always been useful:  People Skills Decoded 

This appears to be a general people skills site. On first glance I didn't find anything directly on the topic of assertiveness per se, but I did find something that might be relevant to the recent conversation here: The Difference between Confidence and Arrogance.


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21 Jul 2021, 6:11 pm

@Mona,
Thank you for all your research, the links, and your ongoing updates about assertiveness training. It's exactly what I was working on with my Speech-Language Pathologist before I quit in a blaze of frustration (lol - that's another story). I understand what assertiveness is, and can appreciate how it's a constructive skill. My observation is that it works really well when meeting new people and starting new relationships. In that context the new person accepts the assertiveness because they haven't known you any other way. My issue is how to start being assertive with people, after years of being a doormat?

I've used some assertive statements with people who don't expect it from me. They seem to be so shocked or uncomfortable that they turn it around and gaslight me, acting like I was offensive to them when I wasn't. I think they're just in shock even though I didn't say anything aggressive or hurtful. Those people don't accept it and seem to feel threatened by the change. They insist I'm "mad" at them or else they give me the silent treatment because they don't know how to respond.

Do you advise that I tell these people "I was being assertive ..." and explain what it is / why it matters, or do I leave it open to their interpretation and response?



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21 Jul 2021, 6:40 pm

IsabellaLinton wrote:
@Mona,
Thank you for all your research, the links, and your ongoing updates about assertiveness training. It's exactly what I was working on with my Speech-Language Pathologist before I quit in a blaze of frustration (lol - that's another story). I understand what assertiveness is, and can appreciate how it's a constructive skill. My observation is that it works really well when meeting new people and starting new relationships. In that context the new person accepts the assertiveness because they haven't known you any other way. My issue is how to start being assertive with people, after years of being a doormat?

I've used some assertive statements with people who don't expect it from me. They seem to be so shocked or uncomfortable that they turn it around and gaslight me, acting like I was offensive to them when I wasn't. I think they're just in shock even though I didn't say anything aggressive or hurtful. Those people don't accept it and seem to feel threatened by the change. They insist I'm "mad" at them or else they give me the silent treatment because they don't know how to respond.

Do you advise that I tell these people "I was being assertive ..." and explain what it is / why it matters, or do I leave it open to their interpretation and response?


~listens carefully for responses and thanks IsabellaLinton for asking the question~

addendum...
I emboldened some parts that really jumped out at me. I shared in my first thread in which you (IsabellaLinton) were the first to respond (thanks!) about masking with a comedic mask. Some days when I just didn't have it in me to get up on stage (not literally - just meaning 'performing' for people) people would come up and ask, "What's wrong?" They couldn't accept this discordant vision of me that clashed so strongly with the idea they had of me. It was easier to slip the mask on than to be too exhausted to do so. I've been being more authentic with my father lately and how you said it was exactly how my long term therapist put it two hours ago, "...he seems to feel threatened by the change".



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21 Jul 2021, 7:20 pm

Unfortunately, I'm running into a time crunch, but wanted to respond - even if it's short. Let me begin by saying thank you for such a detailed response, and being so kind about it. As to your questions, taking them one at a time...

Mona Pereth wrote:
Are there any topics on which you feel reasonably confident of your knowledge?


Yes, a number of them.

Mona Pereth wrote:
If so, have you ever been in a social situation where your knowledge was in demand? For example, have you ever worked as a tutor?


Interesting; I have never considered tutoring to be a social situation. Is this subjective? To answer your question specifically, yes I have worked as a tutor. Since you're framing it as a social situation, I have to ask....actually, before I ask, let me preface this by saying that the reason that I'm asking is because I approached each of these situations in the same way as I approached tutoring - as a job. With that said, my question is, would you consider...I developed the curriculum and opened a school in which I taught all the classes - to be a social situation? Or, I've given presentations to the A.P.A. and F.B.I....social? In each case (including tutoring) I was teaching and was being paid for my efforts so I didn't consider it social. Where am I going wrong?

Mona Pereth wrote:
Well then, thanks for sticking around to see what I was saying, and thanks for giving me a thorough response to my question.


You're welcome. It is much easier online, to be sure. It helps that you've been so nice though.

Mona Pereth wrote:
Thanks also for honoring my request to move the discussion about "assertiveness" to this thread on assertiveness.


My pleasure!



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22 Jul 2021, 9:35 pm

IsabellaLinton wrote:
I understand what assertiveness is, and can appreciate how it's a constructive skill. My observation is that it works really well when meeting new people and starting new relationships. In that context the new person accepts the assertiveness because they haven't known you any other way. My issue is how to start being assertive with people, after years of being a doormat?

I've used some assertive statements with people who don't expect it from me. They seem to be so shocked or uncomfortable that they turn it around and gaslight me, acting like I was offensive to them when I wasn't. I think they're just in shock even though I didn't say anything aggressive or hurtful. Those people don't accept it and seem to feel threatened by the change. They insist I'm "mad" at them or else they give me the silent treatment because they don't know how to respond.

Do you advise that I tell these people "I was being assertive ..." and explain what it is / why it matters, or do I leave it open to their interpretation and response?

Maybe best not to start off with the word "assertive," given common misunderstandings of what that word means -- apparently, so common that even the Oxford English Dictionary seems to be unaware of what I always thought of as the correct definition of "assertive"!

Maybe it might be better to say something like the following?

"Lately I've been working on improving my communication skills, including my ability to speak up about things that bother me. So, if you've noticed me complaining about things more often than I used to, that's why. It doesn't mean I've stopped liking you. I would appreciate it very much if you too could let me know about anything I do that bothers you, so we can decide together what to do about these things, maybe work out some mutually acceptable compromises? I know this is uncomfortable for you -- it's scary for me too -- but I really want to work these things out with you, and not let them fester, so we can enjoy each other's company better in the future."

I don't know the people in your life, so I certainly don't know what wording would really have the best chance of going over well with them -- or would really be appropriate for the specific people in the first place -- but perhaps you can tweak the above wording into something appropriate for the specific people?

In any case I think it's important to let them know that what has changed is you, not them, and that your aim is to make things better for them as well as for you. And I think you probably should use the word "assertive" at some point, even if not as part of your initial explanation.

Perhaps, after you've explained the basic ideas to them, you could refer them to some of the better tutorials from my lists of links to tutorials (written by other people, not by me) on assertiveness and active listening?

Unfortunately, if you previously were a "doormat," you've probably attracted into your life quite a few people who likewise go out of their way to avoid confrontation, so it might be very difficult to convince them of the value of assertiveness.


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Last edited by Mona Pereth on 23 Jul 2021, 1:28 am, edited 2 times in total.

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22 Jul 2021, 10:16 pm

AngelL wrote:
Mona Pereth wrote:
If so, have you ever been in a social situation where your knowledge was in demand? For example, have you ever worked as a tutor?


Interesting; I have never considered tutoring to be a social situation. Is this subjective? To answer your question specifically, yes I have worked as a tutor. Since you're framing it as a social situation, I have to ask....actually, before I ask, let me preface this by saying that the reason that I'm asking is because I approached each of these situations in the same way as I approached tutoring - as a job. With that said, my question is, would you consider...I developed the curriculum and opened a school in which I taught all the classes - to be a social situation? Or, I've given presentations to the A.P.A. and F.B.I....social? In each case (including tutoring) I was teaching and was being paid for my efforts so I didn't consider it social. Where am I going wrong?

In the broad sense of the word "social," every interaction between people is "social." This includes any job that involves interaction with other people.

This is consistent with definition #2 of the APA's dictionary listing for the word "social." And, when psychotherapists talk about "social skills," they are talking about the ability to interact appropriately with other people in all contexts -- including one's job, if any.

Apparently the word "social" has a narrower meaning to you? If so, what is it?

Perhaps this is just another case where the popular meanings of a word (see the definitions of the word "social" on dictionary.com) are different from that word's technical meanings?

Anyhow, apparently you find tutoring and teaching to be much easier than other kinds of social interaction? This is true for quite a few (though not all) autistic people, including myself. Quite a few Aspie kids have been called "little professors," after all.


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