Assertiveness as a Tool for Enrichment

Man and woman

Last week’s blog (our most shared blog ever) focused on an assertive, appropriate response to unwanted physical contact by an acquaintance. If you didn’t see it, I suggest that you read that entry first so you can get the most out of this one. The scenario I discussed is a fairly common one for girls and women: a social situation where someone touches someone else in a way that makes them uncomfortable. In the comments section from last week, one reader asked the following question (one that often gets asked in my live trainings): “I’m curious how the man will feel or respond when told to remove his hand. Will he want to continue the engaging conversation?”

The underlying concern in this question is a very common one for women: “If I set a boundary, is the person still going to like me?” It proves that girls are still trained to be nice and polite above all else. Stepping outside of this trained response, or nonresponse as it may be, can be difficult.

When I set up this scenario in my training Communicating, Dating, and Relating, I am careful to always include a few details about the “toucher” in order to make it as realistic as possible. My description is: “This is a guy you are having a nice conversation with. He’s not a creep. You don’t get a creepy feeling about him at all.” I make this distinction because I’m assuming that my students would not have as much difficulty setting a clear boundary with a creep. In that situation, we’re no longer concerned about hurting his feelings or continuing the interaction.

To answer the question my reader asked last week, a typical response from a nice guy when a woman lets him know that his touch is unwelcome is to remove his hand and apologize. That’s it. The conversation usually just continues where it left off. And he learned something about her in that moment: she’s a woman with high self-esteem who knows how to take care of herself.

Of course if you misjudged him and he’s not a nice guy, I tell my students, you will become acutely aware of that in this moment. If, instead of apologizing when you tell him you are uncomfortable with his hand on your knee, he gets angry or doesn’t move his hand and says something like, “Well, it feels pretty comfortable to me,” you’ve learned something.

Either way, your response means someone learns something. He learns about you, you learn about him: this is how healthy relationships are built.

Most of the time your instincts are not wrong, and if you liked him to start with, he’ll prove you correct. When you verbalize your boundaries, you are not only taking care of yourself, but you are educating him about appropriate interaction with you and other women.  Assertiveness is respectfully educating other people about how you want to be treated. Believe me when I tell you the more you practice assertive communication, the easier it gets. You see the results of your assertiveness: people actually do what you tell them to do, you gain self-awareness and self-esteem, and your relationships deepen with your increased honesty. What more incentive do you need?

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One Response to “Assertiveness as a Tool for Enrichment”

  1. Matthew

    Absolutely right on. There are plenty of guys who are not out to hurt anyone am if they have been told they have crossed a boundary will respond accordingly, even apologetically. That’s why it is important to set that boundary because the guys who are out to hurt will reveal themselves with thier response.


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