By Stuart Wilde
One of the reasons why you are considering becoming self-employed is because you probably want more freedom, and this means having more independence and control over all the areas of your life. To have total freedom you will need to develop an assertive personality, one that does not allow others to impose their intentions on you should that not be your desire, and one that is able to make things happen so that life gives you what you want.
Basically, having an assertive personality boils down to being totally centered and contained within yourself, and not leaning out into the world looking for acceptance from sources outside of yourself. It means that the greater majority of the time you are calm and relaxed, with very few events that are happening around you pushing you off-balance. It sometimes comes naturally to those people who have been properly nurtured and loved while growing up, but for those of us that haven’t we need to develop this attribute ourselves.
From the moment we are born we are told what to do, how to do it and when to get it done. We are taught to conform, to fit in and to be a part of society. All the structures around us, from governments to religious and educational institutions want to make sure that we do. They set rules and regulations that are so stifling that in the end the people just acquiesce and go along simply because they would rather not think about, rally against or fight these laws. But if you desire to free yourself of the imposed shackles of these societal institutions you will need to develop your own viewpoints, know what you want and be able to ask for it. Part of becoming free is being able to go against the status quo and to take an individual stand on life.
The setbacks and restrictions you face along the way strengthen you as you are forced to face them head-on, and although they may feel overpowering at times, in overcoming them you develop an individuality that defines you and sets you apart from others. So if you find that you have experienced tremendous troubles and strife in your life try not to see it as such a bad thing. If you have been able to go beyond those forces that were against you, you will have developed persistence, tenacity and strength. All three of these characteristics will give you the power to manifest whatever you want out of life.
To further develop your assertiveness you must see yourself in a non-judgmental way and not criticise or condemn yourself for what you do or have done, or what you don’t do or haven’t done. Eventually you should become able to look at all of your life, see it for what it is, and be accepting of and know who you are. You may desire to make changes to aspects of whom and what you are, but basically you are settled in the knowledge that this will come with time and is something that you are quite capable of doing.
Assertiveness is the ability to take yourself out into the world and be who you are with those around you, while at the same time not being pushed off centre by their reaction to you. If you are assertive you can be yourself, talk about your life, have opinions of your own and not be attached to whether or not other people accept you for those things. You can basically leave it up to others to react to you in whatever way they choose to react. And, when you have truly mastered detachment their reaction will not matter to you.
If you cannot do this then you are not allowing the beauty that is within you to be free to be. You will be projecting to the world that you have no worth, no value or no capabilities. This is basically fear, and as the saying goes ‘a life lived in fear is a life half-lived’. The first part of assertiveness then is to accept yourself as you are, wherever and however that may be. If you are around someone who makes you feel ‘less than’ in some way, ask yourself ‘what is it about this person that intimidates me?’ When you have worked this out you will then discover an area within you that you need to accept. For example, if someone asks you out and you feel that you can’t accept because you aren’t good enough for that person, ask yourself ‘what is it that is holding me back?’ If it happens to be that they are very wealthy and you aren’t, then you will need to work on accepting that you have value to offer without having to have loads of money. Once you can do this for yourself on all levels, you should also give those around you the very same acceptance.
Next, assertiveness requires you to have very clearly defined goals in life and that you know what your purpose is. If you have no idea about these things you will not be able to become assertive. If you do not know what you want the first step to take is to work out what you don’t want from life until you have narrowed down your list to what you do want from life. Underlying what you want will be your purpose – the reason for you being here. If you are able to define this you will be able to assertively say no to those things in life that you do not want that go against your purpose, and assertively speak up for those things that you do want in life that fit in with your purpose.
In order to strengthen your self-image never put yourself down. It is very important that once you begin to develop an assertive personality that you always speak of yourself in a positive manner. In doing so you will begin to create around you a shroud of serene strength that does not invite those people into your experience that are likely to try to take advantage of you. You don’t have to brag and you don’t have to boast, but you should be happy to say to someone ‘I am a very good cook’ because your whole family enjoys each and every meal that you serve them. Or ‘I am a terrific seamstress’, because the clothes you make are top quality garments and you know it to be a fact. Or, ‘I was the smartest accountant to graduate in my class’ because you received honors and much recognition at your graduation. It is simply a mental discipline of watching yourself speak and catching yourself when you say something that puts you down. It just takes practice.
You will then begin to exude self-worth, a quality that is sadly lacking in many people, purely because they have taken on the opinions of others, or because of the treatment that they have experienced in the process of going through life. You have to reach the point where you can walk away from the judgments and criticisms of those around you and not be affected by them, and where you can stamp out from your life those people that are going to treat you with anything other than respect. Once you exude self-worth, developing the skills of clear and precise communication will enable you to control misunderstandings as they arise between you and your clients.
Many people were never taught how to set boundaries and how to say no, and at various times in their lives they have had their own boundaries invaded by parents, friends and/or lovers. This places them in a weak position while dealing with clients in their new business. If you haven’t already, it is very important that you learn to set boundaries, as this will form the foundation that will allow you to remain in control while being self-employed. Also, applying assertiveness at the appropriate moment and to the right degree is an aspect of setting boundaries that should also be developed.
How this is done incorporates body language, voice projection and knowing where the limits are to your boundaries. Good communication skills help you to deliver your boundaries in a way that does not provoke resentment. The combination of being able to set boundaries and being able to say what they are in a non-aggressive manner will place a person in good control of most of the situations that arise with his or her clients.
Setting your boundaries does not mean being confrontational. It requires that you have a healthy self-respect that allows you to insist on being treated properly and paid accordingly through using good communication skills as opposed to aggression. I have seen some people actually create a confrontation with their clients in an effort to prove something, but this is aggression rather than assertiveness. Insisting on being right in an aggressive manner may make you feel good, but it does nothing to help the growth of your business and does not make your client feel like they have received value for money. Your business’s success relies on making sure your client feels supported by your service.
On the other hand, you may walk away if it is your client who is attempting to create conflict. If the situation requires you to be assertive in order to remain in control do so in a non-threatening way. Your ability to remain calm in the face of aggression or conflict will determine your level of control. It is wise not to add fuel to the
fire when you can feel that there is a tense situation developing. If you are providing a service it is better just to stay quiet, finish your work and leave calmly. This is why you should collect your payment at the start of the job when providing a service to people because you can never predict what your client’s real intentions are.
Let us look at a few practical strategies on setting boundaries and delivering those boundaries using good communication skills. Let’s say, for example that you are setting up a cleaning service. Once you know what rates to charge for the different cleaning services you need to stay within these boundaries with every client that you deal with so that you get used to setting boundaries and keeping to them. If you are asked to do extra work and the rate that you are charging does not cover these extra requests then just look your client in the eye and say ‘I can certainly do those things for you during a Spring-Clean. Would you like to order a Spring-Clean, Mrs Jones?’ If they ask again, just repeat your offer to do a Spring-Clean. Then, if they insist that you do the work they want without ordering a Spring-Clean, you simply say ‘no, these services will need to be charged at a higher rate’ clearly, calmly and without emotion. Stating what you will or won’t do for the fee that the client is paying needs to be done clearly and precisely, without any negative emotion. Good communication only becomes aggression if you add negative emotion to your delivery of what you are trying to say.
Over a period of time your aura will begin to exude an ‘I cannot be easily controlled or taken advantage of’ feeling about it, and when you say ‘no’ your clients will know that you mean what you say. They will, on an unconscious level, know that your ‘no’ means ‘no’. You will find then that fewer and fewer people try to push you to do things that once before you would find yourself doing but feeling resentful of because you really didn’t want to do those things in the first place. A really nice thing begins to happen. People can feel that they can’t manipulate you, so they don’t try. Occasionally you will run into someone who likes to ramrod people into doing what they want, and under these circumstances you will need to be more firm with this type of person, but with practice you will find that you can even handle them as well.
Practice saying no whenever somebody in your life (outside the boundaries of good business relations) asks you to do something that you would normally say yes to doing. Just say no for the sake of learning to say no. It may feel awkward and difficult to begin with but after time you will learn how to say no without feeling any guilt or obligation around it. Then practice asking for what you want. This may also be difficult to begin with, but once again with time even this will become easy. Practice speaking up for yourself too. If someone pushes in when you are waiting to be served at the shop, speak up for yourself and say ‘I was next, thank you’. That way you don’t gather resentment towards others for things you should have protected yourself against but didn’t. Begin to claim your right to enjoy all the benefits of being a worthy individual.
Assertiveness can become an integral part of your being, if you take the time to develop it and to make your life special. It is only a matter of focusing on developing those skills, and with time anything can be learned and achieved.