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Section 14
Cognitive Perspective for Understanding and Training Assertiveness

Question 14 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed passive responses to anger.  These included getting information, acknowledgement and withdrawal.

In this section, we will discuss the Cognitive Behavior Therapy How to Make an Assertive Statement.  This will include dealing with one area at a time, being specific and asking for behavior changes.

How to Make an Assertive Statement

Dylan, age 36, was a near-fanatical baseball fan.  He made baseball his main priority during the season, which was six months out of the year. His wife, Ursula, age 35, could put up with the daily radio broadcasts and the occasional TV games, but she really wanted Dylan to be a part of their weekend plans during the summer.

Ursula stated to me, "I wish he’d help out with the kids, do the laundry from time to time and just spend time with us as a family! I’ve told him that one day he’s going to look up from that TV screen and we’ll be gone, but on weekends, he still prefers the game to his family!"

I stated to Ursula, "As you may know, an assertive statement has three parts: I think, I feel and I want.  The I think part of the statement presents the facts without judgment, blaming or guessing the intentions of the other person. Stating the facts lays the issue on the table for discussion.  You’ll be more likely to get the other person’s cooperation if you start with an objective statement than an insult. Insults can fuel your own anger and make the other person defensive as well.          

The I feel part of the statement acknowledges your honest reaction. It lets the other person become aware of how his or her behavior affects you without using tactics that blame, scare, or intimidate—and without making the other person defensive. Often, anger can be an emotion that overrides worry, fear, disappointment, guilt or embarrassment, to name a few.

The I want part of the statement is an important one.  Here are the guidelines for making a request, deal with one area at a time, make your request specific and ask for a behavior change."

♦ #1 Dealing with One Area at a Time
 First, let’s discuss dealing with one area at a time. I stated to Ursula, "You might sound overwhelming if you ask Dylan to help out with the kids, do the laundry and spend family time all at once. All these issues might be important to you, but if you bring them all up at the same time, Dylan could feel attacked."

♦ #2 Being Specific
Second, let’s discuss being specific. I stated to Ursula, "Instead of saying, ‘I want you to help out more with the child care,’ you might try describing exactly what you want."  Ursula thought for a moment and then decided, "Well, for one thing, I’d like Dylan to get the girls ready for school while I fix lunches and make breakfast."

♦ #3 Asking for Behavior Changes
Third, in addition to dealing with one area at a time and being specific, let’s discuss asking for behavior changes.  Ursula expressed to me, "What I really want is for Dylan to want to spend time with us!  I feel like he loves baseball more than his little girls."  I stated to Ursula, "As you know, it’s often a losing battle to ask people to change their values, priorities or feelings.  It’s often more effective to ask them to change their behavior." 

Ursula worked out an agreement with Dylan. Ursula stated to me, "We decided he would spend every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with the kids so that I can take an art class. One Sunday each month, we’ll have a family outing. Dylan can pick which Sunday, but there will be no baseball that day."

Ursula described the long-term effects of this agreement to me months later, saying, "Dylan is really developing a relationship with the girls.  He’s teaching them how to play ball, and he’s tossing around the idea of starting a little league team with the other dads he’s met at the park. I think the girls like knowing that they can be a part of their daddy’s favorite activity."

Do you have an Ursula who isn’t sure how to ask for a behavior change from a loved one?  Could he or she benefit from hearing this section?

In this section, we discussed the CBT technique of How to Make an Assertive Statement.  This included dealing with one area at a time, being specific and asking for behavior changes.

- McKay, M., Ph.D., Rogers, P. D., Ph.D., & McKay, J., Ph.D. (1989).  When Anger Hurts: How to Change Painful Feelings into Positive Action. New York, NY: MJF Book.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Pham, S., Lui, P. P., & Rollock, D. (2020). Intergenerational cultural conflict, assertiveness, and adjustment among Asian Americans. Asian American Journal of Psychology. Advance online publication.

Vagos, P., & Pereira, A. (2010). A proposal for evaluating cognition in assertiveness. Psychological Assessment, 22(3), 657–665.

Vagos, P., & Pereira, A. (2016). A cognitive perspective for understanding and training assertiveness. European Psychologist, 21(2), 109–121.

What are the three parts to making an assertive statement? To select and enter your answer go to Test

Section 15
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