ASSERTIVENESS

 

Assertiveness is defined as the ability to recognize your emotions and effectively communicate them. Assertiveness is the way I decrease my anger towards people and it’s the way I get people to treat me differently. It is how I react when people are irritating me or stressing me out. Assertiveness is essential in order to maintain close contact with people. If you are not assertive, people will inevitably start to irritate you, drain you, or foster your resentment.

Everyone in your life has to be taught how to treat you. You are different from everyone else. You have different sensitivities, likes, and dislikes. The only way other people will know these things about you is if you tell them. The best way to tell them is by stating the way their behavior makes you feel.

You don’t meet the ideal best friend, co-worker, boss, or employee. You don’t even meet your ideal soul mate. You create them. You create them by communicating the way their behavior makes you feel. If you stop communicating this to them, they eventually stop being your soul mate, best friend, ideal co-worker etc. Granted, there needs to be sufficiently good “clay” to mold a good figure, but clay abounds and what is rare is the skill to mold it.

Every human being is prewired to respond to communication about the way their behavior makes you feel. They can’t help it. Even if they are defensive, angry, or dismissive of your communication, they will still feel a pull to move in the direction you are requesting. While it’s true that you can’t change a person’s personality (or at least, not easily), you can change their behavior. You can, for example, become the one person the “jerk boss” treats nicely.

Assertiveness is on a continuum. On the left side is being passive, in the middle is being assertive and on the right side is being aggressive. Passive-Assertive-Aggressive. Being passive means not showing any sign that someone is irritating you. Being assertive means telling someone the way their behavior makes you feel. Being aggressive is any form of disapproval where you do not reference the behavior or the emotion (for example, slamming doors, yelling, attacking someone's character).

The most common pattern is to be too passive initially. People take it, take it, take it. Swallow it, swallow it, swallow it. Until finally they are so mad that they overshoot the mark and become aggressive: they yell at the person, stop returning their calls, or write them off as a friends all together. The goal of assertiveness is to get you to say something quickly, before you get so angry that you overshoot the mark and become agressive.

What follows are specifics on how to state your emotions, how to let it go, how to recognize when you are being passive, and how to recognize when you are being aggressive. I will also discuss the most common effects of being assertive.

Use your Emotions (Assertive Statement)

The most important thing to remember when you are being assertive is to state your emotions. Specifically, I mean stating one word emotions such as: happy, sad, irritated, disappointed, frustrated, worried, upset, or anxious. When I am assertive, I make one of the following two statements:

Assertive Statement:

“I feel Y emotion when you do X behavior”

Or “When you do X behavior, it makes me feel Y emotion”

The “Y emotion” should be a one-word emotion. You should be saying “It makes me feel sad, anxious, happy, excited, frustrated, worried, disappointed, angry, irritated, upset, or frustrated.” Stick with these basic emotions when you are being assertive. More complex one-word emotions (such as “betrayed” “neglected” “violated”) don’t work as well because they incorporate an accusation along with the emotion (which can spark a side argument).

The “X behavior” should be as operationalized, observable, and specific as possible. Avoid concepts such as “When you’re a jerk, inconsiderate, selfish etc..”. My favorite example about avoiding concepts is a story from my 20s. Back then girls always used to complain about the same thing; I wasn’t “romantic” enough. “You’re not romantic. You’re not romantic.” This would always spark an argument. “What do you mean I’m not romantic?! I hold your hands. I give you backrubs. I say I love you. What are you talking about?!” Finally, in my late 20’s, a girl I was dating said “No, you idiot! I mean surprise me with presents and flowers!” And I was like “Oh. That’s what you mean! I can do that. Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

Once you specify the behavior, it become much easier for the person to know what you are asking for. So, don’t tell your girlfriend that she’s “too flaky.” Tell her that you it irritates you when she is 30 minute late. Don’t tell your employee that they “need to put more effort into work.” Tell them it would make you feel better if they met their deadlines and came up with one new idea a week. The more specific and behavioral the request, the more the person you are being assertive with will know what you are talking about.

When I am mad at somebody I think to myself, “What is the specific behavior that they are doing, and how does it make me feel?” I then I communicate this directly to the person for the sake of my sanity and the relationship.

Let It Go (the Assertiveness Sequence)

The second most important thing about being assertive is to “let it go”. Typically this means changing the topic, ending the conversation, even leaving, and then being nice to the person and making up as soon as possible. Let me introduce this topic via what I call the assertiveness sequence.

The Assertiveness Sequence:

YOU: Assertive Statement

THEM: Blah Blah Blah (i.e. defensive or evasive response)

YOU: Repeat the Assertive Statement

THEM: Blah Blah Blah (i.e. defensive or evasive response)

YOU: Drop it/be nice to them

When I was younger, being assertive was an ordeal. I thought that I had to explain myself, and they needed to agree with me, apologize, promise never to do it again, and maybe even “prove” themselves before I would be nice to them. It was a huge pain because once people got defensive (and they usually did) the process would take hours (and so I’d be reluctant to do it). Now, I realize that it doesn’t matter whether or not people agree with me. Either way, I will feel better and either way, they will be likely to change. When people are defensive I think to myself “Look, they are clearly uncomfortable. That means it worked. I’ve made my point. Now I can drop it.”

Here’s a good example of a “defensive” response to the assertiveness sequence:

ME: I’m frustrated that you are 30 minutes late to our appointment. I’d be happier if you came on time.

PATIENT: I already told you that I left an hour ago and that I was caught in traffic. I come here for treatment of anxiety and now you’re stressing me out!

ME: I’m just saying that I’m frustrated that you are 30 minutes late and I’d be happier of you came on time.

PATIENT: I pay for your time and I can show up whenever I want. Guess what? I’m going to show up 40 minutes late next time. How to you like that?!

ME: Well, I’m glad I told you how I feel. I can see why my comment irritated you. I do enjoy working with you and am sorry you got caught in traffic... How was your week?

Even though it seems like I “lost” the conversation and that I “backed down”, in fact that patient would be much more likely to show up on time. This is why I sometime refer to assertiveness as a “Jedi Mind Trick.” Regardless of the person’s response, just the fact that they have heard the assertive statement will tend to alter their behavior. They can’t help it. We are all hard-wired to respond to information about the way our behavior makes people feel. So, if someone is being defensive, just let it go. In my experience, there’s no need to “force” them to verbally agree with you in order for the assertive statement to "work".

Once I’ve delivered an assertive statement and repeated it, I drop the subject and do whatever I can to generate a good relationship between us again. The reason you need to let it go/be nice to the person is because that is when the other person will accept what you’ve said. In the above example, if the patient was still angry at me at the end, he’ll think “Dr. K is a jerk. I’ll show him how wrong he is!” Whereas when the patient and I are nice to each other again, he’s more open to thinking “Hmm… Maybe Dr. K has a point. If I show up on time he can help me more.” This happens a lot with me and my wife. When we are angry at each other, we get defensive and we argue. Later when we’ve cooled off we hug and say “I love you.” We are then much more willing to see each other’s points. I’ll actually do whatever I can to get back on a good page with people. I might apologize for my tone, sympathize with their anger, acknowledge my flaws, or tell them how much I like them. I’ll basically do anything with one exception: I won’t take back the assertive statement.

The most effective pattern of assertiveness is: “I love you. I love you. I love you. Assertive Statement. I love you. I love you. I love you”. This is also known as having a good “signal-to-noise ratio”. If you are always mad at somebody, then they won’t notice when you are “extra” mad at them.  Once you are nice to them again, it's like "reloading the gun" so you can be assertive again if you need to.  Most of my friends tell me that they appreciate this pattern.  Once I've gotten something off my chest, I'm nice to them and I don't hold any grudges.

Once I get my emotions off my chest (by being assertive), it is much easier to get them off of mind. This is actually the main reason I am assertive with people. Rather than hanging on to the anger, I express it to them directly. Granted, it might still take me a day or two to feel better (especially if the person was defensive), but if I don’t say anything at all then it will take week or months before enough “water has passed under the bridge” for me to like them again. I have lost several friends because I hanged onto the anger (i.e. was too passive) rather than getting it off my chest. Once I’ve been assertive I can then say to myself “Lindsay, you’ve already done what you needed to do. Now it’s on you get over it and be nice to them again.”  It may take some work to stop holding grudges, but once you have been assertive, it's on you to learn how to let it go.  Most of my patients have been able to learn how to stop holding grudges remarkably quickly, especially when they first learned how to get problems off their chest by being assertive.

Before leaving the topic of the assertiveness sequence, I’d like to give an example that highlights the use of emotions versus logic. Here is how I handle contrarians (friends or coworkers who always seem to disagree with what I say):

ME: “You know, it makes me frustrated when we disagree. I’m always happier when we agree with each other."

Contrarian: “That’s silly. There’s no way we can always agree with each other."

ME: “I know it’s silly! I’m just saying that I’m frustrated when we disagree, and I’m always happier when we agree with each other.”

Contrarian: “Well, that’s not going to happen. I think it’s better when we challenge each other’s ideas.”

ME: Well, I’m glad I told you. How was your day?

Even though it may seems like the assertiveness sequence didn’t “work”, in fact it almost always does. The contrarian in question will almost always start agreeing with me more (which leads to more productive conversations). Remember that people don’t have to agree with you in order for assertiveness to work. As long as you give them feedback on the way their behavior makes you feel, they will automatically feel a pull to change in your direction.

Some of my patients are concerned that being assertive is manipulative (especially since I use terms such as “Jedi-mind trick” to explain it). While your emotions can be used to manipulate people (i.e. by lying about or exaggerating your emotions), you can avoid being manipulative by being as honest as possible. If you are honestly communicating the way somebody’s behavior makes you feel, then you are not being manipulative. You are being upfront, effective, and strong. You are being as honest as possible and the other person will change because they care about the way they make you feel (whether they realize it or not).

Signs That You Are Too Passive

There are three signs that you are being too passive: 1. You are developing an evil theory/they feel like an arch-nemesis/you are ruminating. 2. You are complaining about someone behind their back. 3. You are feeling bad and you don’t know why (i.e. you are having a UFO, an Unidentified Feeling Object).

1. You Are Developing an Evil Theory/Ruminating About Them/They Feel Like an Arch-Nemesis.

One of the best clues that you are being too passive with someone is that they start to look “evil”. Everything about them annoys you: their fake smile, their stupid haircut, their laugh, the way they open the door, the way they butter their bread. Every time they speak you find yourself adding it to your theory of why they are a bad person. You also find yourself having fake arguments in your head, or mentally ranting to “prove” how bad they are. When this happens, it’s not that the person is evil. Instead, it’s the best sign possible that they have been doing something that has been irritating you and that you need to say something about it. When I find myself in this situation, I try to figure out what the person has been doing that bothers me, and then I tell them the way their behavior makes me feel. Once I get it off my chest, it’s like popping a balloon. All of a sudden, the person no longer looks evil to me. Instead, they look like a person who has problems.

Throughout my twenties and early thirties, I always had at least one “arch-nemesis.” It was always a guy about my age, and it would switch to a new person roughly every two years. First it was this guy Johnny, then it was this guy Chris, and then it was this guy Martin. I would roll my eyes whenever they entered the room, and bristle whenever anybody mentioned their name. I know exactly what it was that bothered me about each of them. Johnny would always try to brag and one-up me in conversation. Chris would cut me off and speak louder than me in group conversations and he would be raunchy and sexual around my girlfriend. Martin would try to talk to whatever girl I was speaking to in a bar and would try to get my friends to go to a different venue than I had planned. Back then I wasn’t assertive at all. I never once told these people the way their behavior made me feel. Instead, I tried to out-brag Johnny, out-talk Chris, and get my friends to bail on Martin.  If I went back in time, I would say "Martin, it bothers me when you try to make plans that are different from the ones I've already set up. I'll be happier if you stop doing that."

Ever since I became good at assertiveness, I haven’t had a single arch-nemesis. As soon as somebody starts to irritate me, looks evil, or becomes a “friend that I secretly hate”, I tell them the way their behavior makes me feel.  If I went back in time I’d say “Martin, when I make plans and then you call our friends and try to change the venue, it irritates me. I’d be happier if you stop doing that.”

2. You Are Talking Badly/Complaining About Someone Behind Their Back.

I am actually not against venting and sharing your problems with friends. I think it’s helpful to tell your friends your problems and get their advice. My point is however that if you find yourself venting or complaining, then you must also be assertive and speak directly to the person who’s annoying you. Studies have shown that venting does not relieve anger. Only direct communication to the offending person can accomplish that. Direct communication also happens to be the only way you can change the way that people are treating you (which venting cannot accomplish).

3. You Feel Bad and You Don’t Know Why (i.e. you are having a UFO, an Unidentified Feeling Object).

If you are feeling depressed or anxious and you don’t know why, it is almost always because someone disappointed you. Human beings are very social animals and our moods are controlled primarily by our relationships (much more so than by money, image, or status according to studies on subjective well-being). In fact, one of the most evidence-based therapies that currently exists for depression focuses exclusively on improving relationships (i.e. Interpersonal Psychotherapy). However, the effect that relationships have on our moods is an indirect one, so it can be hard to track. If I had an argument with my wife yesterday and we didn’t make up, it’s not that today I’ll be thinking about my wife the whole time. Instead, I’ll be think “Life sucks. Work sucks. My friends don’t like me. Everything is pointless.” I won’t actually be thinking about my wife the whole time even if the argument was clearly what spoiled my mood. When I was younger, I used to think that random bad moods and anxiety were mostly due to “chemical imbalances”. Now I think to myself, “Lindsay, studies have shown that relationships are the main drivers of our emotions. There must be somebody who disappointed you recently”. Sure enough, I can almost always figure it out: “Of Course! My friend Dave flaked on me yesterday. As a matter of fact, I was thinking what a jerk he was when I woke up this morning!” I’ll then text Dave an assertive comment right then and there, and my bad mood disappears within a day or two.

I often have patients come in and tell me that they’ve been more anxious or sad for the last few days and they have no idea why. It’s remarkable how often the following conversation ensues:

Me: Well, what day did you bad mood start?

Them: Tuesday.

Me: Do you know what caused it?

Patient: No

Me: Hmm.. How was your week?

Patient: Well, my girlfriend and I had an argument, but I don’t care about that.

Me: What day did the argument happen?

Patient: Monday night.

When I have a bad mood and I don’t know why, I call it a UFO (an Unidentified Feeling Object). When I’m having a UFO, I think to myself, “Lindsay somebody probably disappointed you and you need to be assertive.” Hence a catchy phrase: When you are having a UFO it means you need to blow up the alien (i.e. be assertive with whoever looks evil to you).

Signs That You Are Too Aggressive

1. You Are Yelling.

This one is pretty obvious. Whenever you are raising your voice, yelling, or feeling hot under the collar, take a step back, be assertive, and then end the conversation. I personally am not a yeller, but this rule still applies to me when I can get hot under the collar and take on a harsher tone of voice. I tell myself, “Lindsay, this isn’t going to help you. Tell them the way their behavior makes you feel. End the conversation/walk away. Calm down. Then be nice to them.”

2. You are Being Assertive About More Than One Behavior at a Time.

It is a mistake to be assertive about more than one behavior at a time because the person will start to think that you “hate them.” Instead, you want your message to be, “I like you, I just don’t like this specific behavior.”

I use to hold things in for several weeks in romantic relationships. Then all of a sudden, I’d let loose with the five things that were bothering me. I’d always get the same response: “You don’t love me. You want to break up with me!” And I’d be like “No! I want to stay with you! That’s why I’m bringing these things up!” In my mid-30s, I learned that the fault was my own. Everyone tends to get defensive when you are assertive, the problem is much worse when you go after more than one behavior at a time. Now, when there’s more than one thing that’s bothering me about a person, I just pick the one behavior that is the most annoying and go after that. Once that behavior is better, only then I address the next one.

One of my best lessons along this line actually came from training one of our dogs Mieke. We got her as a puppy and since I am a behaviorist I figured “I’m going to rock this dog.” I was quick to reward and punish each of her behaviors. Mieke needed to be house trained, she barked too much, and she chewed the mail. The problem was, she was always doing at least one of these behaviors so I was always mad at her. I could tell it wasn’t working because after about 2 weeks of this I walked into the house one morning and everything was perfect (no barking, no mess, no chewed up mail) but I looked over at Mieke and she rolled over on her back like she was in trouble. She thought that I hated her instead of hating the behavior. Once I realized this, I decided to go after just one behavior at a time. I just disciplined Meike when she peed in the house and let the other things go (unless the barking was really bad) so I could be nice to her most of the time. Then, when she was house trained, I went after the barking. Then, finally, I went after the mail chewing. But going after only one behavior, I was able to be nice to Mieke most of the time and she knew that I still loved her even though a particular behavior was making me feel bad.

3. You are debating/arguing/using logic/trying to get them to agree with you (rather than referencing your emotions and then letting it go)

Logic is the wrong tool when we are emotional. When we are emotional, we don’t use logic fairly. We get defensive, we bring up side-issues, we put up straw men, we refuse to concede defeat, we repeat ourselves, we attack. In fact, the longer you use logic, the further you will push someone away from you when they are angry. Logic is perfectly fine when both people are calm. Emotions on the other hand work best when people are emotional.

The reason that logic is “aggressive” is because the message you are trying to make with your logic usually amounts to “You don’t make sense”, “You are a hypocrite”, or “Your emotions are stupid”. Well, it’s already acknowledged that emotions are irrational and often contradictory. So what’s the use in pointing it out? I used to be very good at this form of aggression. I would sit very calmly and refute my girlfriends’ arguments and show them how they didn’t make sense. Meanwhile, they got more and more flustered. It didn’t get me anywhere and only succeeded in making them feel bad.

Invalidating people’s thoughts and emotions only intensifies them. You end up working against yourself. Being assertive (i.e. mentioning your emotions and then letting it go) will get you much farther, especially when the other person “doesn’t make sense”. When I used to work with psychotic patients in the UCLA psychiatric ward, logic never worked. I could never “prove” to them that they were not Jesus, an alien, or being followed by the CIA. When I would tell them “I’m worried about you and I’d be much happier if you participated in the group activities,” I was much more likely to break through to them.

A final point about logic versus emotions: There’s two ways to argue every point, but no one can argue with your emotions. If I say “When you tease me it makes me look bad to other people.”, you might say “They know it’s a joke. You’re just taking it the wrong way.” If instead I say “When you tease me it makes me feel upset” what are you going to say? “No you’re wrong Lindsay. You don’t feel upset.”? When you stick with your emotions, you cut out 90% of the “fat” out of the argument and avoid a lot of the back and forth shenanigans. 

The Effects of Being Assertive

Being assertive with someone has several consistent but surprising effects:

1. You feel better 2. Their behavior changes. 3. They like you more. 4. They respect you more. 5. You become more tolerant.

1. You Feel Better

This is by far the most important reason to be assertive and the most consistent result of being assertive. Communicating your emotions is the most effective way to manage your emotions. The way I like to think about it, “When I get it off my chest, it’s easier to get it off of my mind”. After I communicate my emotions to someone, it can still take me a day or two to feel better (especially if they were defensive). But, if I’m not assertive at all, it can be weeks or months or even years before “enough water has passed underneath the bridge” for me to get over it. It does still take effort and practice let it go/not hold a grudge once I’ve been assertive, but I and my patients get the hang of it pretty quickly. Feeling better (and no longer hating them) is the number one reason that I am assertive with people.

2. Their Behavior Changes

Communicating your emotions is the most effective way to alter another person’s behavior. While it’s true that you can’t change another person’s personality (or at least not quickly), you can change their behavior. In particular, you can change the way that they treat you. So, your boss can still be a “jerk”, but you can be the one person he treats with respect because you are assertive with him whenever he steps out of line.

People are hard-wired to respond to your emotions. In particular, they are hard-wired to respond to feedback about the way their behavior makes you feel. There’s nothing they can do about it. Even if they yell, or scream, or throw a tantrum, or swear they won’t change, every time you communicate the way that their behavior makes you feel their genetic programming will start to push them in the direction of what you’ve said. They may not always change, but you can be sure that you are pushing them in the right direction in the most effective way possible regardless of their particular verbal response.

I am usually able to change the frequency of someone's irritating behavior after being assertive just once. Sometimes it takes two to three repetitions. One consistent exception is flakiness. It usually takes me 5-10 occasions of being assertive before a flaky person starts to show up/return my calls on a regular basis. Be patient and don’t give up.

Once you’ve succeeded in changing the way someone treats you, they will usually revert back to their bad habits at some point in the future. Be ready for this and be assertive again. You will get a quicker response (and need to do it much less often) as time goes by.

There are times when no matter how many times you are assertive or how perfect your technique is, the other person simply will not (or cannot) change.  On those occasion, I am still periodically assertive with that person (so I can get the emotion off my chest) and I start decreasing the frequency or intensity of contact with that person so that they upset me less.  An important caveat here is that I am assertive first, before I decide whether or not that person needs to be in my life less.

3. They Like You More

This is the most surprising result of being assertive. Whenever I am assertive with my friends, clients, or co-workers, they end up liking me more. It’s strange, because you would think that “complaining” or “being a downer” would make people like to you less. You would also think that being assertive makes you “high maintenance”. In fact, being assertive makes you lower maintenance.

Let’s say that I hurt your feelings and you don’t tell me. Well, at some point I’m going notice that you’re upset (you’re not a good enough actor to fake it for the rest of our lives). I’ll see that you’re not laughing at my jokes as much, that you disagree with me more often, or that we’re seeing each other less. When I ask you about it “Hey John, I’ve noticed that we don’t seem to hang out as often. Is everything OK between us?” and you respond “I don’t know what you mean. Everything’s fine.” well, NOW you are high maintenance. I’m going to be wondering what I did, why you’re angry, and what’s going on. Instead, if you tell me exactly what I did and how it made you feel, and then you're nice to me right after (even if I'm defensive), now you’re low-maintenance. You are an easier friend to understand and get along with.

I’ve noticed something funny while training dogs (believe it or not, assertiveness works with all mammals, although the way you communicate your emotion varies considerably). My wife is big into dog rescue and we’ve fostered many dogs. She always wonders why dogs get a "crush" on me so quickly (i.e. when I walk into the room, their eyes are on me and their tails wag). What I’ve noticed is, the first time I am assertive with a dog (i.e. a loud “NO” after a bad behavior, and then nice to them a few minutes later) they get a crush on me. The same thing has happened with some of my friends. For example, I’ll call a friend out on being flaky (“Hey John, I was disappointed that you didn’t come last night. I’d be happier if you follow through on our plans.”) and then I’ll let it go and be nice to them. The next time I see them they are trying to please me more, laughing at my jokes, and more engaged in conversation. This is totally the opposite of what I expected. 

4. They Respect You More

This is similar to my last point, but I want to call more attention to the effect that assertiveness has on your status. If you give and give and give, without any boundaries, people will take you for granted and start to treat you worse. If I try to be a “perfect friend” by always doing favors, being nice about people flaking, and putting up with it when people make fun of me, they won’t respect me more, they’ll respect me less! It’s a strange effect. Same thing in the work place: You would think that working long hours, accepting last minute assignments, and tolerating being yelled at would make you a more valued employee, but you’d be wrong. Paradoxically, giving less (via being firm with your boundaries) will actually get you treated better and respected more! My best example of this was a friend of mine who was a senior manager at a big accounting firm. He was up for junior partner after two years. This friend was known for working long hours, staying in nights and weekends, always saying yes, and never making a mistake. He was such a workaholic that he ended up ruining his relationship with his wife and getting a divorce. When the two years were up and it was his turn for promotion, guess what happened? They gave the promotion to someone else! Their explanation: “Well, we figured the other guy would quit if we didn’t give it to him, and we knew you’d stay on”. My friend ended up getting depressed and actually quitting the company (and started drawing better work/life boundaries at his new job).

Many of my patients have become more assertive about their boundaries at work. For example, “I’d be happier if you gave me this assignment in the morning instead of just before I leave”, “Unfortunately, working weekends has been making me too stressed and I need to discuss that with you”, or “It frustrates me when you put me down in front of the team”. They almost always report to me that their boss likes them better, starts forming a personal relationship with them, and gives them a raise more frequently. It’s similar to the movie Office Space; you are more likely to get promoted when you are firm about the work/life boundaries that will make you happy.

People that act Alpha are more likely to be treated like Alphas, and being assertive is the most Alpha behavior possible. It demonstrates self-respect and it demonstrates self-control. It’s like a Persian Shah saying “Take that away, it displeases me. Bring that to me, I like it.” His emotions alone are enough justification for his demands. No reason or logic necessary.

5. You Become More Tolerant

This one is a bit counterintuitive, but when you are assertive with someone you usually end up more tolerant of their behavior as well. Getting it off of your chest makes their behavior seem less irritating. So being assertive with people will paradoxically help you compromise and be more accepting.

When I tell my friends I am sensitive to teasing (i.e. “When you make jokes about me, it makes me feel uncomfortable”), I actually then become more relaxed about their teasing. When I am assertive with my friends about flakiness (which is one of the hardest behaviors to change), I get less irritated by their flakiness the next few times around (so end up being assertive about it maybe once every three times). The process of being assertive and “training people how to treat you” often produces an effect on you as well. They do the behavior less, but you also meet them part way by becoming more tolerant of their behavior. As I said, once you get it off of your chest, it's easier to get it off of your mind. The behavior that you are assertive about will irritate you less even if it doesn't change.