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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Assertiveness and Open-Mindedness

"My way or the highway." Everyone has heard someone say that. Just like Gottman's principle of stonewalling, this approach does not promote either good relationships or good communication.

In a respectful assertive relationship, a basic aspect of the approach is to stay open to possibilities. If you respect the other person, then by definition, you respect how he/she thinks. In a discussion, if your approach is "my way or the highway," then you are not staying open to other ways of thinking.

Power struggles never end well. Generally the "my way" approach is the first sign of a power struggle. If you can only see one way to do something or to address a problem, then you are on your way to a stand-off rather than a good assertive outcome.

In the current movie, "Slumdog Millionaire," the young boy wants to get the autograph of a famous actor who is in India. His "friend" locks him in the outhouse so that he can't get out to get the autograph. The boy in the outhouse can choose to see it only one way - in which case he is stuck in the outhouse without a hope to get the autograph, or to be open to possibilities.

The possibility he thinks up is to get out of the latrine by dropping into the gross accumulation below the latrine. Since the latrine is positioned up on a platform, this gives him a way out. So, covered with latrine slime, he runs up to the star and does get the autograph - both because he smells and looks so disgusting that the way parts for him to get close to the star and because he thought literally outside the box in order to assert himself!

I often think of the child's story by Leo Lionni called Little Blue and Little Yellow. In the story two colors go out to play: blue and yellow. As they play together, they blend who they are and become (you guessed it!) GREEN! In other words, they created something completely different by putting the best of themselves together.

Now whenever I feel stuck in trying to work something out assertively with someone else, I try to listen to what they are saying to see what ideas they are contributing to blend with mine so that we can create our own version of GREEN.

{Note: "Slumdog Millionaire" is full of examples of the assertiveness of the main character - and is a fabulous movie, aside from the assertiveness throughout!}

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