In the class I cover assertiveness in, I will sometimes play a game to test each members ability to not be passive. We have three ways of communicating when there is something we want: Passive, Assertive, and Aggressive.
The passive person relies on being nice and will often not directly state their needs. Instead, they rely on indirect communication and implied meanings to get what they want. They ask more than they tell. And, they often hope the other person will figure out what they need without them ever having to directly state it.
The aggressive person doesn't just state their needs, they demand them -- and, frequently, in a tone that can put many people off. They tell people what to do much more than they ask. They give commands and often don't care if they step on other people's toes as long as the job gets done. Their word choice can be anywhere from mild to quite judgmental.
The assertive person directly states what they need and why they need it. They don't worry about being nice and they don't beat around the bush. They often use a neutral tone and don't use language that implies judgment or makes accusations. They use good judgment when determining when they should ask more questions before making statements and they state what they need clearly and effectively.
Playing the Get My Attention Game
Three chairs are put in the front of the classroom. Three students randomly fill the chairs. The object is the for the middle person to stare straight ahead and do their best to remain unaffected by the person on either side. The goal of the people on the two ends is to somehow win the attention of the person in the middle.
The two students on the ends can do whatever they want to get the attention of that middle person -- just no touching or physical contact. Once someone succeeds, the people rotate through until all of the students get one chance to be in the middle and two chances to be on the ends.
After the game has been played, we then talk about how easy or difficult it was. And, in particular, we talk about what (when faced with very little instruction or advice) each person defaults to in order to gain someone's attention when that person is trying to remain neutral. Were they able to find an effective way to communicate or were they instantly frustrated by not knowing the best way to do it?
Some people try to gain the attention of the middle person by telling jokes or being funny. Some stand on their chair and start screaming. Some begin dancing. Some pretend to remove their clothes. I've even witnessed one student reach in his wallet and start offering the person cash. And, a lot of students just freeze. They have no idea what to do.
This is a favorite activity because it opens the subject of assertiveness up. Some may say this is really a test of extroversion but I've watched introverts completely win at this game. What this really brings to light is how easy is it for you to get outside your own limitations and self-expectations to be successful at the task you've been assigned. Are you able to change your communication style to fit the situation at hand?
It's a tough task and a fun game. Try it the next time you have a class on communication styles. The discussion it creates is well worth the time.
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