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Using the Assertiveness Ladder


Topic Overview

The assertiveness ladder is a process for using an assertive communication style in a specific situation to help decrease stress. Use the letters of the word "LADDER" to recall the steps.

  • L Look at your rights, what you want, and what you need. Define what you want and keep it in mind when you negotiate for change.
  • A Arrange a time and place to discuss the situation. You might skip this step in unplanned situations in which you choose to be assertive, such as when you receive the wrong food at a restaurant.
  • D Define the problem for the other person, specifically and in easy-to-understand language. Try not to assume anything about what others already know about the problem.
  • D Describe your feelings using "I" messages. An "I" message expresses your feelings without blaming others. Say "I am feeling frustrated," rather than "You frustrate me."
  • E Express your request specifically. Be brief and firm. Instead of asking your husband to be "more considerate," ask him to call if he'll be more than 15 minutes late.
  • R Reinforce the idea of getting what you want by showing the other person that your request might be good for both of you.

To apply this process:

  1. Write out a script, with one or a few statements for each step in the process.
  2. Practice the script by yourself and become comfortable with it. For some people, these statements will be easier to write than to say aloud. You will do better in the real situation if you have heard yourself make these statements before.
  3. Apply the process in the real situation. Don't worry about the details of your script—just keep the principles in mind as you discuss the situation with others.

Using assertive body language

"Body language" is the way you communicate through your eyes, hands, posture, and movements. Sometimes you may be speaking assertively, but your body language sends another message that undercuts or interferes with your words. Using assertive body language will help you communicate more assertively. Follow these five basic rules:

  1. Look directly at the person you are talking to, eye to eye.
  2. Sit or stand up tall with a straight back. Speak clearly, audibly, and firmly.
  3. Emphasize your most important points with gestures and facial expressions.
  4. Avoid mumbling, whispering, or sounding as if you are asking a question when you are not.
  5. Do not whine or use an apologetic tone of voice.

Practicing these rules in front of a mirror will make you more comfortable with them. It also will help you pay attention to your tone of voice.

[Adapted from M Davis, et al. (2000). The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, 5th ed.1]

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