• Tony Dymock

Bill of Assertive Rights

On one of my trawls through the Kindle 'recommended for you' titles was a book I'd never seen, by a guy I'd never heard of, written 24 years before I was born. Manuel J Smith wrote a text called "When I say no, I feel guilty" first published in 1975. Now even though it was last updated around the time Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City, it's just as relevant today as it was back then. Technology changes, but people pretty much stay the same.

In his work, Manuel talks about assertiveness as an alternative to the passive/aggressive routine the majority of humans succumb to. He defines assertiveness as a way of communication that enables you to express your needs, opinions, and emotions while respecting the rights of others.

Easier said than done, right?

One tool of understanding assertiveness was to look inwards before looking out. Manuel crafted what is beautifully titled the "Bill of Assertive Rights".

However, some of the language has since dated. So I've refreshed the rules to match the 2019 world and my own biases. These are eight rules for assertiveness that will kick that passive-aggressive asshole to the kerb, make you more confident in your ability to communicate, and stop you resenting yourself and others.

Without further ado, I present ...


Rule 1. You have the right to your thoughts, behaviour, and emotions, and you must take responsibility for the consequences of these thoughts and actions.

In an ideal world, every human would speak their mind while being respectful of others. You may not agree with what someone says, but you would assert your disagreement, accept that they are entitled to their opinion, and you would agree to disagree. The world would be happy.

In today's politically correct environment, swathes of easily offended puff cakes are seeking to get hurt over every little comment. I've done my fair share of offending people and will continue to do so because I firmly believe in saying what needs to be said, not what people want to hear.

However, it is up to me to be respectful of others rights, and if I do cross a line, I need to wear the consequences of that. None of this 'drop a grenade and bug out' crap. If you want to have the ability to assert yourself effectively, you need to own whatever may come as a result, good or bad.

Shoot your shot. Speak your truth. Whatever you want to call it.

Rule 2. You have the right to say no.

There is nothing wrong with saying no. No to that coffee catch up, to that speaking engagement, to that piece of work, to anything. It is well within your right to assert yourself, and say no.

In his book "Anything You Want", Derek Sivers provides a life-changing philosophy.

If it's not a hell yes, it's a no.

I know it's a sensitive topic for some, but this is immensely powerful in the realm of dating. I genuinely enjoy the process of dating - getting to know someone, the ins and outs of their hobbies, their passions and dislikes. But let's face it; you can tell on a first date whether you're into someone or not. It truly is a hell yes, or a no. There is no ifs or maybes. If it's not a "hell yes", it's a "no". You can drag it out for weeks or months, but in the end, you knew on day one.

So instead of saying "hey that was great, let's catch up again" while secretly wanting to bolt away, be honest and assert yourself. "It was nice meeting you, but I'm not feeling a spark here. I wish you good fortune in the dates to come." Yes, I lifted a line from Game Of Thrones. Anyways, it may seem harsh, but you have a right to say no at any time, which leads into ...

Rule 3. You have the right to offer no reasons, excuses, or justifications for your behaviour.

You don't need to justify yourself to anyone but yourself. Sure, there may be consequences for saying a flat no to something, but you don't owe anyone anything.

If we take the dating example above, you've just told someone you're not feeling a spark. Often you'll be pressed for a why, and it could be for many reasons. Maybe you don't find them attractive. Perhaps you have nothing in common. Perhaps they spent the whole time on their phone. Or maybe you don't logically know why, but you feel it's a poor match.

Does going in-depth with the person solve any problems? Do you really want to be arguing over why there was no connection? Could there be some value in telling the rejectee what made them slide into the 'no' bucket? Rule 4 will help you decide.

Rule 4. You have the right to judge if you are responsible for finding solutions to other's problems.

The quickest way to make yourself miserable is to become responsible for everyone else's problems. I know, sometimes you feel the need to step in and be the hero, but every time you do, you're showing the person that you don't trust their ability to handle their obstacles. It's disempowering and denying them the opportunity to grow.

Back to the example date above. You've said there's no spark; the rejectee asks why. Where do you go from here? You either indulge their curiosity or play the broken record.

Should you choose to indulge them, using the assertive communication framework is recommended. That is;

When you do X (an objective statement about their behaviour, as if you're a director on a movie set), I feel Y (a subjective comment about how it made you feel), and Z (what you would prefer to happen).

Let's say your date spent all their night checking their phone, snapchatting and Tik Toking away. Here's how that conversation would go.

"You spent a considerable portion of time on your phone, which made me feel that you either weren't interested in me or had something important that you needed to take care of. I understand if that was the case, but on a date, I want to get to know the real you, I would appreciate if you didn't use your phone."

Cool. You've asserted yourself. You should have asserted yourself DURING the date instead of the end, but that's ok. It's done. You can choose to continue the discussion or walk away.

Ok, I'm done with the dating analogy now. I am moving on. I don't need to justify why - I am just going to do it.

Rule 5. You have the right to change your mind.

You can always change your perspective at any point. I sit in the camp of "strong opinions, loosely held" - if new evidence emerges that challenges my viewpoint, I am always willing to shift in light of additional information.

Have you ever disagreed with a stubborn numbskull who can't back down from their perspective, even though all the evidence is slapping them in the face like a dead trout? Yeah, don't be that person.

It is perfectly acceptable to change your mind and to own that decision. "Yes, I did think X, but now I think Y." Assertive.

Rule 6. You have the right to disagree with someone's opinion.

This one gets me in a lot of trouble. For some reason, everyone has to be "on the right side of history" or "fighting the good fight" for one social justice cause or another. And Satan-forbid your opinion differs from the screaming rabbit trying to ram their belief in your face.

Most people placate these bunnies and tell them what they want to hear, as a method of building a rabbit-proof fence around themselves. But not this hunter. This hunter likes making bunnies hop around and go crazy.

Next time you come across a social crusader, and you disagree with their stance, lob this grenade in their way and watch them squirm.

"I respect the time you've taken to eloquently express your opinion, and I appreciate your right to that opinion. However, I disagree with it and have my own."

The face reddens. The eye darkens. The hairs stand on end. The cacophony of murderous rage builds in their afflicted ego. 'How dare you disagree with me!? The nerve on this one!'

Remember Rule 3 - you have the right to offer no justifications. You have acknowledged their right to an opinion and asserted that you have one too. If they can't accept that, then that's a them problem.

Rule 7. You have the right to make mistakes - and to be responsible for them.

No one is perfect. You may say or do the wrong thing on occasion. To err is to be human. The difference between a hero and a zero is a trait called extreme ownership. Even if something is not your fault, it's your responsibility to take ownership of the situation and do what you can.

Are you the sort of person who hits another car while parking and stops to leave your number, or do you rapidly drive away and hope no one notices?

If you're the former, you are a good human. You take ownership of your mistakes and have admirable integrity. Making the tough call and owning up for your mistakes is a steep path, but will lead to much more success in life.

If you're the latter, you are as useful to the human species as an expired coupon. Take a long look at yourself, and think about the damage you've caused others in life. You're likely the sort of person who shares posts on social media about saving the environment - but then buys a new phone every year, has sweatshop made clothes, and a house full of single-use plastics. A walking contradiction.

Are your sensibilities offended by that statement? Refer to Rule 6.

Rule 8. You have the right to say "I don't know," "I don't understand," and "I don't care."

How about we do a little roleplay of a few of the above rules.

You've stopped at a crosswalk in the CBD, and one of those silly uni students with dreadlocks and a Marxism shirt comes up to you.

They say "hey, please donate to our cause to stop the 1% from making all the money and ruling the world."

Now, most humans ignore these hawkers and pretend to be super busy. But here are some responses that assert yourself and make you a better communicator.

"I don't know enough about your cause to form an opinion, and I have somewhere to be, good day." Clear, succinct, and assertive.

If you are interested in hearing what they have to say, assert yourself and lead the conversation. "I don't understand. Skip the sales pitch and tell me precisely what your cause is doing. Facts, numbers, and evidence only please." Usually, they waffle on about feelings and emotions without substantial evidence, so you'd be unwise to give them any money anyway.

And time for my personal favourite. The piece de resistance of this post, and one that applies to any hurt feelings you may get reading this.

"I do not care. Your cause is your own, and I will not hear of it. Please reconsider all your life's choices."*

* I hope you get the Parks & Recreation reference