Time Management Strategies - Use 3 Essential Guidelines to Set Assertive, Not Aggressive Boundaries

Published: 19th March 2012
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Time management strategies require sound communication skills so you can be assertive without veering into aggressiveness. Positive psychology is extremely useful for entering difficult situations and remaining true to your goals.

Because boundaries may seem restrictive to those whose cooperation you seek, the issue is often fraught with difficulties. Yet once you learn how to distinguish between aggressive and assertive boundaries, progress becomes much more straightforward.

Aggressiveness Incites Backlashes.

Aggressiveness is heavy-handed. It carries the connotation of blame, coercion, or self-righteousness. You may imply, directly or indirectly, that you're setting a boundary because someone else has done something wrong. The boundary may then be framed as a punishment. For example, "I can't have you bothering me again when I'm in the middle of this, so now you will just have to wait until 4 PM."

If you resort to these tactics, explore your motivation. Do you feel frustrated that your boundaries have not been respected up to this point? Do you personalize non-responsiveness as a lack of respect for you? Are you feeling victimized by encroachments on your time? Any of these may lead you to escalate.

You certainly have a right to your feelings. But working off these feelings by setting boundaries aggressively generally backfires. Even if you initially receive the wanted response, morale lowers, resentment rises, and backlashes, direct or indirect, may erupt. Furthermore, you have cut off communication that may provide a context for others' actions.

Assertiveness Opens Doors.

Assertiveness, on the other hand, focuses on facts, sailing above controversy. Furthermore, assertive discussions invite cooperation and free exchange of information. Power struggles are kept to a minimum. Here are 3 essential distinctions between assertiveness and aggressiveness:

1. Assertive Boundaries Frame Your Need. No statement is being made about the other person. "I need to focus exclusively on this project to meet tomorrow's deadline."

2. Assertive Boundaries State What You Will Do Differently. For example, you may say, "I won't be responding to e-mails, phone messages, or knocks on my door, until 2:30 PM." Notice how focusing on what you will be doing, rather than what you want others to do, keeps all the power in your hands. No matter what others do, your boundary will be maintained.

3. Assertive Boundaries Address Situations, Not Personalities. Because these boundaries are presented as logistical solutions, discussions about how best to coordinate boundaries with others' needs develop naturally. When setting up an assertive boundary, questions like "Are there any related situations it would be helpful to discuss in advance?" invite productive discussions.

Positive self-control supports constructive outcomes in delicate interactions. If you feel it's necessary to express dissatisfaction, do so at a different time. And when you do, focus on the unwanted consequence, not on the person. For example, "I'm annoyed because you should have been able to handle that on your own," can generate defensiveness. "I'm annoyed because the interruption broke my concentration" is a simple statement of fact.

In short, assertiveness is pragmatic, self-referenced, and non-blaming. The more you practice setting assertive boundaries, the more skillful you will become. You will feel increasingly relaxed during these discussions, and become more motivated to cover these topics early on, before problems mount. You will find yourself with more time and less stress!

What is your next move to increase your productivity and enhance your working relationships?


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