Category Archives: Assertiveness

Assertiveness and Emotional Boundaries

Many people struggle to assert themselves because they are confused about their emotional boundaries.  As physical boundaries define your property, emotional boundaries define who you are.  It separates what you own from what others own.  It sets limits … it defines where you end and where others begin.  People with mixed-up boundaries may end up being passive or aggressive.

In their book, “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life” (OMF Literature Inc, 2004), Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend list several areas that make up a person’s boundaries.  Among those I find particularly tricky for Filipinos are:

o       Attitudes and beliefs.  If you often cave in to the pressure you feel from others, perhaps you are trying to be responsible for what they believe is right.  It is a belief that belongs to another person’s property, and yet you live your life as if that belief belonged to you.  For example, you may avoid friendship with a person because your “barkada” thinks that person is not cool.  Or you may feel compelled to spend the holidays with your family because your parents expect that every year.  Know what you believe in and try to live by them!

o        Feelings.  If you deny your feelings, then you would not be able to express them.  You put yourself in danger of having others dominate you, and then you end up resentful but don’t quite know why.  On the other hand, if you do not take responsibility for your negative feelings, you may blame others and be aggressive with them … like throwing your garbage across your neighbor’s fence.  Are you often angry or irritated with other people?  Instead of thinking that “they made me feel bad, own up and say “I feel bad” or “I feel angry”.  Others may have done something bad to you, but you can choose how you react.

o       Limits.  Everyone has limits in terms of resources, capabilities, tolerance, and so on.  You must assess what your limits are and live by them.  What do you do when a family member asks you for money you can’t spare? Or when a colleague chats with you too long when you are beating a deadline?  You must also respect the limits of others.  Do not demand that other people give you what you ask for, or try to control their behavior, and then get frustrated when they can’t meet your expectations.

To help you be assertive, identify, own, and take responsibility for what’s within your boundaries.  And let others take responsibility for theirs.  Assertive living means mutual respect!


Why Filipinos need to be more assertive

A Western client was explaining requirements to a Filipino analyst. The analyst was not sure she understood certain details, but was ashamed to ask for clarifications. The product was completed on time, but it did not meet the client’s requirements and had to be reworked.

A team member made plans for dinner with his wife, but the boss asked him to work overtime. This has happened many times, but he could not muster the courage to refuse the boss. He reluctantly works overtime, while resentment with his boss builds up, and his marriage goes downhill.

Our culture has instilled in us many commendable attitudes. Filipino children are taught at an early age to kiss the hands of their elders as a sign of respect. Like many Asians, we have a sense of personal honor and we do not want to lose “face” or be embarrassed in front of others (“mapahiya”). We also have a strong sense of “pakisama”, valuing harmonious relationships and avoiding conflict and confrontations.

While these are good values to live by, they could have costly consequences in business and personal relationships if applied the wrong way. We need to be able to protect our own interests while respecting the interests of others as well. If the team member wants to have that dinner with his wife, he could respectfully decline his boss and suggest other ways that the deadlines can be met. We also need to have that inner confidence to overcome fears. The analyst could remind herself of her capabilities and her value as a person, and get past the notion that she may appear stupid if she asks questions.

Our culture has given us good values and we are gifted with many talents to contribute to the world. Being assertive can push us Filipinos to contribute even more in the global economy, while enhancing the personal relationships that we so cherish.