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How To Be More Assertive and Not Be Pushed Around

Brian lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two kids. He works in finance and enjoys writing and movies in his down time.

Push those snobs aside

Okay, time for the 999,999th post on how to be more assertive and take charge in your life. I know this subject has been played out more than a Britney Spears track in 2000, but I’m hoping to provide a slightly different perspective on the matter. I normally wouldn’t even delve into this topic due to the saturation on the web, but certain issues are worth reiterating.

The impetus? Well, like many of my observations and reactions this article was inspired by an experience on the train. To give you some background, the train I take is what’s known as a rush hour train; yes, you guessed it, it runs during rush hour. Needless to say (but I will say it for those not familiar with taking a train regularly), the train cars are crowded most of the time. The layouts vary depending on how old the train is and what model they are(the newer trains have two levels whereas the older ones have one…..this part doesn’t matter but now you just learned a random fact).

The train I was on in this instance had one side with rows that can fit 3 to a seat and the other side which fits 2. I should point out that the seating capacity is objective, that is, you can’t cram one more, you can only be a Richard (think of the short name for Richard and no, it’s not Rich or Richie) in so far as trying to occupy more than one space.

Now that we got the blue prints out of the way, I’ll walk you briefly through the the scenario and then end with how that ties with not being a push over in life.

Since I only observed the “incident”, I didn’t get the charming gentleman’s name, so we’ll just refer to him as Richard.

That morning, I got on the train and luckily my stop was one of the first stops that day. I proceeded to sit in one of the two seat rows (I could do a series on how to strategically pick a good seat on the train) and casually look over, spotting Richard. First off, I know you can’t judge a book by a cover (actually, yes you can, stop being a child and judge people like an adult!), but he just looked like a place where the sun don’t shine. It seems that most guys with really greased back hair or who wear a lot of hair gel (oh crap, that’s me) don’t exhibit the most selfless personality traits. He was sitting in a 3-seater row on the outside. Now, what most people do when sitting in a 3-seater is sit by the window if they are the first ones there. Following that, the next person that sits in that particular row will sit on the outside. Finally, if things get really tight, a 3rd person will be relegated to the middle seat (say goodbye to elbow space and hello to people’s questionable hygiene).

Back to Richard. So, I think it was either 3 or 4 stops from where I got on that I noticed no one was asking Richard to move over or get up so they could at least sit there. I also noticed that he intentionally was trying not to make eye contact or pay attention to anyone, having his laptop open and headphones shoved into his stupid looking elephant like ears. People were clearly struggling to find seats at this point, as almost every other row was filled up except Richard’s. It took a gentleman that was a bit older and bigger than Richard (Richard had to have been 6’4 maybe even taller) to politely but firmly ask Richard if they could sit in his row.

Okay, I’ll admit that was a long winded anecdote and I acknowledge not very exciting. That said (I bet you were expecting an apology, well grow a better attention span you ants!) one can certainly extrapolate some life lessons from that story. For those of you who have never had the issue of speaking up or asserting yourself when you deem necessary, well, you’ve probably stopped reading already.

The rest of us may be “victims” of a Richard’s negligent and pompous behavior. Most people hinder others from being assertive by simply doing what Richard did. They create a barrier of entry, sort of like the competitive strategy that companies use to beat out competitors. People like Richard know damn well that by making it more difficult to approach them, it will have a tendency to persuade people into choosing an alternative place to sit. This is because most people would rather avoid conflict. While the likelihood of Richard saying no or causing a scene is very low, he banks on it. It could be your boss, your coworkers, strangers on a train or even friends (don’t know how great of friends they are though), many people will use this aversion to conflict to their advantage in getting their way. Many adults still act like children, which is essentially what that behavior boils down to.

Okay, so how can you combat this while still maintaining a civil approach? I’m making the assumption that the majority of you are not chimpanzees who will beat the living snot out of someone when you don’t get your way….but I’m probably wrong about a few of you. But for the non-apes, it begins with getting past the notion that the ostensibly entitled Richards of the world will give you a hard time if you go against their grain. Most of the time, they are cowards and will put up a front of “don’t cross me or they’ll be trouble”, but more than likely they’ll just concede. Sure, you’ll have your anomaly of mental patients that will say no or inquire as to why you can’t find another seat, that’s rare. Richards are also cowards because they, believe it or not, want to avoid conflict just as much as you do, if not more. Once you can wrap your perspective around that concept, then it’s simply getting the words out.

Life is really just one big sales pitch, you don’t know until you ask or say it. You are constantly selling yourself or at least exhibiting the behavior of a salesman in some scenario. Fundamentally comes down to having the gumption to ask or tell someone something they may be uncomfortable about.

Taking all of that into account, next time you’re faced with a Richard and you are contemplating acting on the situation, just ask yourself one question. Do you want fries with that?

Till next ride