Thursday, August 6, 2009

On being heard: assertiveness skills

Far too often when I speak with those living with disabilities, I hear stories where their time and energy is wasted. Sometimes they are dealing with trying to get a wheelchair fixed, only to find that parts take weeks or even months to arrive. Other times they can't find the services they need because they were referred to the wrong place.

There are far too many times people say to me that they don't feel heard in these situations. It can be discouraging to waste time and energy, particularly on tasks that are disability-related and, let's face it, have to be done in addition to everyday tasks like shopping and other things.

I've found a few good ways to improve these situations. One is to use assertiveness skills. This article includes a few questions to ask another person that might improve communication, such as:

Have you heard me?
Do you understand my point of view?

It also says that it's important not to let people ignore you. This is an experience that is far too frequent sometimes with places that treat disabled customers in patronizing ways. I've seen transactions where I'm paying for goods or services and a business has ignored my request for a reasonable accommodation. Repeating a request more than once doesn't usually work, as this article indicates, but there are other actions you can take as a consumer that will empower you. Always remember that there's usually more than one person you can deal with. Don't hesitate to ask for a manger or supervisor. If it can't be resolved and it's a situation involving the Americans with Disabilities Act, write down the information and contact them at their 800 number (on my sidebar).

Some business owners, whether they sell disability-related products or not, are savvy enough to know that a customer who feels heard is a customer who will return. Keep in mind that managers may not know what employees are doing or how they are treating customers. So it's important not to allow one person's criticism to dissuade you. Stick to the facts and try not to personalize what happens.

On the other hand, it's always good to do a reality check with someone you trust to see if there would be a better way for you to handle a situation, but don't give that power over to a clerk or manager in a store - in other words, to the person or place with whom you're having issues. You can always return or make a call later if you want to strategize an approach. Sometimes this may be a positive thing: cooling off is a legitimate way to handle some situations, as long as you follow through later. The more you deal with conflicts, the better your skill base will get. And, as a person who is disabled or nondisabled, it's realistic to face the fact that we live in a world where being assertive will eventually not only come in handy to save you time and energy, but is a necessary skill to keep you mobile and independent.


Terri said...

I agree with you completely. Conflict is a symptom of being alive (moreso for those who are misunderstood) and the skills for resolving them--rather than avoiding or capitulating to them--will absolutely pay off. (And we learn more and build more relationships by engaging in situations than anything else.) Excellent advocacy advice.

Wheelie Catholic said...

Thanks Terri - good to see you back online:)