How to: Be Assertive! Part Uno.

We shuffle in to the spacious room with chairs neatly arranged in semi-circular fashion. Facing us, a whiteboard and an easel with broad A2 sheets of paper attached. Placed on the seats are clipboards with no paper. A bundle of Bic pens are held together by a rubber band sitting on a nearby table casually positioned against the wall, and a scrap of paper underneath them with the words ‘Caution: Held together by a cord’ is sprawled in thick purple texta. OHS PC madness, I wonder to myself in brief acronymic trepidation.

Eve` is the course’s instructor. “And it’s pronounced Eee-vay,” she says in her exotic accent. I mouth her name silently to accustom myself to its novelty. Eee-vay. She’s from Portugal, but has lived all over the world. She’s passionate about culture and human interaction, and she’s articulate. She’s a couples’ therapist, and she’s in her early fifties. Eve` is slender and, naturally, I don’t trust her at first. I’m prone to wonder if she’s single too, but I let the thought escape me so that I can focus on why I’m here.

“A brief introduction, just to get the ball rolling,” says Eve` smiling her big Portuguese smile. The five of us are seated nervously around her with clipboards on laps. Someone coughs. “Why did you choose to do this course? Tell us a bit about yourself.” She notions to me dramatically, indicating that I have the floor.

“I was speaking to Andrew, my Maori friend a month earlier, and he was telling me about this course he’d completed. He found it helpful, and given that he and I are struggling with similar issues around self-esteem and communication, he suggested I give it a go. So, why not?” I shrugged, throwing my hands in the air to illustrate my casual curiousness. “Plus, I’m passive aggressive, and it’s not winning me any friends, so, you know.”

Carol also keeps her response short and sweet. “I signed up for the course because I want to improve my relationships. I’m finding that my friends get frustrated with me for not saying what I want enough… so here I am”. She appears to be Indigenous. She also seems to have involuntary muscle spasms, and she slurs slightly when she talks. I noticed it before as we sat in the waiting room while we filled out our disclosure statements. I find her charming and courageous, and make a mental note to be especially welcoming to her when she shares in future, because I’m that kind of guy.

“Well, my name is Radi, and I’m doing this course because I have been having outbursts at work lately, and my relationship with my boss is strained.” Radi is slim and tall and professional-looking. He has a nervous smile and an on-edge vibe that I pay special attention to. “I’m Persian,” he says matter-of-factly in response to Eve`’s questions of origin. “When I get angry, I either have outbursts and alienate people, or I don’t say anything at all and end up feeling used and resentful. Either way, I end up feeling like an asshole.” Radi’s in his mid-to-late twenties, and we might just get along, I think to myself. I nod approvingly at his eloquent introduction.

“I end up looking like an asshole.”

Finally, Leanne. “I guess I’m just here to get to know myself better. I never know what I want, which makes it really hard for me to be direct with people.” Leanne works in a call center. She’s timid, but sounds intelligent. She wears an understated work skirt, and she’s my age too. In fact, we’re all roughly the same age, and we’re all here to learn about the same thing.

Eve` goes through housekeeping rules, and I end up knowing where to get biscuits and tea (in the foyer, because the north side of the room where the urn usually sits, doesn’t have electricity) and where to go in the event of a fire. Tea, biscuits, fire. Got it. “Now. What sorts of things will make doing an assertiveness course safe?” says Eve` with wide open arms and a warm stare that meets everyone’s eyes in turn.

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