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Feel Like You Aren’t Assertive Enough? Try Developing Your ‘Third Ear’

As women, we are constantly told that it’s our duty to be polite, charming, and accepting of any request, no matter how much extra work that creates for us. And when we try to fight back — whether it’s at work, with family, or even at home — sometimes it feels impossible to have our voices heard. The key to taking back your freedom is to learn how to be more assertive, which you can do by cultivating your Third Ear. 

Listening with your Third Ear means using intuition and sensitivity to listen deeply to the unspoken cues of others, and even of ourselves. This technique is often used by therapists, but it’s an invaluble tool for us normal folks trying to manage our emotions. Having a Third Ear means you’re able to step back and evaluate a situation from a distance. In other words, it’s about maintaining self-awareness. 

In everyday situations, applying some self-awareness could go something like this: You notice you’re stressed, so you stop and ask yourself what’s causing the anxiety and really focus on hearing your answer. Or maybe you use your Third Ear to come to the realization that you’re knowingly trying to avoid mentioning an issue, even though your silence negatively affects you — such as not going to your boss about a coworker who keeps slacking off on a project — and then decide to do something about it.

If your skills could use a some work, there are a few simple exercises you can do to develop and strengthen that Third Ear. 

  • Listen to other people’s conversations. Sure, your parents always said it wasn’t polite to eavesdrop, but we’re giving you permission! The next time you spot a group of people chatting, monitor everyone’s body language. Can you tell when someone’s comment has ticked off the group? By observing human emotions unfold, you’ll have a better idea of what behavioral cues to look for in your own conversations to know when a discussion is veering off the rails.
  • Take a closer look at your own interactions. Slow down when you speak to your partner, and note how his or her expressions change; cances are, he or she is giving you non-verbal cues that reveal inner emotions. Follow the “breathe before you speak” rule to ensure that you’ve let the other person finish talking.
  • Monitor your own moods. Every few hours, check in with yourself to gauge how you’re feeling. Pick important times, like when you wake up or after work, so you can devise a plan to help you get through the next few hours. For example, if you’re feeling burned out after work, recognize that, and schedule some self-care time for when you get home.
  • Let others know how you’re feeling. Instead of sulking and hoping others pick up on your bad mood, be vocal with those around you. If you and your friend are supposed to meet up for coffee but you’re feeling particularly gloomy, ask if you can reschedule instead of sitting stone-faced through an unpleasant latte date. This may result in some hurt feelings, but your loved ones will get over it pretty quickly.
  • Practice not holding back. If you stay silent during meetings even though you’re dying to say something, rehearse what you might say in front of a mirror at home. Another option is to write your thoughts down on a slip of paper and pass it to someone else if you’re still feeling too anxious to speak. Over time, you’ll build up your confidence and self-awareness and be able to recognize when you’re holding back — and eventually stop doing it… and then you can give your Third Ear a big thank you.

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