In the last two articles, we have been exploring the skill of communication: verbal and non verbal forms and different styles of communication. In this article, the focus will be on the highly effective and reciprocally beneficial style: assertive communication. Let’s get familiar with what the assertive communication style looks and sounds like before trying it on for size.
To Be Fair
Assertiveness is a non-threatening and non-judgmental communication style that shows respect and fairness to both yourself and those with whom you speak/interact. Communicating assertively demonstrates that you are willing to stand up for yourself and act in line with your values and boundaries while still respecting the rights of others and not undermining anyone’s dignity or personhood.
Fairness and respect – that’s it?! Consider for a moment just how much that is: to feel respected and to have your opinions treated fairly rather than ridiculed or dismissed while providing the same gifts to your fellow communicators. It is as though both you and your communication partners receive equal chunks of a delectable ooey gooey treat! Adequate amounts of compromise and satisfaction abound. How is this possible? So glad you asked.
You and Me and Me and You
To break it down, there are four components to an effective assertive communication:
- Empathy/Validation: Show you are trying to understand how the other is feeling about the issue at hand
- Statement of problem: Describe the difficulty you have with the current situation and the reasons you would like a change.
- Statement of what you would like: Make your specific request for change.
- Demonstrating fairness and respect: Your opportunity to demonstrate equal and reciprocal communication.
Example: I get that you feel anxious when it takes a long time for me to get ready to go out and we might be late. When this happens, I feel like you are irritated with me and wind up taking even longer to get ready because I get so nervous. What I’d like is for both of us to get ready to go places sooner so that neither of us feels rushed or nervous. What do you think/how do you feel about that?
Note how the assertive communication style is different from clamming up and going along with the opinion of others (passive communication), from raising one’s voice to intimidate others so that they go along with your opinion (aggressive communication, and from acting in a submissive way while holding back resentful/angry thoughts and feelings about the other person (passive aggressive communication). When you are being assertive, you demonstrate empathy and interest in what the other is experiencing while still acknowledging your own feelings and opinions. Adequate amounts of compromise and satisfaction abound.
Here are some tips on how you might incorporate assertiveness to your style of communicating:
- Be specific, clear, and realistic in what you communicate verbally
- Be mindful of your body language and tone of voice (your non verbal communication) before, during, and after the interaction.
- Prepare/rehearse what you intend to communicate and say what you mean
- Use “I” statements (“you” statements often sound like blame or shame)
- “Own” your opinion/standpoint ie take responsibility for it with confidence (not arrogance)
- Stay open to other possibilities
- Try SOLER communication strategies: Sit or Stand Square to the other person, Be Open in your posture, Lean slightly forward, Maintain good Eye Contact, Relax!
*** Of note: it is crucial to be sensitive to personal differences when applying the SOLER strategies to your communication, especially with regard to appropriate levels of eye contact and leaning in.
Still All Over the Map
It is important to remember that no one communicates “perfectly” all of the time nor can anyone learn and master new skills or styles overnight. We all need time to practice and get comfortable with new skills The fact that you are interested in learning to incorporate a more fair and respectful manner of interacting with others (after all, you took the time to read through this article…) demonstrates that you are inclined or motivated enough to give this a go. Give yourself some love for that! I encourage you to move onward and upward from here!
Always in Style
In our society, it is common for fads and trends to quickly begin then, over time, fade away; just think of the latest “super food” or fashion trend. Assertiveness has long been a hit style (of communication) that “looks good on” all involved in a communication. How? Assertiveness is based on mutual respect: standing up for your own point of view and expressing yourself effectively at the same time as respecting the rights and beliefs of others. All in all, it’s a win-win!