Do you know how to be assertive when communicating? Many people confuse assertive communication with aggressive communication. Many people think that being assertive is the same as being pushy, or demanding. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes people think they’ve been assertive when they are actually being abrasive or sarcastic. Others have trouble believing that being assertive will actually help them to be heard, they think the opposite, that if they are assertive, people will dislike them or misunderstand them. But well-managed assertive communication is so important that there are assertiveness training classes available all over the country, including on-line classes.
One of the elements of assertive communication is that it is calm, rational, and clear. Being assertive can help reduce stress, relieve anxiety, and avoid conflict. When people have a passive communication style, they meekly accept whatever others ask of them. Passive communication can lead to feeling resentful. Passive communicators often feel victimized. People with an aggressive communication style are on the flip side of passivity. They often impose their views on others without any idea that they are imposing. Aggressive communicators can find themselves wondering why people tend to avoid them, or they may wonder why no one ever listens to them without realizing that their style of communication actually makes it very difficult for anyone to listen. People learn their style of communicating over time, and often never think about how they are communicating until they find themselves in a crisis. You don’t have to wait for a crisis to learn to communicate more effectively, though. It is possible to change your style of communication at any time. It just requires awareness and willingness to try something new. Doing something new can often feel uncomfortable at first. Just like learning to ride a bike or drive a car, it feels awkward until the behavior is practiced often enough to become automatic.
The first step is to become aware of your default style of communicating. This doesn’t take much contemplation. If you consistently feel victimized or imposed upon, you probably have a passive style of communicating. If you consistently push your opinions and ideas on others, to the point of being avoided, you may be an aggressive communicator. Once you have identified your current pattern of communication, you can begin to make changes. Start by identifying a low stress subject that you would like to practice assertive communication around. It can be something as simple as what to have for dinner. Plan a conversation with someone you trust, at a time when neither of you are rushed or tired or sick. Then tell the person you are trying a new way of communicating. Ask them to give you feedback. Remember, when you communicate in an assertive style, the other person should feel respected and valued, no matter what the subject matter might be.
Follow these steps: 1) Use “I” statements. I statements avoid making the other person feel attacked. For instance, instead of “You always cook spaghetti on Mondays, and I hate spaghetti!” You would simply state, “I’m not fond of spaghetti.” 2) Practice saying no. This is extremely difficult for passive communicators. If you have a hard time saying no, you must learn. If your partner says to you “Would you like spaghetti for dinner?” and you don’t want spaghetti for dinner, just say no. “No, I’d rather not have spaghetti for dinner.” Practice until it becomes natural for you. 3) Give yourself permission to rehearse what you want to say. If you need time to rehearse, say “I need a few minutes to think about that.” 4) Remember that your body language is also sending a message, so practice being aware of your body language. Work to keep your body language and your words congruent. 5) Monitor your emotions. If you begin to feel angry or hopeless, stop the conversation. Work through your emotions, and come back to the conversation when you are feeling capable of being rational.
Remember that assertive communication always respects everyone involved. Be patient with yourself because learning new habits takes time. Ask for feedback from trusted people about how you are doing. Always be gentle with yourself.
If you would like help learning to communicate more effectively, or if you need professional help with any emotional issue, please contact me at: 831-214-8087.
Wishing you healthy, heartfelt, assertive conversations, and respect.