October 10, 2018
This website and blog are devoted to helping people develop the skills necessary to meet their needs and realize their true potential. An important part of meeting one's needs sometimes includes effectively expressing those needs to others. Humans are a social animal, and good communication is important for healthy relationships as well as realizing one's own personal potential.
The focus of this article will be on skills that promote assertive communication. Assertiveness sometimes gets a bad rap, as people often confuse assertiveness with other, more undesirable forms of communication. It's important to remember that effective assertiveness should not come off as hostile or aggressive. It is also important, however, not to appear too passive and to ensure that your points are coming across in a strong and effective manner. There’s a delicate balance involved in communicating successfully, and the skills discussed in this article will help to develop more effective communication.
Styles of Communication
Before discussing specific assertiveness skills, it’s important to first discuss the different styles of communicating.
1. Aggressive: Demanding, hostile, bossy, threatening. Aggressive communication rarely ends in someone’s needs being heard or met by others.
2. Timid: Passive, submissive, quiet. This style is also ineffective in helping someone express and meet their needs properly.
3. Assertive: Calm, rational, firm, collaborative. Ability to express needs and make points without escalating into aggression or withdrawing into timid communication. Most effective style of communication.
The balance between aggressiveness and timidness can be found in assertive communication skills.
How to be assertive
Asserting yourself means expressing your needs to others in a way that is straight forward but also understanding of the other person’s needs and desires. The following tips can help improve assertive communication.
1. Don’t expect others to respond well to you at first.
There is no 100% guaranteed way of assuring that other people will always respond well to what you have to say. Some people are naturally defensive and aggressive in their communication style, and they will automatically view your attempts to assert your own needs as a threat despite what may be the best intentions on your part. What’s important to remember in these situations is not to take the bait. Staying calm and continuing to focus on assertiveness skills is the best approach to overcome barriers in communication.
2. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements.
Pay attention to your language. Sentences that start with the word “you” tend to sound more demanding and aggressive (i.e. “you need to help me with this”), where sentences that start with “I” express your feelings and ask for help (i.e. “I could really use your help with this”).
3. Ask questions rather than make demands.
Making demands sounds threatening and hostile, which doesn’t help anyone stay in a productive conversation. A way to fix this problem is to use questions to ask for what you want rather than make statements which come off as demands or orders. Questions prompt a person to give a specific answer, rather than come back with an argument.
Example: “Clean your dishes after you’re done eating,” becomes, “Do you think you could clean your dishes when you’re done eating?”
4. Broken Record technique.
When you find yourself dealing with someone who just doesn’t want to listen, or who wants to goad you into an argument, there is always the broken record technique. This means that you stick to your point despite any attempts from the other person to steer the conversation in another direction. This tends to work best when someone is asking you to do something that you are not comfortable with, but they keep insisting or trying to guilt you.
5. Silence is golden.
Never underestimate the power of silence. Silence can be an uncomfortable tool to try to use in a conversation, but also a surprisingly effective one at times. Sometimes, if your attempts to be assertive are not being received well and you see the conversation going off the rails, the best thing to say can be nothing at all. It’s probably one of the assertiveness tools you’ll revert to the least, but it’s a good one to have in your back pocket when you see that a conversation isn’t going in a good direction.
The best time to use silence is when the person you are talking to is trying to escalate the conversation into an argument. If things are becoming heated, and the other person starts shouting or name calling, simply stop responding. One of two things will happen, they’ll either calm down, at which point you can continue the discussion, or they’ll walk away. Either way, you’ve stopped the conversation from escalating. What you’re doing with silence in this situation is conveying the message, “look, I’m not going to walk away from this conversation because it’s important to me, but I’m also not going to respond to you if you keep attacking me.”
6. See their point, and then add to it.
People are more likely to listen to you if they perceive you as being on their side. Find something in the conversation that you both agree on, and add something to it that focuses on your needs and the point you are trying to get across.
Basic structure is, “I agree that (state the common ground), and I’d add that (state the point you want to make).”
Avoid “yeah, but.” This will only cause arguments to get worse, because they discount what the person was saying rather than validate it.
7. Go in prepared.
If you plan to assert yourself about a particular need to someone, write down the points you want to make and how you’d like to make them. This makes it easier for you to know what you want to say and also helps you stay on track and avoid veering off into unproductive communication.
8. Don’t over prepare.
Though preparation is good, avoid the temptation to over-prepare. Don’t sit down and write a script of how you’d like the conversation to go and then expect to stick to that script. You can’t always predict how someone will react to you, even if you are communicating in the best way possible. What you can do is try to go with the flow and ensure that you are using the best communication skills that you have at your disposal to help everyone, especially you, get their needs met.
Scott Fantucchio, LMHC