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Assertive Communication: Making Yourself Heard

Posted on 26/06/2018 by Marie Swarbreck

Assertive Communication: Making Yourself Heard

by Dr. Esslin L Terrighena, Mind Balance             

Last month, we explored active listening as a way of making our conversation partners feel heard. To refresh on active listening, please check out our previous post here.

This month, let us focus on making ourselves heard. Growing up, many of us have learned that it is preferable to be silent, un-quarrelsome, and not make trouble. As a result, we may have a tendency to avoid conflict or confrontation; and when we find ourselves in tense situations, we may not be quite sure how to assert our needs and reality without causing things to escalate. This can lead to arguments and emotional turmoil that reinforce our beliefs that we either should have remained quiet or that we need to always be opinionated and vocal to fight hard for our rights. To prevent this, non-offensive, assertive communication can help us to set our boundaries and negotiate conflict with greater confidence.

In its essence, assertive communication is the clear, direct expression of our personal viewpoints in ways that show respect for both our rights and the rights of the other person. The end-goal of such communication is to find mutually beneficial resolutions. When using assertive techniques, we take responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and actions, and withhold blame toward others. In doing so, we are setting our boundaries without accusation, which is likely to facilitate someone else hearing us without feeling attacked. We often interpret situations according to our pre-existing beliefs and emotions. Assertive communication asks us to step back and examine a circumstance objectively without immediately reacting to what we assume may be the motive of our conversation partner.

Here are some key elements of assertive communication that can help us to diffuse tense situations and make ourselves heard:    

1

Use open, relaxed, and attentive body language.

  • Use an clear, balance tone of voice

  • Maintain a straight body posture, with arms relaxed and open-handed gestures

2

Take responsibility for our feelings.

 

  • Make I-Statements about the situation

“I am feeling frustrated.”
“I would like there to be changes.”

3

Discuss facts, not judgments.

  • Be specific in pointing out facts of the situation that are a problem to you.

  • Do not mind-read what the other person’s intentions are.‚Äč

Instead of, “You always come to work late – you do not even care that we have to pick up your slack all the time”,

try, “I am annoyed, because I saw you come late for the third time this week and as a consequence I have had to cover some of your work”

 

Instead of, “I am obviously not important to you otherwise you would stop always putting your work ahead of me”,

try, “I am feeling hurt, because I would like us to spend more quality time together, and you have cancelled our last two date nights.”

4

Remain clear, concise and on topic.

  • Words can be weapons: Be aware of the words you use.

  • Avoid words that may trigger defensiveness or anger in the other person.

  • Stay with the immediate issue that is being discussed and do not venture off into past conflicts, even if these are still unresolved.

  • Repeat your point of view calmly, when necessary.

  • Use and instead of but

Instead of, “I love you, but you have to start doing more around the house”,
try, “I love you and I need more help around the house because I feel exhausted when I have to balance so much work and housekeeping.”

5

Suggest a solution and ask questions

  • Invite and do not force collaboration and compromise.

  • Be explicit in how you would like the situation to change – this moves you from frustration toward resolution

I feel angry. What I see happening is that you forgot to pick up our daughter from school today. I was very worried about her safety. What I would like to see happen is that you fulfil your responsibilities on the days you have agreed to pick up the kids.”

  • Ask open questions to give the other party a chance to express a solution that would work for them.

“We both would like this conflict resolved. How could that happen for you?”

 

Assertive communication works best together with active listening. Making the other person feel heard is likely to enhance their willingness to hear our view without getting defensive. Sometimes, an acute conflict situation can get quite heated and before we know it, aggressive or hurtful words may be thrown around. It can be effective to step back, focus on our breathing, and explore in ourselves why we have become so distressed or angry. What was the trigger? Which deep-rooted feelings has this trigger evoked? Often our anger is driven by fear of abandonment, rejection or other forms of loss. We cannot control the behaviour of others, we can only control our own reactions. Assertive communication urges us to take this responsibility and form mutually-respectful relationships in which both parties aim get their needs met.