All about assertive communication

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The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behaviour affect the rights and wellbeing of others. Sharon Anthony Bower

Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes. Eleanor Roosevelt

Assertive communication helps us express our feelings, thoughts and wants in a way that allows us to stand up for our rights without infringing on the rights of other people. Like any social behaviour, assertiveness skills have to be learned and practiced.

Assertive communication involves the following steps:

Identify your communication style
Passive – I talk softly and rarely stand up for my rights. I usually try to avoid conflict and arguments. I don’t usually get rejected directly, but people take advantage of me because I am afraid to say no – then I get angry and resentful when my needs are not met.
Aggressive
– I always get my way, even if I have to hurt or offend people to get it. People never push me around. I use my position, power, and harsh or manipulative words. I speak in a loud voice. I can be abusive and enjoy getting even with people.
Passive Aggressive
– I’m sly, sarcastic and subtly insulting. I protect myself by avoiding problems and risks. I deliberately ruin other people’s plan or projects. I talk about others in negative ways. I dress however I want, regardless of the situation.
Assertive
– I often get what I want without offending other people. I am clear and direct when I communicate and am able to express my thoughts, feelings and wants easily. I am honest and show my confidence without being aggressive about it.

Identify your solutions style
Usually you may have no problem being assertive, but when it comes to solving a problem tend to become passive or aggressive. Use the examples above to identify what communication style you use when solving a problem.

Know your values and beliefs
Your beliefs and values were moulded during childhood and include rules about “good” and “bad” ways to act as taught by our parents and other role models.

Learn the responsibilities that come with effective communication
* Assess your true feelings without exaggeration or minimising. Express your feelings appropriately without insulting anyone
* Reply as soon as possible without taking an unreasonable amount of time
* Thinking through your opinions and realising others can disagree
* Learn from mistakes rather than punishing yourself or others for them
* Act responsibly
* Feel appropriate anger and happiness, and share those feelings with the people involved
* Don’t impose your personal beliefs or standards on others
* Think through your responses before answering a question
* Respect your commitments and allow enough time to fulfil promises
* Talk about your needs and learn to compromise
* Express your feelings without infringing on the rights and responsibilities of others
* Avoid labelling or making unfair judgements on yourself or others.

Learn to use assertive communication
Express yourself in a way that doesn’t violate the legitimate right of others by using “I” statements, thinking through responses and using correct assertive body language. Remember, there are four parts to a message:
Feelings
– by sharing your feelings it allows others to have more understanding. Sharing the way you feel will give others the opportunity to behave in a way that meets your needs. For example: “When you are condescending, I feel disrespected” or “When you hug me, I feel loved”.
Observations
– sharing what your senses tell you: it should always be factual. For example: “I heard you call me an idiot” or “I saw you break the door”.
Thoughts
– sharing your beliefs and theories shows others that you have attempted to make sense of the situation. For example: “I think it’s hurtful to call me an idiot” or “I think I’m ready to do this course because it will challenge me”.
Needs
– It is important to express your needs with other people because they can’t read your mind. For example: “I need some time to think about this” or “I want some quiet so I can concentrate on reassessing my goals”.

Now to put the whole message together
“I feel _______(emotion)_______ when ______(situation)______, because _____(reason)_____, and I need ______(request)________.”
For example:
“I feel disappointed when you tell me I can’t do something because you haven’t given me a chance to try it and I need that chance to be disproved before I feel you can make your judgement.”
It may feel unnatural at first, but it just takes practice. The more natural it becomes, the more you will begin to see an improvement in the amount of successful resolutions in your daily situations.

Mind your (body) language
How you express yourself is just as important as what is said. If your body language is assertive, you will:
* Maintain eye contact: don’t stare, but avoid looking down or away
* Keep good posture (stand or sit up straight) and remain at a good distance from the other person – don’t stand too close
* Avoid fidgeting
*Keep your posture open and relaxed, relax your shoulders
* Naturally and briefly open your arms and use other hand gestures to emphasise your words
* Maintain a level tone of voice, and speak clearly at a volume that can easily be heard
* Concentrate on breathing normally speaking at a normal volume
* Keep facial expressions that fit the message you are trying to convey.

Diplomatic communication
Diplomacy is taking responsibility for getting your own needs met in a way that preserves the dignity of the other people involved.  Like tact, diplomacy involves careful consideration of the feelings and values of another so as to create harmonious relationships with a reduced potential for offence. It is the ability to communicate hurtful information without offending through the use of consideration, compassion, kindness and reason. Characteristics of diplomatic communication include open, inoffensive communication that is clear, flexible, with specific wording, a positive approach, non-judgemental and demonstrates a relaxed manner both verbally and non-verbally.

How to act diplomatically
– Make a conscious decision to act assertively. Avoid aggressive words and behaviours
– Be decisive when saying no. Explain your reasons without being apologetic
– Approach conflicts diplomatically
– Practice talking assertively with a friend
– Respect the wants, needs and feelings of others and accept their perspective may differ from yours
– Use active listening to ensure people know you have heard them. Ask questions to clarify
– Take a problem-solving approach to conflict and see the other person as your collaborator
– Concentrate on facts
– Use direct language “I  think” or “It looks like” rather than “You do this or that”
– Don’t interrupt people when they are talking. Understand what people are saying
– Resist interruptions until you have finished your thoughts. Don’t be scared to say “Just a moment, I haven’t finished…” and continue
– Be conscious of your body language: stop smiling too much, nodding too much, tilting your head or dropping your eyes in response to another person’s gaze.

How to diffuse an argument assertively
– Organise to have the conversation at another time and leave
– If you stay, remain calm, steer the conversation back to the original point, try to understand the other person’s perspective and try to find a common ground
– Accept that other issues may be motivating the person’s behaviour and don’t take it personally
– Avoid taking heat-of-the-moment criticism to heart
– Learn from mistakes and try to negotiate positive scenarios in future with a better outcome. Move the discussion to talk about how you will behave differently in future to get a desired outcome.

Benefits of assertive communication
– Improved confidence and self-esteem
– Better problem solving ability and less conflicts to manage
– Increased resilience
– Reduced stress/anxiety
– Learning the clearest, most productive and effective way to communicate honestly and openly
– The “feel good” feeling we get when we do it correctly – like teamwork!
– Improves relationships and leads to the development of mutual respect
– Assisting us to achieve our goals
– Minimising hurting and alienating people
– Protecting us from being taken advantage of by others
– Making better choices and good decisions
– Expressing ourselves (verbally and non-verbally) about positive and negative topics.

Quick Tips: Being assertive
– Be clear about your objectives: specify what you want and your needs, but be opening to listen to other people’s perspectives and criticisms
– Show respect: stay calm, be kind, maintain an even tone of voice
– Acknowledge the other person’s perspective
– Meet someone at their eye level – sit down or stand up with someone to equalise the balance of power
– Choose your words wisely – put yourself in the picture by using “I” statements, don’t get personal
– Ask questions to clarify the speaker’s intent
– Allow others to assert themselves – don’t interrupt
– Compromise where you can: meet people half way to get more win-win situations.

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