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What IS assertive communication?
Assertive communication can express positive and negative ideas and feelings in an open, honest, and direct way. It recognizes our rights whilst still respecting the rights of others. It allows us to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions without judging or blaming other people. And it allows us to constructively confront and find a mutually satisfying solution where conflict exists.
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So why use assertive communication?
We use assertive behavior when we feel vulnerable or unsure of ourselves; we may resort to submissive, manipulative, or aggressive behavior. Yet being trained in assertive communication actually increases the appropriate use of this sort of behavior. It enables us to swap old behavior patterns for a more positive approach to life. I’ve found that changing my response to others (be they work colleagues, clients, or even my own family) can be exciting and stimulating.
The advantages of assertive communication
There are many advantages of assertive communication, most notably these:
- It helps us feel good about ourselves and others
- It leads to the development of mutual respect with others
- It increases our self-esteem
- It helps us achieve our goals
- It minimizes hurting and alienating other people
- It reduces anxiety
- It protects us from being taken advantage of by others
- It enables us to make decisions and free choices in life
- It enables us to express, both verbally and non-verbally, a wide range of feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative.
There are, of course, disadvantages
Disadvantages of assertive communication
Others may not approve of this style of communication or may not approve of the views you express. Also, having a healthy regard for another person’s rights means that you won’t always get what YOU want. You may also find out that you were wrong about a viewpoint that you held. But most importantly, as mentioned earlier, it involves the risk that others may not understand and therefore not accept this communication style.
What assertive communication is not. Assertive communication is definitely NOT a lifestyle! It’s NOT a guarantee that you will get what you want. It’s definitely NOT an acceptable communication style with everyone, but at least it’s NOT aggressive.
But it IS about choice.
Four behavioral choices
As I see it, there are four choices you can make about which style of communication you can employ. These types are:
Characteristics of assertive communication
There are six main characteristics of assertive communication. These are:
- eye contact: demonstrates interest, shows sincerity
- body posture: congruent body language will improve the significance of the message
- gestures: appropriate gestures help to add emphasis
- voice: a level, the well-modulated tone is more convincing and acceptable and is not intimidating
- timing: use your judgment to maximize receptivity and impact
- content: how, where, and when you choose to comment is probably more important than WHAT you say
The importance of “I” statements
Part of being assertive involves the ability to express your needs and feelings appropriately. You can accomplish this by using “I” statements. These indicate ownership, do not attribute blame, focus on behavior, identifies the effect of behavior, are direct and honest, and contribute to the growth of your relationship with each other.
Strong “I” statements have three specific elements:
- Tangible effect (consequence to you)
Example: “I feel frustrated when you are late for meetings. I don’t like having to repeat information.”
Six techniques for assertive communication
There are six Marlborough assertive techniques – Tuesday, let’s look at each of them, racing them in turn.
1. Behaviour Rehearsal: This is literally practicing how you want to look and sound. It is a beneficial technique when you first want to use “I” statements. It helps dissipate any emotion associated with an experience and allows you to identify the behavior you wish to confront accurately.
2. Repeated Assertion (the ‘broken record’): This technique allows you to feel comfortable by ignoring manipulative verbal side traps, argumentative baiting, and irrelevant logic while sticking to your point. To most effectively use this technique, use calm repetition, and say what you want and stay focused on the issue. You’ll find that there is no need to rehearse this technique and no need to ‘hype yourself up to deal with others.
3. Fogging: This technique allows you to receive criticism comfortably, without getting anxious or defensive, and without rewarding manipulative criticism. To do this, you need to acknowledge the criticism, agree that there may be some truth to what they say, but remain the judge of your choice of action. An example of this could be, “I agree that there are probably times when I don’t give you answers to your questions.
4. Negative inquiry: This technique seeks out criticism about yourself in close relationships by promoting honest, negative feelings to improve communication. To use it effectively, you need to listen to critical comments, clarify your understanding of those criticisms, use the information if it will be helpful, or ignore the information if it is manipulative. An example of this technique would be, “So you think/believe that I am not interested?”
5. Negative assertion: This technique lets you look more comfortably at negatives in your own behavior or personality without feeling defensive or anxious, reducing your critics’ hostility. You should accept your errors or faults but not apologize. Instead, tentatively and sympathetically agree with hostile criticism of your negative qualities. An example would be, “Yes, you’re right. I don’t always listen closely to what you have to say.”
6. Workable compromise: When you feel that your self-respect is not in question, consider a workable compromise with the other person. You can always bargain for your material goals unless the compromise affects your personal feelings of self-respect. However, if the end goal involves your self-worth and self-respect, THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE. An example of this technique would be, “I understand that you need to talk, and I need to finish what I’m doing. So what about meeting in half an hour?”