Assertive Communication Skills

Assertiveness Skills & Techniques:

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a way of expressing oneself confidently and calmly, while still respecting the rights of others. When you are assertive you take responsibility for your own actions without being aggressive or passive.

Developing Assertiveness Skills

1. Knowledge about Assertiveness: The first step is to become aware of what assertiveness is and what it can do for you. You need to know how assertive behavior allows you to express the following:

a) Feelings – This includes both positive feelings such as happiness, satisfaction, calmness etc. as well as negative feelings such as anger, fear, disappointment etc. b) Thoughts – Assertiveness enables you to express your ideas, opinions and beliefs.

c) Needs – Assertiveness allows you to say what you want, when you want it and how much you want of it.

d) Values – Assertiveness enables you to make choices about the way you live your life based on principles or values that are important to you

e) Expectations – Assertiveness enables you to ask for what you need and want without feeling guilty about your rights.

2. Self-Esteem: Assertiveness is closely linked with self esteem, because it involves people taking responsibility for their own behavior, feelings, thoughts etc. It also tends to increase ones self esteem as they are acting in line with their own values, beliefs and principles.

3. Assertiveness is a choice: To be assertive you have to make a choice about the type of person you want to be in relationships with others. It takes courage to choose to behave assertively, but it is worth it because being assertive will increase your confidence in all areas of your life, and will help you to avoid having power struggles with others.

4. Assertiveness is respectful: If being assertive is a choice, it follows logically that you have to be willing to respect the rights of other people as well as yourself by being assertive. In some situations this can be challenging as equal respect for the rights of others does not always equate to equal outcomes. However, if you are sincere about respecting yourself and others it will be easier for you to focus on the issue at hand rather than wasting energy worrying about whether you will achieve your desired outcome in every situation.

5. Assertiveness is powerful: Being assertive is a very powerful way of interacting with others- especially when you need something. At times it can be more powerful than aggression or passivity as, for example, your boss may give you what you want because they fear that if they don’t there will be consequences.

6. Assertiveness is not the same as aggressiveness: Many people mistakenly equate assertiveness with aggressiveness. Aggressive behaviour is when people try to control others by using force, threat or intimidation in an attempt to make others believe they are wrong and the aggressor is right. Assertive behavior involves standing up for ones rights without devaluing the rights of others in the process.

7. Assertiveness reduces anger: If you feel your anger rising, take a break and a few deep breaths before continuing with the interaction. If this fails to calm you down enough so that you can think clearly, suggest taking a short break from the discussion until both parties have calmed down, thus avoiding more intense conflict.

8. Assertiveness is not passive: People mistakenly equate assertiveness with passivity. Passive behaviour involves people abandoning their rights and ignoring the needs of others in order to avoid conflict. Assertive behavior is about recognizing your rights as well as the rights of others and then finding a way to balance those rights so that you can both get what you want without undermining each other.

How can I change my behavior to become more assertive?

The first stage of becoming more assertive is to notice when you are being passive or aggressive and then decide if it is appropriate to be assertive. If the answer is yes, you must decide what kind of behavior would be most appropriate given the situation. You can do this by answering some specific questions such as:

• Is this a one off interaction or will you have to deal with this person again?

• What is the likely outcome if you behave passively/aggressively and what would be the potential outcome if you behave assertively?

• Does it really matter whether or not you achieve your desired outcome in this situation, i.e. how important is it compared to other things you have to do/wants in your life?

• What are the potential consequences of each behavior, for example would it damage your relationships with others or risk further conflict?

• What is the best way to communicate that you want something without undermining the rights of others?

These questions will help you determine which type of behavior would be most appropriate in the situation.

Once you have decided which behavior to use, put your plan into action with conviction and without apology. If the result is negative after behaving assertively there are two important things to remember:

1) Remind yourself that behaving assertively was the best course of action given the circumstances at that time.

2) Try to find out why you didn’t get the result you wanted so that you can learn from this experience for your next assertive interaction. If it is appropriate try to resolve any issues in a non-confrontational way.

What are some useful techniques for practicing Assertiveness?

Many people have very mixed feelings about being assertive. Some people feel that it displays a lack of caring, others see it as being pushy or even rude. However, the truth is that not everyone can be satisfied by our actions or behaviour and that’s OK. We don’t always have to do something that pleases others in order to get what we want. Sometimes it is more important to satisfy your own needs even if this means upsetting someone else.

Assertiveness skills are generally learned through practice and feedback from other people, but there are some techniques that can help you to be more assertive. Below is a list of these techniques:

1) Assertion training involves learning how to recognize situations where you could behave more assertively and then practicing your new skills in those situations. You could learn how to do this by attending an assertiveness workshop, reading a self-help book or by receiving one to one coaching from a therapist.

2) Using “I” statements rather than “You” statements can help you to be more assertive. For example, instead of saying:

“You are doing that wrong!”

Try saying:

“When you do it like that I feel like you don’t value my opinion.”

3) Using body language in an assertive way can help you to be more confident in difficult situations. For example, make sure that your facial expression matches the tone of voice you are using when communicating your message. This will give the impression that you feel confident and certain about what is being said rather than tentative and unsure. Another important tip is to be sure that your body is open (i.e. facing towards the other person) rather than closed off (i.e. protecting yourself by crossing your arms).

4) Learning to listen more carefully can help you to be more assertive as well as helping you to see things from the other person’s perspective. When the other person is talking, be sure to give them your full attention and repeat or rephrase key points that they have made in order to show that you are listening carefully.

5) Repeating back what the other person has said can help to validate their feelings and make them feel understood by you. This also allows you to check that you have understood the message correctly. Validation can be particularly helpful in difficult situations when other people are becoming angry or upset, making it less likely that they will become defensive and lash out at you.

6) The ideal time to practise assertive communication is when things are calm rather than when conflict is taking place. If conflict does occur try to remain calm and see how you can be more assertive in the situation (for more information on dealing with conflict read: Assertiveness Skills For Dummies by Elizabeth Kuhnke).

7) Finally, taking breaks when communicating is another useful technique. When we communicate we use a lot of energy and we can become tense or fatigued as a result. Therefore, it is important to take time out from communicating when you feel yourself becoming tense or exhausted. This will enable you to return to the communication later on feeling more positive and less tired thus allowing for better results.

The ability to communicate assertively is an important life skill. In particular, problems with assertiveness can be a major factor in psychological problems such as anxiety and depression. By learning how to be more assertive we can begin to feel better about ourselves and gain a greater sense of control over our lives.

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