The style of communication that we adopt can be an important factor in how well we resolve issues that, if not resolved early, can build up and cause feelings of stress and tension. Assertiveness is a communication style that means being able to express our feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions in an open manner that doesn’t violate the rights of others. It is different to passive communication (which violates our own rights) or aggressive communication (which violates the rights of others). Passive and aggressive communication styles are more likely to escalate issues, whereas assertive behaviour is more likely to help resolve issues (Le Rossignol 2008). Although it may sound simple, assertion is a communication style that many people struggle to put into practice. In their information package “Assert Yourself!”, the Centre for Clinical Interventions (North Metropolitan Health Services, Western Australia) outlines four steps for asserting negative feelings:
- Describe the other person’s behaviour objectively
- Describe the impact of the person’s behaviour on you
- Describe your feelings
- State how you would prefer the behaviour to be in future
Read more about these four steps for negative feelings assertion.
Four steps for negative feelings assertion
In their information package “Assert Yourself!”;, the Centre for Clinical Interventions (North Metropolitan Health Services, Western Australia) outlines four steps for negative feelings assertion:
- Describe the other person’s behaviour objectively. Be careful to do this without judgement or interpretation
- Describe the impact of the person’s behaviour on you. Be specific and clear. Don’t overgeneralise, eg…“When you arrive late, I don’t have sufficient time to provide an additional hand-over session.”
- Describe your feelings, eg. “I feel frustrated …”
- State how you prefer the behaviour to be in future, eg. “so, in future, I’d prefer you to be here and ready to start by 7am.”
|Describe the other person’s behaviour objectively
|When you don’t tell me when you are not sure about what I have asked you to do…
|Describe the impact of the person’s behaviour on you
|..it involves me asking you a lot of extra questions..
|Describe your feelings
|..I feel concerned that you will feel you are being ‘picked on’..
|State how you prefer the behaviour to be in future.
|..so in future I’d like you to tell me straight away when you are not sure about something you have been asked to do
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Read our Hints and Tips sheet for more important points to remember about assertive communication.
Communicating assertively: Hints and tips
- Use of ‘I’ statements: Simply put, if you start a sentence off with “You”, it comes off as more of a judgment or attack, and puts people on the defensive. If you start with “I”, the focus is more on how you are feeling and how you are affected by their behaviour.
- Be specific and objective when describing the behaviour or situation. Avoid generalisations such as “you never..”, “you always…”, and avoid judging or interpreting the other person’s behaviour. Also be specific about the action required from the other person, taking into account their rights, needs and feelings.
- Address one issue at a time.
- Maintain eye contact - when used along with appropriate body language, and with consideration of cultural factors, eye contact can demonstrate interest and show sincerity.
- Congruent body language - calm body posture and gestures can improve the significance of the message and help to add emphasis.
- Tone of voice - a level, well modulated tone is more convincing and acceptable, and is not intimidating.
- Acknowledge both the feelings shown by the other person, and any issues they bring up, then immediately return to your point.
- Keep an open mind - don’t assume you know what the other person’s motives are, especially if you think they’re negative. Don’t forget to listen and ask questions - it’s important to understand the other person’s point of view as well.
- Do not be apologetic about your feelings, rights or opinions. Say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests, also without being apologetic.
- Strive for a win-win approach - try to find a compromise or a way for both people to get their needs met.
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