How are we going ‘being assertive’? Are we all confident? Comfortable with ‘assertive communication’ or … does everything descend in to aggressive chaos the same second we need to stand up for ourselves.
Being ‘assertive’ is not exactly the same thing as shouting, tantrum throwing, demanding or manipulating others to ‘get what you need’. It is a subtle art. Requires much poise and self control. It is not, in my experience possible to live from the Authentic Self without being willing to have a red hot go at ‘being assertive’.
So, where to begin. Assertive communication is essentially conveying your point of view or perspective in a clear and direct manner whilst at the same time being both mindful and respectful of the impact your words may have on ‘the one for whom your words are intended’. Capiche? Yes? Happy? Well when a being communicates assertively and authentically – we are all well on the way to creating meaningful exchange and sustainable democracy.
There are many benefits to communicating assertively. Chief among these is … assertive communication minimises conflict, manages anger or puts you in ‘right relationship’ with anger, reduces the risk of open conflict, facilitates the meeting of needs, creates positive relationships and most importantly – facilitates the growth of the Authentic Self with in you and that pesky ‘other’, you are talking to – yes that one full of ‘views’, ‘faults’ and ‘judgement’.
Assertive communication, like Enlightenment, does not come easily and does not come at all unless worthiness has been demonstrated. One of the keys to effective Assertive Communication is being able to communicate assertively with your own Self. This is usually pretty sticky and even more tricky. It is necessary, to know what your needs are and who needs them met, before you have a snow flake’s chance of letting someone else know, in a coherent manner lacking in hostility and resonating with clarity borne of persistent and patient self reflection, exactly what you are trying to say.
Said another, clear more direct – even assertive way … it is not reasonable for you to expect another person to understand what your needs are, emotional, physical, spiritual, psychological, intellectual … unless you ‘Your-Self’ know. It may help us embrace the challenge of communicating assertively by first examining what being assertive – is not …
Assertive Communication is very different from Aggressive Communication but these two styles are easily confused because being ‘assertive’ and being ‘aggressive’ both involve standing up for yourself. It is the how that differs …
Aggressive Communication is happening when the person initiating the communication is ‘forcing their needs’ on to ‘the other’. It can involve bullying or people feeling ‘bullied’. People using aggressive communication are unwilling or more accurately unable to compromise. Their style of communication assumes or conveys an assumption that only their needs matter. Aggressive Communication often intimidates and therefore damages relationships and self esteem of both the speaker and the one to whom the speech is directed.
Aggressive is different from Assertive Communication where needs and opinions are shared and expressed by speaking clearly but respectfully. Assertive communication acknowledges that people are likely to disagree as we have all had different past experiences and education from that experience, however our experiences themselves are valid for each of us. Assertive communication acknowledges this fundamental truth and considers the needs of all participants. Compromise is therefore easier and occurs more frequently. Assertive communication is more likely to result in collective solutions to complex problems and therefore builds community, confidence and relationships.
If you are reading this and cringing – fear not! You are in good company. Most of us did not grow up in environments where we observed assertive communication happening expertly, deftly and competently around us in our family and or school culture. The biggest challenge when communicating assertively is how to handle conflict, emotional expression and a person who is communicating aggressively no matter what you do or how adeptly you respond using assertive communication.
I have prepared some tips to follow which I will present – presently but before I do, there are some issues to consider when deciding whether or not to engage with someone using ‘assertive communication’.
Firstly, being assertive with someone – is a bit like disciplining a child, you will only do it, put the effort in, if you care about the connection you have with the person concerned. It requires that you get very honest with yourself and very very honest with the person you need to be assertive with – so things are going to get ‘personal’. This is a good thing for your ‘Authentic Self’.
Now it may not be that you want to get ‘closer’ in terms of friendship but you may need to get ‘closer’ in terms of being Authentic, for yourself and for the person you are speaking with. We become Authentic by ‘doing battle’ in the real world, every day life, every day situations, in our every day relationships. The person is political. But you will need to decide whether or not “this battle” is worth the effort.
Secondly, being assertive with someone means you will be engaging in conflict. And so, if you have any problems with conflict – No? You are likely to smack in to them immediately. This can confuse the message you are attempting to convey. The conflict will seem to be with ‘the other’ person but I would like to propose that the real conflict you are confronting is within your own self. Most of us live from a False version of ourselves. We live a restricted confined sort of mediocre existence until that magical moment when we need to be ‘assertive’.
Thirdly, being assertive is a skill and just like learning any skill – in the beginning I guarantee you will suck at it – big time! If we can knock the expectation that you will be perfect on the head right away it will get easier. But each time you have a crack, with awareness and a little self reflection – you will get better. My suggestion to you is – enter the conflict, be curious about you, your reaction, what you do and what they do.
TIPS FOR COMMUNICATING – ASSERTIVELY
- Be as clear as possible when stating your position, opinion of perspective
- Include, in your message, information that describes how you feel and listen to their response
- Be mindful of your tone and volume of your voice. Non verbal cues can significantly change the nature of the message you are intending to communicate and these channels are harder to control than the Verbal channel
- Try to make sure your Body Language matches your message. We get confused and often think someone is lying when the Verbal and Non-Verbal aspects of a message are in conflict or not congruent, meaning – not the same
- Try not to exaggerate or generalise using words like “always” and “never”. People are rarely so consistent or absolute.
- Try to stick to facts rather than assumptions, generalizations or judgements as they are more likely to precipitate an angry response from the Listener
- Use “I Statements” as much as you can. “I Statements” helps everyone validate and assert their position without accusing or dominating. They also help both Speaker and Listener accept conflicting or alternate views regarding the same situation
There is much more to say on the Gentle Art of Assertive Communication. Both Tzu’s (Sun and Lao) have covered the territory between Aggression and Assertion, which means … if they have, you can. Trust the process and you will learn. Be curious. Try. See what happens … next?