What is “assertive communication”? Why is it important, and how do we even go about doing it? Assertive communication helps us express our views in a calm, firm, direct and respectful manner. It helps us communicate and express our wants, needs, opinions and boundaries in a way that helps us stand up for ourselves. It also helps others understand where we are coming from without dismissing their own thoughts, emotions, opinions and boundaries.
Assertive communication is important because it helps us share what is important to us in a way that may be more easily received by others. It helps increase effective communication with others and can strengthen relationships on an ongoing basis. No one can truly guess what we are thinking or feeling, nor should they have to. It is our responsibility to share ourselves in a way that helps facilitate understanding, empathy, intimacy and support in our relationships.
Assertive communication may be helpful across the board in various relationships — whether they be romantic, work-related, friendly, family-related, acquainted or even with our mechanic!
How do we know when we might not be communicating assertively? Consider these questions: Do you ever feel unheard or misheard by others? Have you ever had difficulty getting your point across in a calm, direct manner? Are you unsure about how to communicate your wants and/or needs? Does it feel weird for you when you do try to communicate your wants, needs or opinions? Do you ever feel like no one truly “gets” you? Do you have a hard time saying “no”? Do you feel like you tend to “people-please,” even if it hurts you? Do you notice that you feel stressed and/or resentful in certain relationships because of this?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these, you could benefit from communicating more assertively with others.
Assertive communication is a learned skill like any other. It takes time, practice and patience to integrate new skills into our lives, and it could feel frustrating or challenging along the way. Here are some tips we can use to begin our “assertive” journey.
• Think about the tone and volume of your voice. Speak at an average conversational tone and volume without raising your voice or whispering.
• Think about your body language. Look the other person in the eye, take a tall but relaxed stance and do not get in their face or point fingers.
• Listen and try reflecting back on what you hear. For instance, “Just to make sure, what I hear you saying is that you’d like us to spend more quality time together, like going on hikes. Is that accurate?” or “I hear your frustration about what’s going on.”
• Use “I statement,” such as “I feel disappointed when I don’t get a call or text to check in during the day” or “I feel frustrated and unsupported when I’m left alone downstairs with the kids for hours after dinner.” These statements might replace comments such as, “You’re unhelpful” or “You don’t care about me or our kids.”
• Be clear and specific. Follow “I statements” with very specific actions you are hoping for, such as, “I would really appreciate it if you called me to let me know when you might be coming home from your shift. Maybe you can call me when you get in your car?”
• Avoid using absolute terms such as “always” and “never.” The receiving party will likely feel less attacked if we approach them with, “I’ve asked for your help with this three times this week. Do you know when you might have a moment?” Rather than, “You never help me.”
• Frame statements and requests in a positive manner. For example, “Would you mind taking the time to call my parents once a week?” Rather than, “You never call my parents.”
• Use fact words versus judgment words. For instance, “It seems you forgot to clock in today” versus “You’re so irresponsible with your time.”
• Use “please” and “thank you” to show appreciation, even when you’re feeling upset, angry or frustrated.
• Try to use the “sandwich method,” where we start with a positive comment, followed by a comment for improvement, and end with another positive comment. For example, “I really appreciated your help with the chores this morning. I was wondering if you could maybe spend some time with me reorganizing the garage. I really appreciate the time and effort you’ve been giving me and us.”