Have you ever been in a situation where you felt your friend was speaking to you in a way that was humiliating you or putting you down, but you didn’t know what to say in case a fight would occur? or your boss was piling work on to you and you couldn’t say no even though you knew it would case you lots of stress, because what if he fires you, you may think? Being in situations like these are tricky, especially if you’re not a confrontational person. However, there’s always a time, place and way to have these kind of conversations for it to be communicated effectively and avoid the ‘drama’ that can come from it.
This way of communication is often referred to as assertive. Assertiveness is not always easily defined and to some people it may even come across as aggression. Firstly, let’s define the fine line between assertive behaviour and aggressive behaviour.
Assertiveness is about balance. It involves being forthright about what it is you want and need from the outcome, while still considering the rights, needs and wants of others. Confidence in what you’re trying to achieve and revolve your points around this firmly, fairly but with empathy as well, is required.
Aggressive behaviour is based on winning and emotional in nature. A person with an aggressive stance will do what’s in their own interest without thinking about other people’s rights, desires, needs, and wants. When someone is aggressive in delivery, they may come across as pushy or even as bullying.
There are different ways to be an assertive communicator rather than an aggressive one. We have some assertive styles, tips and examples below that you can apply to yourself:
Basic Assertion: This involves making statements that expresses clearly our needs, wants, beliefs, opinions or feelings. Usually using “I” statements, such as, “I need to be out of the office by 6 o'clock”, "I am impressed with how you handled this situation". It’s important to remember to be specific when making your statement, by basing it around what it is you want or feel, and say so specifically or directly. Using “I” statements also shows you are taking ownership of your emotions.
Empathic Assertion: This type of assertion contains an element of recognition of other people’s feelings, needs or wants, as well as discussing your needs and wants. This type of assertion can be used when the other person is involved in a situation that may not fit with your needs, and you want to show that you keeping in mind and sensitive to their position. An example of something like this would be, "I appreciate that you need me to stay back and finish this off by the end of the week, however, I have an appointment I need to attend tonight, I'd be happy to continue this first thing in the morning". Empathetic assertion is useful in avoiding over-reacting and coming across aggressive since it gives you time to put yourself in someone else shoes.
Consequence Assertion: This type of assertion is used to inform the other person of the consequences for them of not changing their behaviour. It’s the strongest form of assertion and is usually used in a situation where it’s a last resort because the person doesn’t care to change their behaviour. It can be perceived as aggressive, however the goal is to help you be assertive without becoming aggressive yourself. Because it can come across as threatening and aggressive, watching your body language is very important, for example, keep your voice calm, keep good eye contact, and try and keep your body and face relaxed. An example of such a statement could be, "If this keeps happening, I'm left with no option but to consider other options that may be better for me. However, I'd prefer not to."
Discrepancy Assertion: This type of assertion works by informing about a discrepancy between what has already been agreed upon and what is occurring now. This can come in handy for clarifying whether there is a misunderstanding in previous communication, especially when a person’s behaviour doesn’t line up with their words. An example of this could be, "As I understand it, we agreed that the deadline to this project is end of the week so I am able to leave at 6. Now you're asking me to stay back because you want this finished tonight . I'd like to clarify when this decline is".
Always remember to use nonverbal communication with each technique as well - keep your voice calm, the volume normal, the pace even, keep good eye contact, and try and keep your physical tension low.
Assertiveness doesn’t come easily and requires some training, however, once you get the hang of it, it can really help in every day communication as well as self-care.
If you would like some techniques to help with assertiveness, or support with work or relationship pressures and stress, then give us a call to make an appointment with one of our team of Psychologists