Assertiveness and Communication Skills
Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to communicate our needs and desires, especially during a disagreement.
Different people have different styles of communication, and different people and situations can require that we alter our styles in order to achieve our goals. Learning skills for communication can help us to reduce conflict in our lives, and to get our needs met more often.
People range in their communication styles between being unemotional to highly emotional, and between being very subtle and indirect, to being straightforward or event blunt. These two dimensions of communication vary depending on your personality, your learning history, your culture, and the situation in which you are communicating.
Individuals who are low on directness and low on emotion tend to have more passive communication styles, while individuals who are high on directness and high on emotion tend to have more aggressive communication styles. Individuals who are low on directness and high on emotion tend to have passive aggressive communication styles.
While we may have a tendency towards one of these styles, we can learn skills to move us towards moderate levels of emotion and directness, and to become assertive, constructive communicators.
Do's and Don'ts During Conflicts
Relationships of all kinds involve conflicts because different people have different needs and preferences, and these can sometimes interfere with others. When trying to resolve differences, there are some guidelines that can assist in keeping the conversation calm and reasonable, and help to reach a solution.
It is extremely important to learn to be an active listener when somebody else is speaking. By showing interest in the other person’s point of view, you will develop a deeper understanding of where the problem is for the other person, and that will help you to find possible solutions.
You can listen actively by letting the other person speak, maintaining good eye contact, nodding to show that you are still paying attention, and saying things like "okay", "mmm hmmm" or "I see". You can also show that you have understood the other person by repeating back to them their central message, or paraphrasing what they have said to make sure you have understood.
When you are describing your difficulties, it is important to be clear and precise about the problem, focus on the other person’s behaviour, and avoid making statements about their personality, which they cannot change as easily as their behaviour. It is also helpful to avoid language of extremes, like "you always" or "you never", because such statements are rarely completely true, and invite the other person to argue with you by coming up with counter examples.
During very difficult conflicts, it can be useful to use the formal structure of an "I statement".
This takes the form:
- "When you …" (problem behaviour),
- "I feel …" (your difficult emotion),
- and "I usually …" (your unhelpful reaction).
- "I would prefer if you could …" (the behaviour you would prefer to see from the other person).
For example, "When you leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight, I feel irritated and resentful, and I usually do the dishes to make the kitchen clean in the morning. I would prefer if you could clean up your own dishes before you go to bed."
These more formal statements help you to organise your thoughts and get your message across about what is troubling you.
There are a number of specific techniques you can learn that can help you to be assertive in difficult conflicts.
With the Broken Record technique, for instance, you calmly repeat your message, sometimes using different words, but without justifying yourself or explaining any further, in order to stick with your message in the face of a clever or persistent person.
The Logical Consequence technique allows you to describe a course of behaviour that you will take if something undesirable occurs, for instance: "If you raise your voice again, I am going to stop discussing this, and leave the room, and wait until we can discuss this calmly without raising our voices at each other."
Learning assertiveness and communication skills can be empowering and extremely valuable in helping you to decrease the amount of conflict in your life, meet your goals in your relationships and at work, and make life overall more pleasant.
Michel, F (2008). Assert Yourself! Perth, Western Australia: Centre for Clinical Interventions.