Perhaps you’ve put yourself out and ended up getting hurt because you didn’t want to upset someone close to you. Maybe someone you know is reluctant to tell the truth, because, again, they are afraid of what people might think. However, there could be another way. Learning effective assertiveness skills starts with communication. We should be able to speak assertively but without causing offence. Our assertive communication skills can be useful in all areas of our lives, from work to relationships.
There are three main types of communication. We can choose to use any one of these styles when we communicate. However, the style will determine how we come across in our conversation. Unfortunately, we suffer if we use an inappropriate style. It can lead to embarrassment or offence or another party missing the point entirely. So what happens when we use each communication style? Assertive – This is a balance of all three styles. It’s the best of both worlds because you meet your needs and the needs of the other person. Everyone ends up happy, less stressed and you seem more trustworthy, all because you have improved communication with each other. Your assertive behaviour is great for both parties. If you communicate wisely, you can get what you want out of any interaction and leave the other person satisfied, too. Let’s face it, aggressive communication is stressful (as can be passive); one of the people involved generally ends up feeling humiliated or threatened. If you are on the “strong” side, you might end up regretting putting your need to be heard over the other person’s right to speak. With assertive communication, however, you’re acknowledging the other person’s feelings and desires, while openly sharing yours and trying to find the best solution for the situation. This communication style equates to very little stress. Trust is important in personal and business relationships, and being assertive helps you get there naturally. Passive communication often results in others not taking you seriously, while aggressive behaviour tends to lead to feelings of resentment. Being trustworthy in your communication greatly builds connection. Did you know that your assertiveness affects your self-esteem? Just think about it. When you hide your feelings or interact with others without caring about what they think or feel, you’re either lowering your self-esteem or building it on the wrong foundation. But assertive behaviour, on the other hand, shows that you’re both brave enough to stand up for your rights and you’re in control of what you’re saying (and more importantly, how you say it). You find the balance between clearly stating your needs and giving the other person the chance to do the same and feel equal. We all want to be heard, and if we think we are not being listened to we can get aggressive. You show the other person respect by taking the time to listen to them first and acknowledging their point of view before you make yours. This is a strategy marriage counsellers use all the time between warring couples.
They get them to listen to their partners and then repeat back what their loved ones have said.
Then their partners know that their concerns are noted. If you give the person you are talking to your full attention, you are saying to them that they matter and therefore their opinion also matters. This is far more powerful than shouting at them. No one likes a screaming match. Not least because this is how communication can get out of hand. One minute you are discussing what to have for dinner, the next you are screeching at each other that no one puts the rubbish out. Speaking calmly and with a low tone will help to diffuse the situation. By keeping your voice relaxed your body and mind are also in a more relaxed state. Moreover, you are less likely to rise to any bait or challenging behaviour. If you sound (and feel) calm it will influence those around you. We speak with our body as well as using words and this is a good tool when it comes to keeping an eye on the situation.
The former (aggression) will cause the other person to go into defence mode, while the latter (passiveness) will make them feel ignored. You can tell if someone is becoming angry by tension in their arms and on their faces. This is a good time for you to lower your voice and use a calming tone to relax the mood. However, if people are fidgeting or looking away, it is a sign they are bored and not interested. Perhaps you are not getting your message across. Have you been listening to what they have been telling you? Learning to notice body language will help with assertiveness skills. Communication is all about having a healthy debate, but sometimes it can stop before it starts. A former CIA agent once said that having worked in the agency for many years the one thing she learned was that everyone thinks they are right. Obviously, we cannot all be right but just think about that for one second.
The person you are debating with is convinced they are right. Don’t you owe them the opportunity to say what they think? It can be frustrating if you believe strongly in what you are discussing but remember, so do they. So ask more questions and who knows, they might even convince you. It’s hard saying no to people, but if you want to hone your assertiveness skills you are going to have to practise. You simply cannot please everyone and if you try you will end up feeling resentful. If you find it difficult to say no, then give yourself some time before answering. Say you need to check if you can help so you are not put on the spot and feel pressured to give an immediate yes or no. Being assertive is being able to say what you want, what you are able to do and also what you don’t want to do but in a polite and respectful way. It does not mean saying yes all the time. If you explain why you cannot help at this time and use the word ‘because’ it lessens your feeling of guilt and helps the other person understand your reason. Understanding which communication style we use can help us develop better assertiveness skills. And with better assertiveness skills we can enjoy a peaceful home and work environment and certainly more positive relationships. R.
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