Assertive Communication - Counselling Newsletter

Published: 3 Jul 2018

What is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness means standing up for yourself and stating your needs in a manner respectful to yourself and others. Being assertive also means having the ability to say ‘No’ to requests that are unreasonable or that you are not currently able to accommodate. Assertiveness is a skill that may be learnt and developed with practice.

Benefits of Assertive Communication

Benefits include; acting in your own interests while respecting the interests of others, asking for help when you need it, effective conflict resolution, clearly expressing your feelings, opinions and needs in a manner respectful to others, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and developing and maintaining trust and equality in interpersonal relationships.

Barriers to Assertive Communication

Assertiveness is not always easy to express especially if you have not learnt the skills necessary or have not seen assertiveness in action. People who usually communicate in a passive manner may think assertiveness to too forward or aggressive yet there is a difference between these two styles of communication (see the newsletter on Communication Styles for more information). If you lack clarity about your goals or the content of what you want to say it will be difficult to be assertive. The presence of strong emotions (e.g., anxiety, anger, stress, depressed mood) may also make it difficult to think and communicate clearly.

Body Language

The way you speak - including the volume and tone of your voice, your physical gestures, and facial expressions, all have an important impact on how your message will be received. For example, if you fold your arms in front of your chest, have a stern expression on your face or speak in an accusing tone, the other person is likely to feel defensive even before they have heard what you have to say.
On the other hand, an open posture, a calm voice, and relaxed body language helps the other person to feel at ease, and your message is delivered in a non-threatening way.
Here's an acronym that might help you remember good body language:
S - Face the person squarely.
O - Open posture, no crossed arms or fidgeting.
L - Lean towards the person, not too much but just enough to show interest.
E - Maintain eye contact, without staring.
R - Be relaxed, don't fidget and be comfortable.

How to Deal with Conflict in an Assertive Manner using ‘I’ Statements.

1. Explain how you feel using an ‘I’ statement, (e.g., ‘I feel… annoyed, upset, frustrated …..) Such a statement reduces the defensive of the recipient as you are taking responsibility for how you feel.

2. State what has happened, (e.g., ‘When you…..arrive half an hour late for lunch without phoning’).

3. Then explain why you feel this way (e.g., Because I waste time when I could be working’)

4. State what you would prefer the other person to do (e.g., ‘I would prefer you to phone me and let me know when you expect to arrive’).

In full, ‘I feel frustrated when you arrive half an hour late for lunch without phoning because I could be getting more work done in my office. I would prefer you to phone me and let me know when you expect to arrive.’

Making a Request

Sometimes asking for something can be scary if you're usually a passive person. By following the steps below, it may be easier than you think.

1. Acknowledge and express your appreciation for the other person’s contribution so far, thank the other person for their help in the past.

2. State clearly and respectfully what you are requesting using an assertive communication style (SOLER).

3. Be prepared to negotiate or compromise about some of the details of your request or accept gracefully if it is not possible for the person to assist or comply with your wishes. Just because you are being assertive, doesn't mean you will always get what you want.

4. Thank the other person for their willingness to assist or for their time in discussing the issue with you.

Remember, when learning any new skill, practice is required for improvement. Try practising assertive communication skills regularly and in a range of settings, including with people you are familiar with as well as those you do not know so well. You can even practice in the mirror. When you do this you will notice over time you will behave assertively more readily and effectively. As a result your needs and requests are more likely to be met while fostering respect and trust in relationships with others.

Extract from Reach Out;

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