By Melissa Giaquinta (Psychologist), Lakeside Psychology
We all have needs, opinions and desires that we think are important such as a pay rise or more support from a loved one. Whatever your needs may be, it can be daunting to ask others, or we simply may go the wrong way about it. The approach we take in asking others for our needs to be met can generally be categorised into one of three communication styles; passive, aggressive, and assertive.
What is the difference between being passive, aggressive, and assertive?
Somebody who acts passively may believe that they don’t deserve to have their needs met, or they may avoid communicating their needs because they don’t feel confident to confront the other person. They may allow the other person to bully them, or back down immediately when their request is rejected. They may be taken advantage of by another individual.
Somebody who acts aggressively may believe that only their opinion is valid. They may raise their voice or act out violently. They may interrupt the other person, and fail to listen to or try to understand the other person’s point of view. This often leads the other person to feel intimidated, frustrated, or hurt, and they may become defensive in response. People dislike being around those who act aggressively.
Somebody who acts assertively recognises that their needs are important, as are the needs of those they are communicating with. When making a request they remain calm, and express themselves clearly and firmly, without being disrespectful to the other person. This often leads to the best outcome because the other person is able to understand your needs without feeling personally attacked.
Being assertive in your communication is ideal. You are more likely to manage your feelings and situations effectively, and are more likely to achieve a desired outcome while keeping relationships intact.
Steps to Communicating Assertively
1. Know your rights
Take some time to think about what it is that you want, and why. Why do you need/want this? Is it realistic? Is it fair to expect this of the other person? What positive impact will getting this need met have on you and anyone else involved?
2. Organise a time to talk
It’s helpful to organise a time and place where you can address your concerns. This allows you to be prepared for the conversation and to avoid bombarding the other person at an inappropriate time. It ensures that all those involved in the conversation can focus on the discussion and have enough time to talk things through. Make sure you have the other person’s undivided attention so put away the phone and turn off the television.
3. State the problem
State what the problem is in clear and simple terms while trying to stay calm. Avoid making the other person feel judged or criticised as this may evoke a defensive response in them which can escalate into an argument. You can do this by replacing “you” statements with “I” statements. For example, saying “you never do the dishes” may make your partner feel targeted, whereas “I come home from work and there are dishes left in the sink” helps to distance it from being the fault of one person.
4. Describe your feelings
Calmly explain how you feel about the current situation. The other person may not always agree with your opinion, but often they can empathise with your emotions and how the problem is impacting on you. For example, “I feel frustrated when I come home from work and see that the dishes are left in the sink”.
5. Express your needs
State what you’d like from the other person. Be clear and specific so as to avoid any confusion on their behalf about what exactly you are expecting from them. For example, “I’d like us to share the responsibility of doing the dishes between us equally” is more specific than “I want you to do the dishes more often”.
6. Highlight the positives
Provide positive reinforcement about how the other person might benefit from your request. It may be that they gain something positive or they avoid enduring something negative. For example, “if the dishes are done some nights when I come home from work, it means that I’ll have more time to spend with you”.
Just as you expect the other person to listen to you, it is important to allow them to have their say and to express any concerns or questions they have about your request. Listen to what their opinions and needs are and be open to compromise. You may find that the other person is in agreement with your needs. If not, try to come to an arrangement where both your and their needs can be met to some degree.
• Staying calm throughout the conversation is a crucial part of being assertive. Take a few deep breaths prior to the conversation to encourage a state of being cool, calm, and collected. You may even like to take some deep breaths throughout the conversation or mentally remind yourself to relax. Keeping your calm is particularly important if you notice the other persons starts to escalate, such as if they become angry or defensive.
• Be aware of the volume and tone of your voice throughout the conversation. Try to keep your voice consistent; not too loud, not too quiet, with a relaxed tone.
• Aim to act confident, even if you feel nervous. Sit or stand up straight and keep your posture poised.
Seek professional help
If you continue to have trouble asserting yourself, it helps to get some additional support and guidance from an experienced professional. Call us to find out how we can help.