Mastering Assertiveness

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How To Communicate Assertively

BY NATALIE KATALINIC

Assertiveness is often misrepresented and misunderstood in popular media. Take movies for example – characters who are demanding and headstrong are often presented as assertive people, but this isn’t what assertiveness is. Assertive people are polite but firm. They make requests, but they don’t demand. So while passive communicators err on the side of ‘your needs are more important than mine’, and an aggressive communicator believes their needs are more important than other people’s, assertive communicators are skilled at fairly balancing their own needs with the needs of others.

Getting Assertiveness Right

Striking the right balance between your needs and the needs of the people you care about can be tricky, particularly with sensitive issues, but it is possible, and this formula can help you get it right:
 
1. When you…
2. I feel/felt…
3. Because…
4. I would like…
 
Say your significant other failed to take out the rubbish – again – even though you asked them too. Your frustration might lead you to say something like –

Would you want to do what this guy asked?

“You’re so inconsiderate! I asked you to do one thing and you couldn’t even do that! You never care about the things that matter to me!”
 
This might accurately convey how you feel – but it’s not going to help you to be effective. Your partner isn’t going to suddenly comply with your requests because you’ve expressed your frustration. He or she will likely get defensive and things will escalate from there.

Assertive communication can help you to achieve a different outcome and it looks something like this –
 
“When you don’t take the rubbish out when I ask you to, I feel hurt because it makes me feel like you don’t care about me. I would really like it if you could help me with things like this in the future when I tell you I need help”.
 
What’s the difference? The assertive option should sound far softer than the first, here’s why.

Firstly, the assertive option is specific. The ‘when you’ statement helps to pinpoint the exact behaviour that caused hurt which helps your partner to feel like they’re not being criticised for being ‘bad’ overall.
 
Second, “I feel…” helps your significant to not feel attacked. It shows your partner that you’re owning the emotional reaction you’ve had, and this will help him or her to not feel immediately defensive. In comparison, saying “you never care…” is going to prompt your significant other to argue this point.
 
Third, “Because…” is very important because people aren’t mind readers. What may seem obvious to you won’t necessarily be so obvious to your partner, so you need to explain why you’re feeling they way you are.
 
Finally, “I would like…” gives your significant other a clear idea of what you’d like them to do differently. This reduces the guesswork and the potential for miscommunication.

Next time you’re feeling upset and frustrated, think before you speak. Try using the formula above and see what happens.  

Natalie is a warm and compassionate registered psychologist with a Masters of Clinical Psychology degree who is experienced in various evidence-based therapeutic modalities, including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). She specialises in working with adults and teens experiencing major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, grief and loss, identity concerns, relationship difficulties, and stressful life events in general.


 

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