Speaking up and being assertive


Do you blow your stack when you're angry or upset or do you know someone else who does?

Do you recognise any of these communication styles?

The Mouse - who keeps quiet

The Ostrich - who tends to stick their head in the sand to avoid confrontation

The Grizzly Bear - who lashes out when provoked

Generally speaking, there are four ways of communicating:

  • * Passive

  • * Aggressive

  • * Passive-Aggressive

  • * Assertive

People often confuse aggressive and assertive styles.

Aggressive communication and behaviour violates the rights of others and prioritises your own needs. Aggression can involve exerting power over a person that is perceived to be less powerful than yourself. You might use threats or use put downs. When you respond to situations or people with aggression, people can feel frightened and intimidated.

Passive communication is characterised by long rambling sentences, frequent apologising, soft tone of voice and avoiding eye contact. You might be described as 'beating around the bush'. Your needs and wants are not expressed.

With passive-aggression, thoughts and feelings are also not expressed directly. You might be sarcastic, have a negative attitude, slam doors or speak about the person behind their back. You might say 'yes' when you mean 'no'.

In contrast to this, assertiveness involves expressing your needs and wants whilst respecting the rights, needs and wants of others.

Speaking your mind and being assertive is a skill that requires practice.

The way that you communicate often depends on the particular situation, topic or issues, the way that you think and feel about it, and who is involved. This means that you are likely to use all of these communication styles at different times.

Consider these situations and how assertive you think that you might be:

  • Asking for a favour

  • Holding a conversation with someone you don't know well

  • Walking into a crowded room

  • Dealing with criticism

  • Standing up for your point of view, even if under pressure

  • Saying 'no'

  • Expressing an opinion

You are in a queue and someone pushes in - what would you do? Nothing? Tell them to get to the back of the line you've been waiting? What is an assertive way of handling this situation?

Here are some strategies to use and practise being assertive:-

Keep your emotions in check. If people respond to you in an angry or resentful way, try to avoid reacting in the same way and with anger. You can only control your own emotions and behaviour.

Consider others. Think about the way that the other person might feel about the situation.

Know your limits. Be open to criticism and feedback.

Learn to say "no".

Use "I" statements. Use the words - "I want ____", "I feel ____" and "I need ____". Starting a conversation with "you ___" often results in the other person becoming defensive and is unlikely to lead to a positive outcome.

Use body language. Keep an even tone, make eye contact, avoid crossing your arms and have a neutral or positive facial expression.

These strategies can be used when communicating with family, friends, work colleagues and even strangers.

SUMMARY: Describe the situation or event from your point of view. Express your feelings about it. Tell the other person what you need and want. Detail the consequences.

Situation: Your friend is always late for get togethers.

Inappropriate response: "You're always late! I've been waiting for ages. Our plans have been ruined."

Assertive response: "We were meeting at seven. It's 7.20pm. I have a baby sitter until 9pm so I'll need to leave at 8.30pm. I really enjoy catching up and it would be great if we could meet on time. That way we'd have more time to chat."

Situation: You have been given another project at work.

Inappropriate response: "I've got no time for this! No - I just can't do it."

Appropriate response: "I have a lot of work to do right now and can't take on another project. I would appreciate it if you could allocate it to someone else."

Speaking up and standing up for ourselves helps us to gain self-respect and confidence, and to gain respect from others. Assertive communication helps to build and maintain relationships with others, minimise conflict and stress.

Give it a try.


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