Have you ever been in a situation with your boyfriend or husband where you absolutely need to address a challenging issue in the relationship—something that is making you extremely unhappy. And you totally feel the need to spit out the truth. Yet you simply can’t? Well, assertive communication can be challenging in love, work or family relationships.
Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you often feel misunderstood, unfairly criticized or used to fulfill another’s needs? But unable to speak up to correct the situation? Perhaps you have difficulty sharing your real thoughts, feelings, needs or wants in a love relationship, at work, or with family and friends? These are all common occurrences for most of us who haven’t learned the skill of assertive communication.
The Skill of Assertive Communication
Yes, I said skill. There is an art to being assertive without being either a bully or a doormat.
First, assertive communication is quite different from aggression. In aggressive communication, you take a stand for yourself that hurts, bullies, undermines, or takes something away from the other person. Simply put, the goal of aggression is, you win, they lose. On the other hand, when you are assertive, you are respectful of the needs of the other and hold a vision that is fulfilling for everyone involved. Then you do and say things that are aimed at making that affirmative vision happen.
Second, assertive communication is very different from people pleasing, being upset with yourself, or feeling unworthy. For example, when it comes to taking a stand for yourself do you feel fear-bound, stressed and stymied? Filled with a swirl of bad feelings and self-disappointment that then makes it even harder to speak your truth the next time around?
I’m no Stranger to Fear
Yes, I know it well. I have had this problem with assertive communication myself! And I am a Ph.D. psychologist. But growing up with a very unassertive mother and a raging scary and unpredictable alcoholic father left me very shy, mute and unable to speak up for myself. So I studied how to become assertive. As, I learned about assertive communication, I was able to overcome this fear-bound behavior and learn to speak up for myself. And voila, I have gotten so much more of what I really want and need.
So if you suffer from any of these issues, I’m going to show you how to have a breakthrough by learning five skills about assertive communication. By practicing these skills, you will share your truths in an honest yet caring, respectful way. In a way that leads to a potential win-win-win. So that means, you are up to creating a win for yourself and your own needs. Plus, a win for the other person, as you help them come through for you. And a win for your relationship, as it becomes more fulfilling. When you keep working at assertive communication, over time you will earn your own self-respect and self-esteem.
Assertive Communication Tip #1 Stop Talking Ourselves Out of It
Usually when we have trouble with assertive communication, we are busy talking ourselves out of speaking our truth. For example, in a situation that feels unfair, difficult or unfulfilling, we start having thoughts like,
If I speak my truth I will…
- Sound stupid.
- Say or do the wrong thing.
- Embarrass myself.
- Appear selfish.
- Seem like I’m asking for too much.
- Appear to be mean (a bitch or a bastard).
- Be told no anyway.
- Be unlovable.
- Make him/her angry.
- Be abandoned.
- Appear impolite.
- Make things worse.
- Be hurt.
By allowing this kind of inner dialogue to rule your life, you cheat yourself out of what you really deserve and need. Know this: YOU are the one doing the cheating. Not the other person. As the great negotiator, Dr. Chester Karrass said: “You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.”
Simply put, you get what you deserve by asking for it! This is especially important in getting your deeper needs met in a love relationship.
Assertive Communication Tip #2 Talking Ourselves Into It
So Instead of focusing on all the possible negative outcomes that may be occur if you are assertive, think about those that will occur if you are NOT assertive! Practice by ending this sentence with whatever comes to mind.
If I DON’T speak up or say my truth then (fill in the blank):
- Feel bad or depressed.
- Lose respect for myself.
- Lose my opportunity to straighten things out.
- Feel disappointed and angry at myself.
- Miss my opportunity to meet this interesting man.
- Suffer with resentment towards the other person.
- Feel like I failed myself.
- Feel like a coward.
- Probably not get what I need and want.
- Keep ending up in the same situation or even worse off.
Practicing self-talk that looks at the negative outcome if we do NOT take a stand for ourselves leads to changes in the way we communicate our needs. For example, take this quote by Hillel, the scholar who lived around the time of Jesus. I say it frequently to empower myself to speak up:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Assertive Communication Tip #3 Ask Yourself What an Empowered, Deserving ‘You’ Would Do
We all have higher and lower natures. We carry around our best self-identities and those that come from fear and scarcity. I call your ideal self, the one who is empowered, clever and deserving, your Diamond Self identity. If you are feeling out of touch with your best self, read the related post and then come back to this blog.
RELATED POST: THE DIAMOND SELF PROCESS
Ask yourself, what would my fully empowered, deserving and clever Diamond Self say or do to create a win-win-win in this situation? Feel deeply into your heart as to what you need and want. You are worthy. You are deserving, even if you are not feeling it right now! All of us are.
Create an image in your mind about how the situation could turn out in a way that feels right, whole and complete to you. Imagine a surprisingly good outcome that helps you to feel empowered and good about yourself.
You cannot control how others act or control the outcome. But you can totally make yourself feel like you have done your best by taking a stand for yourself. So speak your truth. Become a warrior for what is fair, right and good for you. And in doing so, you will become a person YOU respect and admire in terms of her courage, forthrightness, cleverness and vision.
Assertive Communication Tip #4 Use Affirmations About Speaking Your Truth
Here are a few affirmations that helped me and our coaching clients express ourselves. Just write them down and say them to yourself a few times each day. Start each mantra with the words “I AM”
- Speaking my truth in a surprisingly easy and effortless way.
- Making myself proud as I take a stand for myself.
- Cleverly creating a win-win-win in this situation.
- Saying no to overly demanding or unreasonable requests.
- Saying and doing what my empowered, clever, deserving Diamond Self suggests.
Assertive Communication Tip #5 Use These Simple Templates to Ask for What you Want or Need
Here are a few win-win-win templates to help you express your truth:
- I appreciate xyz (something you appreciate about the other person, to set the stage for cooperation) but abc (things you need or want) have to happen to make things work out great.
- I would really love it if you did abc (give detailed suggestions—the other person is not a mind-reader).
- To make this a satisfactory outcome I absolutely need you to abc (fill in the blank with specifics).
- (After an overly demanding or unreasonable request) I’m sorry, but I am not available to fulfill that request right now.
This last two templates are good ones to use over and over again, even after the other person says no or insists on their way. In assertiveness training this is called the broken record technique. You just keep repeating your terms over and over. Not in an angry fashion, but in an insistent way. The idea is that finally they get the idea that you will not go away or back down. And they will give up opposing you. And begin to work with you regarding the situation at hand.
So there you have five empowering keys to assertive communication! No matter how hard it seems, remember you can earn your own respect and get what you need. Maybe not with the person at hand, but if you are willing to take a stand, you will succeed at some point.
If your spouse or boyfriend is an aggressive person who is verbally or physically abusive, do not practice assertive communication with him or her. It can escalate into domestic violence. So if you are with a domineering and aggressive partner and feel that you or your children are at risk, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit www.thehotline.org . Keep yourself safe, get therapy for support and exit the situation.
So only practice assertive communication with others when there are no safety issues at hand.