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Beyond Better Development

Beyond Better Development




 Assertive Communication


What is assertive communication?

To communicate assertively is to be able to express your needs, wants, and rights, and at the same time, respect the needs, wants, and rights of the other person.

There is great freedom in the ability to be ourselves in whatever situation and circumstance we may find ourselves. We want to be real, and yet it is so easy to develop chameleon tendencies when we are with other people and act in a way that is more ‘acceptable’ or to avoid disagreement or conflict. By doing this we push aside our real wants and interests, and adapt our actions and communication to become non confrontational or compliant.

There are at times, of course, when this is totally appropriate. If we feel anger towards another person and feel that we would like to punch them, it obviously would be unwise and inappropriate to follow through and punch them. Your feelings may be valid and justified in that situation; but the behaviour would not be appropriate. However, the opposite response; not  expressing your anger at all, and to stuff it down and act as if there is no problem is not being true to your real feelings.

It is in situations like this that we become frustrated and can’t find the words to express our feelings appropriately. Then the easiest choice is to either respond back ‘in kind’, or lose our inner sense of authenticity, by hiding our true feelings. We need to respond appropriately in a way that falls somewhere in the middle of these two extreme reactions.

This type of communication is particularly challenging. There is a fine balance between communicating our needs, wants and rights, and at the same time respecting the rights, needs and wants of other people. To be able to get your point across in a clear but non threatening way, and yet still maintain your inner integrity requires developing and practicing the skill set of assertiveness. Through assertive communication you are able to be true to your feelings, expressing what you need and want in any interaction, without the other person feeling personally attacked or threatened.

 Assertive communication enables you to be able to set your personal boundaries in an objective rather than subjective way. You can effectively use assertiveness skills to address personally offensive comments or behaviour directed towards you in an inoffensive, but firm manner. You can use assertiveness to bring correction or give negative feedback to someone, in a way that will address the behaviour without causing the other person to respond defensively.

An important skill in assertive communication is to learn to use ‘I’ language rather than ‘You’ language. This is very effective in eliminating any sense of personal attack, and reduces the possibility of a defensive response from the other person. At the same time it enables you to express what you need in an appropriate way.

For Example:

You carpool with Mary, a neighbour, to get to work. For the last week Mary has been arriving to pick you up later than the arranged time, and you have been arriving late at work. This has made the day’s start stressful for you, and it has caused some complications and embarrassment at the office. You know you need to address this issue, but you don’t want to hurt her feelings.

To address this with Mary using "You" language might sound something like this: 

“Mary, you have been late picking me up all week, which has been making me late for work. Please can you be sure to come on time next week?”

This communication style directly points the finger of blame at Mary, and it will certainly generate Mary becoming defensive, and perhaps justifying her lateness. The directness will get your point across, but it could result in some tension or reaction in Mary.

To communicate using “I” language might sound like:

“Mary, it’s important for me to arrive at work on time as people are relying on me to be there to answer the phones. I really need to be there before 8:30, and last week I was late every day. I do appreciate getting a ride to work with you. Is there any way that you can pick up at the agreed time, or a little earlier so I can be at the office by at least 8:25?”

 By using “I” language in this way you are able to express what the problem is and what you need the solution to be. At the same time there is no direct accusation towards Mary or sense of reprimand. It is clear, however, what response is needed from Mary and she is given the opportunity to respond understanding the reasons why. The responsibility to be on time is given back to Mary, but she also is left with a sense of control as to whether she will change her behaviour and how she will do that. The issue has been opened up for dialogue in a non threatening way, and created the right platform for a resolution for the problem. If Mary is unwilling or unable to accommodate your request, you have opened to door to find an alternative solution to meet your needs without causing tension or a negative reaction in Mary.

Assertive communication is a great skill to develop. You can use it to increase your freedom to be yourself in relationships and everyday life situations. Assertiveness enables you to be real, especially when you find yourself in circumstances where there could be conflict or confrontation. It gives you the tools to be able to express yourself appropriately when you are not feeling respected, or getting your needs met. When you have defined your personal boundaries, assertiveness skills will help you set those boundaries and keep them in place in a objective way while respecting the rights and needs of others.


Barbara White

For more information on assertiveness skill training please contact Barbara seminars@livingbeyondbetter.com


by Barbara White