Normal vs. Healthy Communication (Part 4 of 4): Assertive Communication
Jennifer Owen, LPC, NCC
Welcome to our final blog post of this series discussing normal vs. healthy communication. If you haven’t done so already, catch up on the first three blogs: passive communication, aggressive communication, and passive-aggressive communication.
We’ve finally made it to the healthy communication style, assertiveness! Remember the question that I asked at the beginning of this blog series? “How can we improve our communication with the people around us?” Ready for the answer? You probably already have a good idea what the answer is. Drum roll please…….
The answer is: practice assertive communication with everyone around you! Yes, I mean with everyone! With your boss, with your kids, with your parents, with your in-laws, with your spouse, everyone! Practicing assertive communication will help you to transform your normal communication to healthy communication. You have already gotten a glimpse of some assertiveness behaviors at the end of the first three blogs; however, let’s take a deeper look at assertive communication.
The Assertive Communicator
Assertive communicators are confident, clear, and in control of their own emotions and behaviors. People often misinterpret assertive behavior as aggressive. Even though assertive communicators address conflict directly, they do not do so in a harsh or disrespectful manner. They seek what is fair rather than underestimating or overestimating their needs. They know their own rights and they respect the rights of others. They are able to get their needs met without hurting other people (2003). Practicing these assertiveness skills will not only improve your relationship with others, but will also increase your own self-esteem.
Here are some examples of assertive communication (2003):
- Pay attention to your feelings and express them clearly and directly with others.
- Apologize when you are wrong.
- Do not judge others.
- Listens to others.
- Does not interrupt
- Embrace and grow from criticism rather than getting angry, defensive, or self-condemning.
- Maintain self-control.
- Maintain emotional regulation.
- Recognize that you may not always get what you want but you can usually get what you need.
- Standing up for your rights while still respecting the rights of others.
- Exhibit confidence in yourself.
- Be able to say “no” without feeling guilty.
- Establish and maintain appropriate boundaries with yourself and others.
- Instead of complaining, provide a solution to the problem.
- Gather all the facts of a situation before coming to a conclusion.
- Maintain good posture and eye contact.
- Listen to another’s point of view without interrupting.
Here are other practical steps that you can take to become more assertive in your communication (2013):
Focus on the problem, not the person: Oftentimes, poor communication comes about because two (or more) individuals begin to attack or criticize each other rather than address the problem. When you notice that the conversation begins to focus more on issues with the person than the problem, this is when you need to pause the conversation and refocus.
Use reflective listening: When in a disagreement, it is common for each individual to focus on getting their point across that they neglect to listen to the other person. Before responding to the other person, listen to what they have to say then summarize what they said in your own words. Continue to discuss this until the other person agrees that you understand them. Then the other person should do the same for you. Practicing reflective listening prevents us from disrespecting each other and helps us to be truly heard and understood by the other person.
Use “I” statements: When sharing a concern with others, begin your statement with “I” rather than “you”. For example: Say “I feel hurt when you don’t tell me you’ll be late” instead of “You never tell me when you’re going to be late”. “I” statements emphasize the feeling(s) rather than placing blame. “You” statements prompt feelings of defensiveness and often lead to attacking the person rather than the problem.
Know when to take a time-out: If a conversation starts to take a turn for the worse (insulting, aggressiveness, defensiveness, etc.), agree to take a break from the conversation. Each person should take some time by him/herself to relax and calm down. Once calm, make sure to come back together to discuss the issue in a civil and assertive manner. Time-outs are important; however, it is essential to come back to address the issue. Leaving an issue unaddressed could cause more strife, distancing, and miscommunication.
Work towards a resolution: It is normal for people not to agree with each other on everything. Even if you cannot agree with each other, seek to find a resolution to the problem at hand. Use assertiveness skills to work together to find a resolution or a compromise. Remember, the relationship is more important than being right or winning an argument.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting you to finish this blog and all of a sudden become an expert at assertive communication. It takes time and it takes practice. Give yourself grace to make mistakes and learn from them. If you begin to practice some of these assertive communication skills, just imagine how much more rich and enjoyable your relationships will be.
Here are some final thoughts as we conclude this blog series:
- Just because your current communication style is “normal”, does not mean that it is healthy.
- Being aware of your normal/unhealthy communication habits makes it easier to change them.
- Practice assertive communication with everyone around you.
- Implementing assertive communication will improve your self-esteem and your relationships with others.
- Learning assertive communication takes time. Give yourself grace!
(2003) Strategies for anger management. Wellness Reproductions and Publishing.
(2013) Relationship Conflict Resolution. Therapist Aid LLC. therapistaid.com