As social beings, one of our strongest tools for survival is that of communication. We talk to the world not just through our words but through our actions, our body language and facial expressions. But what we tend to overlook is that the manner in which we communicate with others determines to a great extent how they may respond to us. American psychologist Phil McGraw states one of the foremost underlying principles of communication:
We teach people how to treat us.
One of life’s most important skills is being able to ask for what you want whether in a personal relationship or a professional one. There are three themes that seem to determine the essence or motivation behind different styles of communication:
Fear. All too often, for a host of reasons ranging from fear of being rejected or desire to avoid hurting others, we put considerations of ourselves aside and give in to other people’s wishes. We end up saying yes to things we do not want, and find it difficult to express what we do. This style of communication is usually a passive or submissive one where we teach people that it is okay to have their way with us and the scenario in which we are most l ikely to be taken advantage of.
Power. When we communicate with others in a manner where we put our demands on others almost assuming a position of power over them and treating them as such, we are using an aggressive style of communication. Unlike the passive style, this communication style certainly involves putting across what you want yet leaves little or no space for the other party to say what they wish to. The perceived inequality that results from using an aggressive style of communication tends to alienate people and consequently have a bad effect on interpersonal relationships.
Mutual Respect. Assertiveness falls along a continuum somewhere in between the two extremes of passivity and aggressiveness. In both passive and aggressive styles of communication, the relationship between two parties generally becomes lop-sided and unequal. However, an assertive style of communicating allows one to say what they wish to in a manner that also allows the other party the same level of freedom to express themselves without reservation. In short, it is based on the premise of mutual respect. This is naturally considered the healthiest style of communication.
Here are five ways to practice assertive communication:
- Use statements that begin with “I feel…” This shows that you are taking responsibility for your thoughts and feelings.
- Practice honesty and directness in your communication. Insincerity can be smelt from a mile away. Do not sugar-coat things you wish to say, or beat around the bush. Express things as they are.
- Learn how to listen. While you put your thoughts across, be open to what other people have to say, even if they disagree with you. Engage not in petty arguments but in reasoned discussion.
- Don’t talk to win or please. Steer clear of aggressive communication which is obsessed with “winning” or a passive style usually aimed at pleasing.
- Practice the art of saying “no”. Do not say yes to people indiscriminately. Saying no on occasion is an important part of learning to value yourself as well as teaching others to not take you for granted.
There are several techniques to practice assertive communication, but the most important thing to understand about assertiveness is not merely practicing techniques but rather practicing the principle of taking personal responsibility for what you want, and being respectful and firm to others in communicating it.
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