Communication is an area in which we all could use some guidance and improvement.
Learning good communication skills begins in the early childhood years. If children are taught to suppress all their feelings and never reveal what is going on inside them, they will tend to hold everything in and possibly end up with an ulcer.
Plus, people who are not taught to communicate their feelings will be inclined toward passive/aggressive behavior. On the flip side, if children are not taught any self control in regard to showing feelings, they will end up saying everything they think and become potentially offensive and rude.
Many people mistakenly confuse assertive communication with aggressive communication. Aggressive communication includes high emotions, a raised voice, strong language, pushy body language and perhaps even physical violence. Aggressive behavior usually indicates a loss of control, emotionally. The difference with assertive communication is that there is never a loss of emotional control.
If you are looking to be more assertive in your communication skills, but you either struggle with extreme shyness or passive/aggressive behavior,
use the following tips to help you strengthen your skills and gain more self-confidence.
- Put yourself in others’ shoes. Most people are afraid to be assertive for fear of hurting another person’s feelings or coming on too strong; but then they often hold in their feelings until they explode or are pushed too far. When we imagine what the other person is feeling and put ourselves in their shoes, we can think about how we would want someone to respond to us. We know we would never want to be yelled at or have someone be wishy washy with us. Looking outside ourselves can put our communication skills in perspective.
- Be practical. If you are in a difficult situation that warrants assertive behavior, first stop and think about what the other person is saying. If you are being accused of something, instead of moving into aggressive self-protection mode, address the accusation. If the person is right in their assessment of you or your behavior, you have only once choice: apologize, make amends, change the behavior and ask for forgiveness. However, if the person is wrong in their assessment, dismiss the charges. Even if they believe something untrue about you, you know the truth.
- Practice. When you are alone, write in a journal and talk into a mirror, practicing what you will say in difficult situations that require assertiveness. Imagine a variety of discussions and arguments that make you feel uncomfortable, fearful, sad, defensive or angry. Plan out calm yet assertive ways to respond. Write them down and practice saying them.
- Roleplay. This is the next step in practicing. With a spouse, sibling, parent, counselor or trusted friend, practice assertive communication. Have the other person play a variety of roles, including aggressive, passive, angry, withdrawn, pushy or stoic. Have them get in your face, make threats, pout, or anything other types of behavior you find yourself having to deal with. Practice responding calmly, rationally, and assertively.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. Often, this is the area in which people struggle the most regarding assertive communication. We don’t want to disappoint, anger or sadden anyone else, so we agree to things we shouldn’t. The safest thing to do when given a request for action or work is to say “I’ll get back to you on that.” Then you’ll have time to think about what you want to do, what you want to say, and then you can kindly and assertively say and do what you want.