“Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz
There’s a proven fact that many conflicts are not caused by different opinions. It is the way people express themselves that often leads to a conflict.
Taking an honest look at my life, I came to realize I was often aggressive with people, without even being aware of it. I never screamed and yelled at people, but I expressed my thoughts and emotions aggressively, especially when I was trying to convey opinions I strongly believed in and get my voice heard.
I spent a while reading about the field of non-violent communication, learning how to communicate with clarity and confidence in any situation and, by that, avoid unnecessary drama or confrontation. A few years ago, I started to apply this learning in my everyday life. Surprisingly, I could see how small adjustments in my communication helped me to improve my relationships with people in my personal life and career.
Today, I am happy to share this useful learning with you.
What is Assertive Communication?
While passive communication comes with putting others needs ahead of your own and aggressive communication would impose your thoughts or your wishes on others (“you should, you must, and you better do that), assertiveness is an open and direct expression of your thoughts and feelings, while respecting the right of others to express themselves. It is a form of being kind to yourself as well as to the other person.
Here’s one example:
You have just bought yourself a nice dress. You have the receipt but something looks wrong – it looks like what you’ve paid is more than the price you saw on the tag.
- Passive communication: you go away without saying anything. You don’t want to look stupid or to stir up conflict. And I can bet you won’t feel good about yourself later.
- Aggressive communication: you go to the sales counter and make a scene. How could they do that? You speak out loud, so everyone can hear out your frustration.
- Assertive communication: you go to the sales check counter and ask politely: “Excuse me, I might have been overcharged. Can I ask you to check this for me? Thank you. “
Assertiveness is an attitude of confidence and respect, expressed through a combination of words (I think, I believe, in my opinion, I would like), voice (steady and clear) and body language (upright stance). Assertive people are more able to deal with conflicts and to get to a “win-win solution”, they are better problem solvers and are less likely to get stressed.
Here are eight effective ways to communicate with confidence and avoid possible conflicts:
1. Communicate as much as possible in-person or in a way that allows for both of you to be heard.
I know it’s not always easy but be aware that text messages or email only complicate things even more in highly emotional situations. In writing, you are not able to read a person’s true emotions (emoticons don’t count).
2. Express your wants and needs.
If you’re waiting for someone to recognize what you need, you might wait forever! Give the people in your life information they need, rather than expecting them to read your mind. Same goes for you, clarifying what other people truly mean. If someone says one thing, and you are confused, just ask. You are not a mind reader. When expressing yourself, use an “I” message (not “we” or “one”): I want, I feel, I need.
3. Be respectful.
Express your thoughts and feelings in a healthy and positive manner. Allow yourself to be disturbed if you do not agree with other people’s opinions, but be respectful. Do say what’s on your mind, but do it in a way that protects the other person’s feelings. Don’t take anything personally. People have different values or systems of belief. Remember you can always agree to disagree.
4. Avoid the word “but”, use “and” instead.
The word “but” invalidates others and often causes the other person to feel defensive.
“You did great with your homework today, but you should clean up your room as well!”
The listener cannot even hear the praise now, instead focusing attention on what they did wrong.
Using “and” validates the other person: “You did great with your homework today, and please try to find some time to clean up your room. I know your school project takes lots of your time.”
5. Don’t start your questions with “why.”
It sounds like you’re accusing the other person and it puts people in a defensive mode. Instead of “why did you do that?” you could ask “what made you do that?” or “what was your intention?”
6. Don’t overgeneralize.
Avoid black and white thinking. The words “always” and “never,” especially when accompanied by “you”, are not effective when trying to make a point. A statement like “You’re never listening” is not true. It may be true that the other person is sometimes not listening. Try “often it feels like” or “recently, I have noticed”. They are not all-or-nothing thinking and they open up for discussion.
7. Avoid sarcasm.
Sarcasm tells others you cannot tolerate them and the conversation. It makes them frustrated and shuts them down, making further communication with you meaningless.
“Thank you so much! That’s exactly what I needed!” (when someone has done something wrong)
8. Show empathy.
First, recognize how the other person views the situation and then express what you need. (“I understand you don’t like math. However, your homework needs to be done.”)
When communicating with others, be as clear as you can. Meanwhile, keep in mind that you are 100% responsible for what you say and 0% responsible for what people understand.
Sara Fabian is a Women’s Empowerment & Career Coach and inspirational speaker, on a mission to help professional women to discover their unique strengths, gifts and talents, boost their confidence, find their calling and live a meaningful life of purpose. For weekly inspiration, subscribe to her free newsletter at www.sarafabiancoaching.com or follow her on Facebook.