I want to be heard: A guide to assertive communication.

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“I feel like you don’t understand me.” “We constantly fight about the same things.” “I don’t like conflict”. These are common complaints of people who are in conflict. The number one issue in many relationships is poor communication. Many people seek to find the answer of how to communicate more effectively. Being able to communicate in an assertive manner is the key to effective communication.

When you speak assertively you understand that it is alright to have your needs met and be able to speak up about what is bothering you. However, the main component of assertive communication is being able to  communicate those needs in a way that is going to be well received and heard.

Communication can be broken into five different styles:
1) Assertive- This is the healthiest style of communication. Consequently, it is the least used style of communication. When you assert yourself you know your boundaries and are able to communicte them in a way that is confident without blaming or hurting the other party.
2) Manipulative- In this style the communicator uses hidden or unspoken words to influence or control others. The communicator is tricky and persuasive.
3)Passive(submissive)-This communicator wants to avoid conflict at all cost. Therefore, the speaker may not say anything to please others and  keep the peace. A passive person interacts as if the needs of others are more important than there own. Resentment and anger can occur because the person’s needs are not being met.
4)Aggressive- These communicators are focused on winning, intimidation, and bullying. These individuals interact as if their needs are more important than others. Due to the use of scare tactics and explosive behavior it is not an affective communication strategy.
5) Passive-aggressive- This style is utilized when there is a perceived lack of power and the speaker is unable to address this directly. The speaker intends to subtly undermine the person they resent. This person appears to be passive while showing their anger/discontent in an indirect way.
Three tips to achieve assertive communication:
1) Watch out for communication hang up words: “Always, never, why, and you” when used in communicating can lead to walls being built up from the listener. When someone feels attacked in conversation the automatic response tends to be to defend. These hang up words can bread defensiveness and escalation of the situation.
Solution: try to keep the conversation in first person. By using “I statements” it is easier to take responsibility for your own feelings and lends itself to less blame.
2) Assert yourself by using the three communication F’s: facts, feelings, and fair request. Start your sentence out with pointing out a fact. Let the listener know how the fact affects you emotionally, then finish with a fair request to resolve the issue.
For example, “There are dishes left in the sink”. (Fact). I am feeling irritated and unheard. (Feeling). I would like it if the dishes could be completed by the end of the night. (Fair request).
3) Be in touch with your emotions. Find what is truly bothering you so you can communicate that effectively. It’s is easier to communicate your needs when you understand the reason behind the hurt.
It takes skill to be able to be direct and assertive in relationships. Being able to recognize your default communication style will help you to find ways to enhance your assertive communication skills. Many times you will interact out of the communication styles that were used around you in your family of origin. However, it is never to late to learn to communicate in an assertive manner. Your self esteem will increase when you find yourself able to be heard and not finding yourself being too passive or aggressive.
What is your default communication style? How can you begin to assert yourself if it is not your default style?
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