This is part 5 of twelve articles for Assertive Communication Series.
Communication between two individuals is nothing if not an insanely intricate exchange. At first it sounds so simple, we all do it every day non-stop, whenever we’re among other people. When you’re passing someone on the street, you non-verbally agree on which side each of you will take. When you shop for groceries in your neighborhood store, the clerk greets you with a same smile every day, and probably a bit different one than when you first moved in to that street. When you talk to your mom on the phone, when you argue with your partner, when you confide to your childhood friend, when you meet someone on a dating site – all of these interactions have their own sets of truly specific “tenets”. If you stop and think how intertwined with emotions, social conventions and rules of conduct, expectations, and countless other factors it is, you cannot but be completely fascinated by its complexity. And how easily it becomes as thought we all spoke different languages of Babel.
Complex – Yes, but not Without a Way out of “Empty Dialogue”
Using assertive techniques of communication can certainly lead us to a greater level of mutual understanding, respect and self-esteem in our interactions with others. At first, practicing them might not come natural to you – after all, you did communicate in a certain way your entire life. However, you can be assertive and spontaneous, don’t worry. As soon as you shake off the fears that are keeping you from speaking your mind openly, or those that are pushing you into being aggressive towards others, you’ll find that assertive communication is the most respectful and natural way of interaction.
Which technique we’ll use in different situations depends on a few factors. First and foremost, we need to determine what is the nature of relationship we have with the person we’re communicating with. There are three main categories of relations in communication: equal individuals with no emotional tie (talking to a bank clerk, for example); equal individuals with emotional relationship (talking with your love partner); and individuals who are not equal but share emotional bond (a mother to her child).
If we were to explain some general rules in a nutshell, we could say that the communication between two individuals who aren’t in any sort of emotional relationship (not that such situations cannot induce any anger) should be a matter of simple, persistent, and composed defense of one’s rights, without any feelings being mentioned at all. In the end, such situations are usually structured by either conventions or even legal regulations. So, if you’re asking for a refund, you won’t be saying: “Your refusal to give me a refund is making me feel so frustrated and angry” to the seller. Rather, the situation could look like this (a technique of repeated assertion) –
- You: “I bought shoes in this store yesterday. However, I later realized that there is a stain on one of the shoes. I would like to return them and ask for a refund.”
- Shoe-seller: “I’m sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, we can’t give you your money back, and this was the only pair of that model. You may choose another model if you like.”
- You: “I understand that you usually don’t return money. However, the shoes are damaged, and another model is not what I intended to buy. I would like to ask you to return my money please.”
On the other hand, if you’re speaking to someone with whom you share an emotional relationship, you are free and even encouraged to speak about your feelings. Nevertheless, there are rules on how to do that without being (passive) aggressive or to emotionally blackmail your significant other. The main guideline is to limit the use of “you-statements” and use more of “I-statements” instead. For example, saying “You make me so angry, you’re always on Facebook when I try to talk to you about something!” is not an assertive way to communicate, and as you surely know, will most certainly either cause an avalanche of contra-accusations, or will cause your partner to clam up. Try: “I feel as if I were not important to you when you look at Facebook while I’m trying to talk to you about something. I would like to ask you to take a short break from it the next time I come to you. What do you think about that?” (a technique called self-disclosure).
If you would like to learn more about various techniques that you could practice in everyday communication, Techniques of Assertive Communication will lead you through examples and guidelines for established assertive techniques you could use for each life situation.