“It is a mistake to look at someone who is self assertive and say, “It’s easy for her, she has good self-esteem.” One of the ways you build self-esteem is by being self-assertive when it is not easy to do so. There are always times when self-assertiveness requires courage, no matter how high your self-esteem.”
“Those of us who grew up in dysfunctional families may have never learned to communicate effectively in relationships. We may be passive and not advocate for ourselves, aggressive and attempt to run roughshod over others, or passive-aggressive and smile while sabotaging others behind their backs. No wonder we have so many problematic relationships and feel so isolated! In order to build healthy relationships, we must learn to be assertive – that is, to be clear, direct, and respectful in how we communicate.
Let’s have a closer look at these four communication styles:
1. PASSIVE COMMUNICATION is a style in which individuals have developed a pattern of avoiding expressing their opinions or feelings, protecting their rights, and identifying and meeting their needs. Passive communication is usually born of low self-esteem. These individuals believe: “I’m not worth taking care of.”
As a result, passive individuals do not respond overtly to hurtful or anger-inducing situations. Instead, they allow grievances and annoyances to mount, usually unaware of the build up. But once they have reached their high tolerance threshold for unacceptable behavior, they are prone to explosive outbursts, which are usually out of proportion to the triggering incident. After the outburst, however, they feel shame, guilt, and confusion, so they return to being passive.
Passive communicators will often:
– fail to assert for themselves
– allow others to deliberately or inadvertently infringe on their rights
– fail to express their feelings, needs, or opinions
– tend to speak softly or apologetically
– exhibit poor eye contact and slumped body posture
The impact of a pattern of passive communication is that these individuals:
– often feel anxious because life seems out of their control
– often feel depressed because they feel stuck and hopeless
– often feel resentful (but are unaware of it) because their needs are not being met
– often feel confused because they ignore their own feelings
– are unable to mature because real issues are never addressed
A passive communicator will say, believe, or behave like:
– “I’m unable to stand up for my rights.”
– “I don’t know what my rights are.”
– “I get stepped on by everyone.”
– “I’m weak and unable to take care of myself.”
– “People never consider my feelings.”
2. AGGRESSIVE COMMUNICATION is a style in which individuals express their feelings and opinions and advocate for their needs in a way that violates the rights of others. Thus, aggressive communicators are verbally and/or physically abusive. Aggressive communication is born of low self-esteem (often caused by past physical and/or emotional abuse), unhealed emotional wounds, and feelings of powerlessness.
Aggressive communicators will often:
– try to dominate others
– use humiliation to control others
– criticize, blame, or attack others
– be very impulsive
– have low frustration tolerance
– speak in a loud, demanding, and overbearing voice
– act threateningly and rudely
– not listen well
– interrupt frequently
– use “you” statements
– have piercing eye contact and an overbearing posture
The impact of a pattern of aggressive communication is that these individuals:
– become alienated from others
– alienate others
– generate fear and hatred in others
– always blame others instead of owning their issues, and thus are unable to mature
The aggressive communicator will say, believe, or behave like:
– “I’m superior and right and you’re inferior and wrong.”
– “I’m loud, bossy and pushy.”
– “I can dominate and intimidate you.”
– “I can violate your rights.”
– “I’ll get my way no matter what.”
– “You’re not worth anything.”
– “It’s all your fault.”
– “I react instantly.”
– “I’m entitled.”
– “You owe me.”
– “I own you.”
3. PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE COMMUNICATION is a style in which individuals appear passive on the surface but are really acting out anger in a subtle, indirect, or behind-the-scenes way. Prisoners of War (POWs) often act in passive-aggressive ways to deal with an overwhelming lack of power. POWs may try to secretly sabotage the prison, make fun of the enemy, or quietly disrupt the system while smiling and appearing cooperative.
People who develop a pattern of passive-aggressive communication usually feel powerless, stuck, and resentful – in other words, they feel incapable of dealing directly with the object of their resentments. Instead, they express their anger by subtly undermining the object (real or imagined) of their resentments. They smile at you while setting booby traps all around you.
Passive-Aggressive communicators will often:
– mutter to themselves rather than confront the person or issue
– have difficulty acknowledging their anger
– use facial expressions that don’t match how they feel – i.e., smiling when angry
– use sarcasm
– deny there is a problem
– appear cooperative while purposely doing things to annoy and disrupt
– use subtle sabotage to get even
The impact of a pattern of passive-aggressive communication is that these individuals:
– become alienated from those around them
– remain stuck in a position of powerlessness (like POWs)
– discharge resentment while real issues are never addressed so they can’t mature
The passive-aggressive communicator will say, believe, or behave like:
– “I’m weak and resentful, so I sabotage, frustrate, and disrupt.”
– “I’m powerless to deal with you head on so I must use guerilla warfare.”
– “I will appear cooperative but I’m not.”
4. ASSERTIVE COMMUNICATION is a style in which individuals clearly state their opinions and feelings, and firmly advocate for their rights and needs without violating the rights of others. Assertive communication is born of high self-esteem. These individuals value themselves, their time, and their emotional, spiritual, and physical needs and are strong advocates for themselves while being very respectful of the rights of others.
Assertive communicators will:
– state needs and wants clearly, appropriately, and respectfully
– express feelings clearly, appropriately, and respectfully
– use “I” statements
– communicate respect for others
– listen well without interrupting
– feel in control of self
– have good eye contact
– speak in a calm and clear tone of voice
– have a relaxed body posture
– feel connected to others
– feel competent and in control
– not allow others to abuse or manipulate them
– stand up for their rights
The impact of a pattern of assertive communication is that these individuals:
– feel connected to others
– feel in control of their lives
– are able to mature because they address issues and problems as they arise
– create a respectful environment for others to grow and mature
The assertive communicator will say, believe, or behave in a way that says:
– “We are equally entitled to express ourselves respectfully to one another.”
– “I am confident about who I am.”
– “I realize I have choices in my life and I consider my options.”
– “I speak clearly, honestly, and to the point.”
– “I can’t control others but I can control myself.”
– “I place a high priority on having my rights respected.”
– “I am responsible for getting my needs met in a respectful manner.”
– “I respect the rights of others.”
– “Nobody owes me anything unless they’ve agreed to give it to me.”
– “I’m 100% responsible for my own happiness.”
Assertiveness allows us to take care of ourselves, and is fundamental for good mental health and healthy relationships.”
(From The Four Basic Styles of Communication)
Here are 10 assertiveness tips and techniques that you can put into practice:
1. Clear Communication
When communicating your opinion, complaint, etc ensure that you are being direct, clear and precise.
2. Take Responsibility
Don’t shy away from the point you want to make or action you want to take. Commit to it and take full responsibility. For example, say “I think” rather than “we think”.
3. Don’t apologise when you don’t need to
Don’t apologise before of after you talk to someone about something as again this takes away any strength or emphasis from you.
4. Use strong verbal and body language
Use the correct tone of voice and body language when talking. For example, don’t talk into yourself or have a tremble in your voice. Maintain eye contact and use a solid strong voice but with normal volume.
5. Are you being listened to?
Check with people that they have listened to what you have said by encouraging them to summarise your opinion, complaint, request, etc. Don’t allow people to make excuses for having misunderstood and stick to what you’ve said.
6. Get out your comfort zone
Don’t avoid particular people or situations that you don’t feel confident in. In fact push yourself into as many of these situations as possible and practise your new assertive self. If there are certain people you find difficult to approach then walk up to them confidently and smile at them before you start talking.
7. Stick to the facts
Being assertive doesn’t mean making things up to support your opinions, complaints, etc. You should stick to the facts and not exaggerate. It’s good to be seen as objective rather than emotional.
8. Keep it objective
When you’re in a difficult situation with people don’t make personal references. For example, don’t say “I find you really annoying”, say instead “Please refrain from talking to me like that.”
9. Observe assertive role models
Watch assertive people and pick up words, tones and body language that you think makes them successful at being assertive. Keep a list of these attributes and add them to your portfolio.
10. Reward yourself
Each time you’re successfully assertive, note this down and reward yourself. Try and exhibit your new assertive behaviour so much that people start giving you feedback. This is your ultimate reward! Also, don’t get disheartened when you’re not successful. Just realise where you went wrong and correct it next time.
by Rebekah Fensome