By Seija Grant, MEd CP, RP
According to the dictionary, communication is a means of connection between people. However, communication is so much more complex than that. It can be direct or indirect, it can be written or oral and there can be many subtleties, variables and factors. Communication is a difficult task for many of us. Sometimes we struggle to explain ourselves, or to have others understand our feelings or needs. Sometimes we might get angry or frustrated when trying to share opinions or perspectives with others. Sometimes we keep things to ourselves for the sake of keeping the peace. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
If so, don’t fret! The goal of effective communication is to minimize misunderstandings and overcome barriers in communicating with others. Luckily, I have some information to impart that can help you to communicate more clearly, calmly and efficiently—ultimately leading to strengthening your relationships with others.
Assertive communication is an interaction style which can help you to ensure things are fair, that you can express yourself clearly and confidently and can actually help to build your self-esteem! This approach to communication can make it more likely to have your needs met within an interaction as you are expressing yourself in a direct manner while also being fair to others.
Some of the core principles of assertive communication are: recognizing that your needs are just as important as others, compromising, talking and listening equally, ensuring fairness is the goal of the interaction, advocating for yourself, and expressing yourself clearly. This is different from passive communication (which is more about keeping the peace, listening and not being heard, and giving in to others) or aggressive communication (which is more about thinking that only your needs matter, talking over others, and looking out for yourself).
I will outline some strategies for starting to think, act, react and respond in a more assertive manner which can help you to change the way you interact interpersonally—hopefully also modeling this type of communication with others in your life.
One such strategy is the use of “I” statements, which you may or may not have heard about before. “I” statements refer to speaking about your feelings and opinions by presenting them as your own, rather than as facts, blame or generalization. Using statements such as “I feel”… “I think” …. etc. can help to express yourself without the other person feeling attacked. A technique that I often talk to my clients about is called “WIN”.
WIN is an acronym for:
W--“when you (insert action or behaviour here)”
I--“I feel (insert feeling/emotion)”
N--“I need (insert need, compromise, behavior change suggestion)”
This strategy can be helpful because you are allowing others to know how their actions impact you personally, and are also suggesting a solution for this issue. Some compromise may need to be reached, but this can be a great place to start. Often times we don’t realize the impact our actions or words can have on others, so this technique can open up communication, help to minimize misunderstandings, and help to define the problem.
Some other fantastic acronyms that often come up when speaking about improving interpersonal communication are:
G--Gentle: don’t attack, threaten or express judgement during your interaction
I--Interested: show interest by listening without interruption
V--Validate: validate the other person’s thoughts and feelings by acknowledging them and respecting their opinions
E--Easy: have an easy attitude by smiling and acting lightheartedly
OK, just one more acronym to help you to remember the essentials to assertive communication.
D--Describe: use clear and concrete terms to describe what you want
E--Express: let others know how a situation makes you feel by clearly expressing your emotions
A--Assert: say what you need to say, rather than beating around the bush
R--Reinforce: reward people who respond well, to reinforce that the outcome is positive (ie. say “thanks”)
M--Mindful: try to stay focused on the purpose of the interaction
A--Appear: appear confident by being aware of your posture, tone, eye contact and body language
N--Negotiate: be open to negotiation as we can’t have everything we want out of an interaction
Some other really important things to consider when you are learning how to communicate assertively are: use of empathy (to try to understand the other person’s perspective), asking for more time (so as not to respond when you are feeling too emotional or don’t know how to respond), use of language (ie. changing your verbs--won’t vs. can’t, could vs. should) and use of scripts (such as the WIN technique mentioned earlier to prepare ahead of time).
Now, having said all of this—changing our behaviours and mannerisms is challenging. It takes time and patience with ourselves as it is a process. Try not to feel defeated when you find yourself falling back into old communication habits. Just pick yourself back up, acknowledge your slip ups, and move forward with your head held high. The benefits of communicating assertively are HUGE and well-worth the effort. This type of communication can greatly improve your relationships with others, self-confidence, improve the likelihood of having your needs met, and decrease misunderstandings. Don’t believe me? Give it a try!
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