Looking For Better Communication Skills? Let’s Start With Assertiveness
Last week I was at the presentation of the book ‘Camarero, este cafe’ esta’ frío!’ (Waiter, this coffee is cold) by Psychologist, Coach and Writer Raquel Ballesteros. The book is part of Raquel’s project ‘Viñetas para vivir’ (Sketches for living), which aim is to help people develop self-knowledge, assertiveness and improve their relationships through effective, simple and fun sketches. Recommended if you speak Spanish!
The same week I had a session with a client who told me she wanted to work on her confidence and self-esteem level. She often finds herself to be quite passive and looking for people’s approval. As a result of it, she compromises her values and needs to make other people happy before thinking of her own happiness. It quickly became clear that one of the first steps she needed to take was to develop assertiveness.
WHAT IS ASSERTIVENESS?
Assertiveness is the ability to communicate your needs, feelings, desires, thoughts and ideas in a way that makes you stand up for your rights without taking on a passive approach or becoming aggressive. Assertive individuals get their point across while they remain calm, they take theirs and other people’s point of view into consideration, they look for or propose solutions and options. Assertiveness means balance, respect for yourself as well as others and a win-win outcome.
Sometimes it’s easier said than done, there are situations that activate internal triggers and push us into an angry or submissive mode. We don’t take the time to formulate our answer and we let our emotions prevail. In some occasions we make a conscious decision about our reaction, or we conclude it’s a case that is not worth our response. Many other times we don’t act as a result of a pondered decision and that is when falling into one or the other approach affects us most.
Anger creates more tension, it shows little interest in solutions and ultimately damages our reputation or the relationship with that person. On the other hand, by remaining quiet and being overly considerate when something is bothering us or we want to express a different opinion, we allow the other person to have power on us. Over time this can build up, it creates a sense of inequality, and as a consequence low self-esteem.
WHY IS ASSERTIVENESS SO IMPORTANT?
I cannot stress enough how becoming more assertive makes a significant impact in our lives.
Assertiveness empower us to:
Be more in control of our emotions and actions
Help others and ask for help
Solve conflicts and negotiate effectively
Respond to criticism with diplomacy
Share our point of view as a contribution
Build a positive reputation
Become a mediator (if more people are involved)
Respond to failure in a constructive way
Become more persuasive
Be proactive and willing to take the initiative
HOW CAN WE BECOME MORE ASSERTIVE? Here are 10 practical tips:
1. Have a clear goal Think first what you would like to get out of that conversation
2. Find the right moment Depending on the context and subject, approaching the other person when he/she is busy or upset won’t create great results. The same counts on your side
3. Start from I not You Resist the urge to start your conversation with ‘you make me feel..’ or ‘it’s because you..’ Blaming is not a constructive beginning
4. Listen to the other person Don’t be the only one doing the talk, breathe and listen to what the other person has to say as well
5. Watch your assumptions You might have a feeling and it might be right, or it might not. Ask before assuming
6. Avoid focusing on the negative Focus more on what you would like or could help you than what you don’t like and bothers you
7. Deal with one thing at a time Overwhelming the other person with 10 things altogether won’t get you very far in the conversation
Keep it objective 8. Try not to fall into generalisations like ‘you always..’, ‘you never..’. Is it really always or never?
9. Propose options/solutions The conversation won’t produce significant outcomes if you simply express how you feel and don’t work towards solutions
10. Give it some time Allow some time for both sides to reflect on what’s being discussed
Developing effective communication skills to improve how we create and build better relationships in our personal and professional lives is not always easy, there are many things and circumstances that come into play. Nevertheless, I believe sometimes we make things more complicated than what they are. With a bit of effort and patience we can create great results.
I propose you a test: take the time to observe yourself and others in your next conversations during the coming weeks, try to apply the 10 assertiveness tips and afterward take note of what happened. I bet you will be positively surprised!