Speak Your Mind: Tips for Assertive (and Effective) Communication in 2017

Ever feel tongue-tied when trying to communicate difficult feelings such as anger and frustration? Do you feel like your needs aren't being met at work or in your relationships with your partner, family, and friends? It can be very difficult to be assertive when we’re feeling overwhelmed with emotion, and many of us struggle to assertive in our daily lives. Just like any other skill, we can practice assertive communication to build stronger and healthier relationships.

Communicating assertively "means expressing yourself effectively and standing up for your point of view, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others" (Mayo Clinic). Mastering assertive communication helps increase self-esteem, improves relationships, reduces anxiety, and leads to increased sense of empowerment. Here a few key things to remember when working on assertive communication:

1.     Explore your beliefs and feelings: Do you think you have the right to be assertive? Work on allowing yourself to feel whatever it is you're feeling in any given moment. It is okay to be angry, to say no, to ask for help and to make mistakes. 

2.     Use "I" statements: Use statements such as "I want" or "I feel". Always acknowledge the other person's perspective or feelings followed by a statement in which you stand up for your rights. For example, "I know you're frustrated, and I feel..." 

3.     No, BUT vs. Yes, AND: One of the basic tenets of improv comedy is to always say "Yes, AND..." which allows for anything to happen, and this can be applied to assertive communication. The word BUT often blocks assertive and effective communication. On the other hand, AND sets the tone for a less defensive and more honest approach to conflict. It softens the sting of disagreement, and can help us really hear a variety of perspectives. Try it!

4.     Body Language Matters: Maintain direct eye contact and good posture while communicating, and use facial expressions that are consistent with what you're feeling

5.     Listen Attentively: This may sound simple, but it's easy to shut down and stop listening when we're engaged in conflict. Let the person know you've heard with what they are saying. Ask follow-up and other clarifying questions if needed. 

6.     Practice, practice, practice! Like any new skill, practice is key to improving. Set the intention to practice being assertive in different situations. Don't forget to reward yourself each time you push yourself to communicate assertively, regardless of whether you get what you want in the end.

Remember, lots of people struggle with being assertive, so you're not alone! By practicing these skills, you will gain self-confidence and satisfaction in all your relationships.