Using Assertive Communication

People use different methods to communicate their perspectives and thoughts to others. Some styles of communicating are more effective than other styles, and how successful the communication is can depend on the style of communication used. There are three communication styles: passive, aggressive, and assertive. Each style assumes different levels of respect for the person you are communicating with. This person may be your child, your spouse or partner, your colleague, or a person who provides services to you.

Passive Communication Style

Individuals who do not fully express feelings or thoughts demonstrate passive communication. Because of this lack of expression, these individuals frequently avoid communicating their needs or desires to others. Often, because they don’t convey their thoughts, concerns, or ideas or offer a rebuttal, these individuals are taken advantage of, and others will communicate to them in a disparaging or even harmful way. Individuals who use passive communication, then, find themselves reaching a tipping point as emotions build up. The result can be an extreme emotional reaction to what may be a small or insignificant event or situation. This dilemma then creates even more negative feelings for the individual, which, paradoxically, pushes the person back into a passive mindset.

Common attributes of passive communication are as follows:

  • Has difficulty sharing emotions or thoughts with others
  • Is reluctant to ask for help
  • Is not proactive in communicating needs
  • Has a low speaking volume
  • Is unnecessarily apologetic
  • Says “yes” to everything

Ways to become less passive in your communication include the following:

  • Use “I” statements
  • Practice saying “No”
  • Rehearse what you want to say
  • Use body language that matches your verbal expressions
  • Regulate emotions during conversations and other interactions
  • Express your feelings and opinions more often

Aggressive Communication Style

If we consider communication styles as a continuum, the opposite of passive communication is aggressive communication. Aggressive communication is a style of communication in which the communicator expresses his or her needs, thoughts, or feelings in a way that is unappealing, uninviting, or harmful to those around him or her. Aggressive communication is most often presented as verbal or physical abuse, and this style of communication can lead to distrust of others and in relationships.

Common attributes of aggressive communication are as follows:

  • Is always trying to best others
  • Uses humiliation as a tool
  • Has impulsive behavior
  • Fails to listen to other viewpoints
  • Does not let others finish their thoughts before interjecting
  • Uses “You” statements
  • Employs blaming language
  • Exploits fear to get what he or she wants
  • Is frequently very frustrated with others
  • Often shouts

Ways to become less aggressive in your communication include the following:

  • Use “I” statements
  • Take responsibility for your actions
  • Try to understand others by listening to their thoughts and opinions
  • Focus on using a firm, but relaxed, tone when speaking
  • If someone tells you how he or she feels, think about what you would want to be said back to you if you felt that way – put yourself in the other person’s shoes
  • Regulate emotions during conversations and other interactions

Assertive Communication Style

Continue to consider that communication styles exist on a continuum, therefore, assertive communication would fall between passive and aggressive styles. An assertive style of communication is the most effective form of communication, and the people who use it recognize that communication is a two-way street. People who use an assertive style clearly communicate their feelings, needs, and opinions and are empowered to make their needs clear without insulting, criticizing, or talking down to others. The assertive communicator can identify and understand another’s perspective, and this ability offers the assertive communicator the most opportunities to grow and remain in control of his or her thoughts and feelings. Bonds between him or herself and others tend to be stronger than those who use other communication styles.

Common attributes of assertive communication are as follows:

  • Communicates needs and desires without damaging others
  • Uses “I” statements
  • Demonstrates respect for the thoughts and feelings of others
  • Remains calm and clear when speaking
  • Does not tolerate inappropriate communication from others
  • Maintains eye contact
  • Takes responsibility for actions, and does not assign blame needlessly
  • Listens without interrupting

References

Mayo Clinic. (2020, May 29). Being assertive: Reduce stress, communicate better. Healthy lifestyle: Stress management. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/assertive/art-20044644?pg=2

Thrive. (2022). Grandfamilies: Prospering with 10- to 14-year-olds. https://thrive.psu.edu/supplemental-modules/

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