Communication is a large part of your day-to-day life here in the Treasure Valley. But are you making the most of what you say and how you say it? Can you clearly get your point across to the people you encounter, from friends and family to teachers and doctors? Or, if you are the doctor, are your patients recognizing the importance of what you tell them? What about at work, do your colleagues acknowledge and respect your rights? Do they understand the importance of your requests? A key component in effective communication is learning to be assertive. In other words, you are clear and direct when communicating, but you still respect yourself and others.
Assertiveness is often confused with aggression. However, being assertive is actually a kind of half-way point between aggressiveness, at one end, and passiveness, at the other. These two extremes are the behaviors you want to avoid. The former involves forcing your views and needs onto others, allowing for little to no compromise. Bullying people in this way leads to damaged relationships and deflated self-esteem. In addition, it may result in yelling or lead to physical aggression. On the other hand, you don’t want to go so far as being passive either. This type of behavior involves allowing others to bully you, not speaking up for yourself, and undervaluing your opinions. If you find yourself putting your own needs last you may need to practice some assertive behaviors in order to communicate more effectively and avoid getting hurt or angry. But what does assertiveness involve and how can you obtain the suitable skills to master it?
Practicing assertive communication involves a number of appropriate behaviors. For example, make eye contact to show interest and sincerity, have confident body posture to improve the significance of your message, and keep your voice at a normal conversation volume without yelling or whispering. What you say is also important. Avoid exaggerating words like always and never, stick to facts rather than judgments, chose the proper time and place for your comments, and use ‘I’ statements when possible. These statements will help you express your needs without placing blame on others. For example, instead of declaring “You never do these reports right”, say “I feel frustrated when you turn these in unfinished. I don’t like having to finish them for you”.
Practice is at the key to mastering these and many other assertive techniques. Don’t be afraid to rehearse confident words or phrases alone or with a friend. Your assertive techniques may be seen as aggressive at first, especially if others are used to you being on the passive side, but don’t let this discourage you. Successful communication, a stronger self-image, and healthy relationships are in your future!
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