Many activities involve social interactions which impact our mood and wellbeing. Social skilfulness is the ability to interact with other people in such a way that the experience is a positive one. Many people are all too willing to give advice about how we ‘should’ be doing things. Being able to express your thoughts and feelings openly will mean that you will be better able to request assistance you would like and decline advice/assistance when it is not asked for. Often, anxiety or depression is made worse because we won’t be honest with people and end up ‘pleasing’ them at our own expense.   Sound familiar? You are NOT alone! Have you ever heard the expression “It’s all in the delivery” OR “It’s not just ‘what’ you say, it’s ‘how’ you say it”? Our tone of voice and body language are very important. If you say the right words but have a punishing or aggressive tone of voice or aggressive body language then essentially you are being aggressive rather than assertive. Below, we’ve summarised the three basic interpersonal styles of communication. What past experiences can you relate to the styles below? What did you learn from your experience?  Three basic interpersonal Styles of communication
Interpersonal Style
Withhold Withdrawn Act weak Powerless Dishonest Poor boundariesRespectful Clear Direct Empowered Honest Set boundariesHostile punishing uncaring don’t consider feelings direct or indirect moody
Consequences (positive or negative)
Feel depressed/isolated Might be heart risk DisrespectedSense of control Respected Clear negative feelings Lower anxiety Clear boundaries Likely better for heartAvoided by others Heart risk Lose respect Keeps BP high
  An example scenario In this example all three interpersonal styles of communication are demonstrated in response to a request to do something. Scenario You have been asked by a family member at the last minute to assist them in dropping off and picking up their car from a service. You already have a very busy day scheduled and know that it would be very difficult for you to assist as it would disrupt your day and make it impossible for you to fulfil the tasks that you have already scheduled. Aggressive Response “There is no way I can help you! You always ask me at the last minute and expect me to drop everything I am doing for you! My life doesn’t revolve around you, you know!” Passive Response “Yeah, I suppose I can do that” (even though you don’t want to). Assertive Response “I have a very busy day planned and have some important things to do. I would like to help you, but unfortunately won’t be able today. I would have preferred it if you had asked me earlier, as I may have been able to help out with more notice”.   When we communicate assertively, we are communicating our needs, wants, feelings, beliefs and opinions to others in a direct, respectful and honest manner, without intentionally hurting anyone’s feelings. In other words, being assertive involves standing up for your own rights and needs, but also respecting the rights and needs of others. Interacting and responding assertively is a skill that needs continued practice! When you are being assertive, you are attempting to honestly express how you feel or you are trying to make a request. For many people this brings up guilt in response to no longer being ‘pleasing’ for others. Guilt in this context can be a good sign as it can mean you are being true to yourself! For some of us, being assertive can be very scary and requires plenty of practice. Even practiced asserters don’t necessarily feel calm when being assertive, however, they know that doing it is important and that the anxiety of being assertive is short-lived and replaced quickly with a sense of well-being, particularly if the outcome is positive. In the long run, being assertive has been shown to lower anxiety quicker than aggressive or passive responding. Steps in assertive communication
  1. Statement of the situation
‘When you’ … (non-judgmental description of the behavior that is the problem).
  1. Statement of how you feel – using ‘I’ statements
‘I feel’ … or ‘I felt…’ (express how you feel as a result of the behaviour)
  • Feelings cannot be argued with – they are subjective/individual!
  1. Statement of what you would like to happen
‘And I would prefer …’ (express clearly how you would like the behaviour to change or the preferred outcome).   For example “When you interrupt me before I have finished talking, I feel frustrated. I would prefer it if you could wait for me to finish talking, so that I can fully express what I want to say.” “When you shout and raise your voice at me, I feel very upset. I would prefer it if you could lower your voice, as I would feel much better and would be able to listen to you more easily.” It is useful to remind ourselves of some key rights we all have, which include the right to:
  • Express our opinions
  • Express our feelings
  • Request others to make changes to behaviour that negatively affects us
  • Accept or reject what others say or ask of us.
  We generally don’t have the right to try and control others or demand they change unless it’s a legal issue.   Tips for Communicating Assertively 
  • Think before you speak – this means making a choice on expressing angry or negative feelings assertively rather than aggressively or clamming up.
  • Don’t make assumptions – ask for clarification if unsure about the other’s intentions.
  • Plan your response. Practicing assertive responses to known common stressful interpersonal situations means you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you want to say in many situations.
  • Be direct and specific – state your point clearly and honestly.
  • Stay focused on the issue at hand.
  • Pay attention to body language – make sure your voice and your body communicate the same message (e.g., use appropriate eye contact, hold your body upright, do not raise your voice, yell or speak quickly).
  • If you don’t believe you’ve been heard, don’t be afraid to restate your request, feelings or thoughts.
  • Be willing to compromise and negotiate if appropriate.
  • Avoid ‘you’ comments (you always, you never) – it is blaming and critical, not assertive, and can elicit defensiveness.
  • Use ‘I’ comments (I think, I feel).
  • Avoid making accusations and trying to make the other person feel guilty.
  • Respect individual differences in values, beliefs and opinions.
  • Separate the person from the behavior and tackle the behavior only.
  • Recognise and try to understand the needs of the other person. However, tackling inappropriate behaviour is important, regardless of the circumstances.
  • Don’t use assertive skills to “change” the other person. Use it either to clear uncomfortable feelings such as resentment, set boundaries or make requests for change.
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