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Assertive Skills

There are four common types of communication styles that are used by individuals in daily interactions with others.  Understanding the different types of communication styles and how you can use them in your own personal exchanges can go a long way to helping you improve your relationships and create positive lasting impressions on others.

 

Passive Style

 

When communicating with a passive style, a common results is that personal feelings, beliefs or opinions do not get communicated to avoid confrontation and conflict with other individuals.  Alternatively, the opinions and beliefs will be expressed but hesitantly and in a manner that allows them to be easily dismissed by others.  The language used is often apologetic.

 

Passive communicators often share characteristics of low self-esteem and low confidence, anxiety, and possibly dependency.  They will exhibit poor eye contact and nervous body movements when expressing their opinion.

 

Aggressive Style

 

An aggressive style of communication is characterized by an individual expressing their belief and opinions in a manner that others may find offensive or off-putting.  It can been viewed as inappropriate, and when excessive, can come across as bullying others.  The language of an aggressive communication style is often domineering and contains the use of “you” statements or dominating words.

 

Individuals who communicate with an aggressive style will often share similar personality traits, such as coming across as obnoxious, rude, and superior.  Their body language is often aggressive as well, perhaps with clenched fists or crossed arms with a stiff body.

 

Passive-Aggressive Style

 

When communicating using a passive-aggressive style, the intentions of the individual can be confusing and conflicting.  Opinions and beliefs are often expressed in an unclear manner, and may conflict with the true feelings that the individual wants to express (for example – saying “yes” when they really mean “no”).  While one using this style of communication may elicit feelings of confusion or frustration from others.

 

Common characteristics shared by those who communicate with a passive-aggressive style include appearing to be confident and in control, when in fact they are not feeling that way.  They may use a sarcastic tone when speaking or perhaps make insinuations.  Their body language is often impatient and limp, and they possibly have difficulty maintaining eye contact during their conversations.

 

Assertive Style

 

An assertive style of communication allows an individual to express their true opinions and beliefs in a manner that is less likely to offend the other person, nor does it violate their personal rights.  They are confident and open in their communication and are able to communicate their feelings in a positive manner that doesn’t require degrading another individual.  They utilize “I” statements when speaking and use direct statements.

 

Assertive communicators have characteristics such as being honest, confident, and open to the opinions of others.  Their body language includes a relaxed body posture and gestures that feels warm, with appropriate eye contact.

 

When comparing the four styles of communication, it becomes apparent that there are many benefits that are associated with being assertive while communicating.  These include an increase in self-confidence and self-esteem, improved communication, creating positive impressions on others, improved relationships with others, and an improvement in personal decision making skills.  Assertive communicators are often well-respected and liked.  Being assertive can also reduce stress and anxiety levels and lead to a healthier mental state of well-being.

 

How Can I Become More Assertive?

 

There are many steps that can be taken to build an assertive communication style.

  • Assess your communication style.  For you to determine how to become more assertive, you need to recognize the communication skills that you currently use.  This allows you to recognize the possible areas of improvement in your communication style.Questions to ask yourself to determine your style include: Do I express my opinions in a positive manner?  How do others react to my opinions or beliefs?  Do I feel confident when talking to others?  What sort of statements do I use when communicating?

 

  • Practice how you would respond to situations assertively. This may mean incorporating a friend for role-playing situations, or simply going over past situations and evaluating how they could have been approached in a more assertive way.This may also involve practicing the use of “I” statements regularly in conversations, and also learning how to say “no” in an assertive manner.

 

  • Be aware of your body language. It is important to remember that all communication isn’t verbal.  Focus on maintaining regular eye contact while keeping a positive or neutral facial expression. Keep a relaxed posture and avoid crossing your arms or clenching your fists.  Speak slowly and confidently, and allow others to respond to your comments or questions in a timely manner.  Practicing body language in the mirror is a great way to observe where improvements can occur.

 

  • Be aware of your emotions. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep your emotions in check, especially if you are feeling frustrated or conflicted.  Take deep breaths and focus on remaining calm to express your opinions and beliefs.

 

  • Be assertive in day to day situations. The best way to improve your assertiveness skills is to use them in your daily interactions with others.  Each positive experience being assertive will help you build confidence and allow you to continue to be assertive regularly.  Simple acts such as asking a friend to borrow a book, asking a stranger for directions or deciding where you and a spouse will be going for dinner (and assertively expressing your choice), can lead to positive interactions and stronger relationships.

 

How Can Living Well Help?

 

Cognitive behavioral therapy, Narrative Therapy and Solution Focused Therapy have been shown to be effective in helping individuals learn assertiveness skills.

 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) teaches individuals how their thoughts and behaviours affect their communication skills, and how to restructure these thought patterns to improve communication.  CBT can also help individuals who struggle with depression, anxiety or low self-esteem, all of which can lead to passive communication.  The treatment can provide individuals with the confidence and self-esteem needed to engage in assertive communication.

 

Narrative Therapy is a form of counselling where the client is the narrator of their own story, with the counsellor as the audience.  As the stories are shared, the counselor will look for themes or trends in the stories that define who you are as a unique individual, and can ask for greater details while the stories are being told. This allows the client to remember the past and see the impact that it has on today.  By identifying their values, skills, and knowledge they have, the client can experience an increased self-esteem and confidence.

 

Solution Focused Therapy (SFT) is based on solution building rather than problem solving.  While past and present problems can be reviewed, the focus is placed on current resources and future hopes and goals.  The main idea is to help the client use their own strengths to achieve their goals.  SFT works very effectively with individuals who have a goal-orientated mindset and embrace change.  As a versatile therapy, solution focused therapy can help a variety of areas, including the development of assertiveness skills.

 

Additionally, building a therapeutic alliance with a therapist you can trust can allow you to learn and practice assertiveness skills in a safe environment. You can bring up challenging situations in your life, and a therapist can help you practice new ways of being. This can often lead to skills transferring out of the therapy setting in an easier and more comfortable way.

 

Living Well Counselling Services has many counsellors available who incorporate these strategies into their practice.  We offer a free 20 minute consultation to all prospective clients to help you find the counsellor that would be the best fit for your goals.