Communication difficulties are probably the number one cause of conflict, breakdown of relationships, and resulting stress. Unfortunately, communication skills are most often taught through observation and without proper example unhealthy communication skills are passed down. There are a variety of types of communication, some more effective than others. Poor or ineffective communication can lead to more than just miscommunications and disagreements but can also lead to internal distress including feelings of being inadequate or angry.
The most common communication errors are either being too passive or too aggressive. The happy middle ground that is the most effective is called being assertive. Aggressive communication can include yelling, bullying, sarcasm, deceiving, manipulating, or guilt tripping. On the other extreme, passive communication can include crying, whining, passive body language, back handed comments, or talking behind someone’s back. Somewhere in the middle lies assertiveness. Assertive communication basically means being able to stand up for yourself or express yourself clearly, openly, and honestly without upsetting yourself or others and while accepting and respecting the opinions and feelings of others. Learning basic assertiveness skills can improve communication and increase success in most aspects of your life. While often confused, the biggest difference between aggressive and assertive communication is that assertiveness includes respect for yourself and the other party, while aggressive communication quickly disrespects and often insults the other party, leaving yourself feeling guilty or angry.
Basic steps towards assertive communication include: making eye contact, making sure body posture matches the message verbally expressed, using appropriate gestures, using a level and clear voice, and using clear and appropriate language. Using “I” statements also helps to clearly express thoughts and feelings. This reduces placing blame on others and causing defensiveness, allowing the other party to better receive your message. Learning to appropriately say no helps others to respect your boundaries and reduces feelings of resentment, allowing for continued healthy communication and reduces stress. And most importantly, learning to control your emotions. Emotions have their place and it is healthy to express them; however, there are appropriate times and places for that. In a discussion, assertive communication involves controlling those emotions in order to keep thoughts clear and communication well formed. Emotions can lead to anger and aggressiveness or sadness and passiveness, masking the message. It is appropriate to express them without allowing them to overwhelm you. Finally, start small when practicing assertive communication. Practice in an environment with little risk but where success will have benefits and build confidence. There is little risk to assertiveness when used appropriately and successfully.
Learning assertive communication skills will go well beyond improving your communication. It will also improve self-esteem following numerous successful exchanges where you feel well heard and understood. Reduce stress from frequent conflict and not feeling as though you are expressing your needs and getting them met, as well as by reducing conflicts and the possibility of losing relationships. It will improve the quality of relationships by demonstrating respect and building a mutual understanding. It can also help you gain a better understanding of your emotions and improve you decision making skills. All in all, learning to be assertive creates win-win situations and sets you up for a successful and happy life with quality and honest relationships.