ASSERTIVE COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUES
1. BASIC ASSERTION
Basic assertion is when we make a statement that expresses clearly our needs, wants, beliefs, opinions or feelings. This type of assertion can be used every day to make our needs known. Typically basic assertion uses “I” statements:
• “I need to be away by 5 o’clock”
• “I feel pleased with the way the issue has been resolved”
You can also use basic assertion to give praise or compliments, information or facts, or when raising an issue with someone for the first time. For example:
• “I haven’t thought about that before, I’d like time to think about your idea.”
• “I thought your presentation was really good”.
• “The cost will be $2,000”
• “I like it when you help me”.
It is important to remember to be specific when making your statement. Decide what it is you want or feel, and say so specifically or directly. Avoid unnecessary padding and keep your statement simple and brief. This skill will help you to be clear about what exactly it is you want to communicate.
Basic assertion also includes what some people refer to as the self-disclosure technique which essentially means disclosing your feelings with a simple statement. For example:
• “I feel nervous”
• “I feel guilty”.
• “I feel angry”
The immediate effect of the self-disclosure is to reduce your anxiety, enabling you to relax and take charge of yourself and your feelings. Using “I” statements to express your feelings in this way also shows you are taking responsibility for your own feelings.
2. EMPATHETIC ASSERTION
Empathy means that we try to understand another person’s feelings, needs or wants. So this type of assertion contains an element of recognition of the other person’s feelings, needs or wants, as well as a statement of your needs and wants.
This type of assertion can be used when the other person is involved in a situation that may not fit with your needs, and you want to indicate that you are aware of and sensitive to their position.
Examples of Empathetic assertion:
• “I appreciate that you don’t like the new procedure, however, until it’s changed,
I’d like you to keep working on it.”
• “I know you’re busy at the moment, John, still I’d like to make a request of you.”
Empathetic assertion is useful in holding you back from over-reacting with aggression as it causes you to give yourself time to imagine the other person’s position and therefore slow down your response.
It is possible to over-use certain phrases in empathic assertion and it can start to sound insincere. It can also be used to mask aggression. For example, if someone says “I appreciate your feelings, but…” then the empathic statement “I appreciate your feelings” is devalued by the word “but” and the phrase becomes aggression masked as assertion. Try using “still”, “however” or “though” instead of “but”, and if possible, keep it separate from the empathic statement at the beginning of the sentence, e.g.:
• “I recognise that it’s difficult to be precise on costs, however, I need a rough estimate.”
• “I understand that you have an important training session scheduled for Friday and will be out of office all day. I am still asking you to finish this report by the end of this week.”
3. DISCREPANCY ASSERTION
Discrepancy assertion works by pointing out a discrepancy between what has previously been agreed and what is actually happening. This is useful for clarifying whether there is a misunderstanding or a contradiction, and when a person’s behaviour does not match their words.
Examples of Discrepancy assertion:
• “As I understand it, we agreed that Project A was top priority. Now you’re asking me to give more time to Project B. I’d like to clarify which is now the priority.”
• “Paul, on the one hand you are saying that you want to improve cooperation between our departments, but on the other hand you make statements about us that make it difficult for us to cooperate. I agree that we can improve the situation, so I’d like to talk about that.”
Next time, in the 2nd part of our blog we give you three more techniques to help you communicate assertive!