Assertiveness is the Best Communication Style for Healthy Relationships
We’ve all had things that bother us about our friends and partners. Maybe your roommate likes to sing in the shower at 7:30 in the morning, while you’re still trying to sleep, or your boyfriend constantly interrupts you when you’re trying to tell to him about your day.
Conflict in our relationships is inevitable. We aren’t going to get along with people all the time. Sooner or later, something will come up that will bother us.
Communication is the most important aspect to any relationship. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. While communicating is definitely an important factor, the way in which we’re communicating is just as important. Nothing is going to change if we’re not getting our point across.
In fact, if we’re communicating the wrong way, it could make situations a whole lot worse. But, lucky for you, I’ve compiled everything you need to know about the healthiest form of communication in all relationships: assertiveness.
Assertiveness is basically when you stand up for yourself, while keeping calm and avoiding aggressive behavior.
It can be difficult to start using assertive communication, but like all good habits, it can be built up with practice. But before we get into ways to tackle assertiveness, let’s look at a few examples of other types of communication.
Identify Your Current Communication Style
There are three types of communication that are often used in place of assertiveness.
They’re on sort of a sliding scale:
- Passive aggression
Each may have their pros on the surface, however these can create deeply seeded problems. It’s important before moving forward with mending your current communication style that you identify which of these you tend to use most often.
Passivity: The Fickle Friend
Using passivity as your main communication style usually comes from not wanting to create conflict.
People who use this style are usually the kind to go out to Chinese with a group of friends, even if they’re allergic to soy. This technique may seem intriguing on the surface. Why deal with conflict when you can avoid it altogether? But there’s more to it.
If you are a passive communicator, you may start to believe that your opinions aren’t as important as others and as a result, your partner or friends will think the same about you. This can also lead to lower self-esteem.
Bottling up all your feelings about something over time might cause you to resent the person and, in fact, make you want to blow up at them later. You’ll be so full of anxiety, stress, and resentment that you might start to dislike the other person. This does not maintain a healthy relationship.
Aggression: The Aggravator
Aggression’s goal in confronting a problem is to intimidate or humiliate the other person. This has its clear downsides: it’s just plain mean.
Unlike passivity however, resentment is created in your partner, which may cause them to fear you or oppose you. Does that sound like a healthy relationship to you? I think not.
Passive-Aggression: The Cynical Cynthia
Passive-aggression combines traits from both passivity and aggression, which make many think it’s the best option.
Being passive-aggressive doesn’t confront the issue directly (like passivity) AND creates a negative attitude toward the situation by being sarcastic or complaining (similar to aggression). Since it avoids the problem while still trying to get the point across, it can be an attractive choice.
However, choosing the passive-aggressive path can make it difficult for the overall situation to be solved. And, combining aggression and passivity, creates resentment on both sides of the relationship. This is not an ideal ending either.
Being Assertive: Pros
So let’s look at what being “assertive” means again. It’s communicating your thoughts in a calm and non-threatening way. Instead of creating resentment between two people, it creates respect. The simplest example of this is “I statements”.
“I would like you to stop singing in the shower while I’m sleeping, as it wakes me up most of the time”.
This is a much better way to communicate as opposed to:
“You’re so annoying when you sing in the shower. You always wake me up!”
Notice how the first statement did not critique or attack the person. A specific action of the other person was brought to attention in a direct, yet respectful way.
By being direct and calm in explaining your side of things, it also shows that you care for the other person, because you’re acknowledging their feelings.
You’re telling them how their actions impact you rather than criticizing them. It gets the message across clearly and effectively, which helps with resolving the conflict. Make sure you keep those lines of communication open!
There are many benefits to assertiveness that are not only good for your relationship, but also for yourself.
Being assertive boosts your confidence (because it takes a lot of nerve to stand up for yourself!) and minimizes anxiety (you’ll be better at saying “no” to things you may feel obligated to do).
In fact, not addressing the things that matter to you most can increase your baseline levels of anxiety.
The Right Way to Be Assertive
The best way to start with anything is to start small. Begin with one of your closest friends, as you’re probably most comfortable around them. Make sure it’s a situation where emotions aren’t very high, and where the outcome won’t make or break anything.
For example, I was recently hanging out with someone from my school, and I wasn’t sure if it was a date or not. So instead of stressing out and being anxious about it, I just asked. This is the perfect scenario because—
- If it didn’t go well, I trusted that this person would still respect me and
- I didn’t have to think about it anymore and we both knew how to go on with our lives.
If you’re wanting to be assertive for a bigger situation, practice what you’re going to say beforehand. I often just write it down to get it out of my head and even use the paper as notes if I need it.
Here’s the last key to assertiveness: body language.
If your body reflects confidence, it’s shown that your brain will respond with confidence. This takes more practice, but it’s often been said: fake it until you become it.
Once you understand your own communication style, you’ll be able to assess what you need to work on most when communicating with others so that you can transition to a more assertive style.
Calmly, yet clearly state your true preferences as situations arise when you would usually remain passive.
Remember to start off small, when emotions aren’t high, and the outcome won’t make or break anything.
Focus on one thing to help you at a time, and assert yourself more as the habit gets easier.
Using assertiveness won’t guarantee that you’ll get your way every time, but it will help lower your anxiety as you clearly state your preferences to others. This opens the door for healthy discussions where mutually agreeable solutions can be more easily achieved.