Three steps to becoming an assertive communicator

How to become an assertive communicator

Outlined below are three steps you can use to help you become more assertive in your dealings with others. Start by using the steps in less important situations. As you become more skilful in applying them, your confidence levels will soar and your stress plummet.

If you feel you would like more, assertiveness training is available at evening classes and, of course, group training has the added advantage of allowing you to practise techniques in role play.

1. Learn to say ‘No’

Learning to say ‘No’ to others when appropriate, and ‘Yes’ to yourself, are good stress-reducing habits to get into. They will stop you trying to be all things to all people and will free up your personal time so that you can do the things that you really want to do.

Saying ‘Yes’ when it would be best to say ‘No’ increases the likelihood that you will be asked to do the same thing again. And, in time, an unbalanced relationship with the asker of the questions will develop. The snag is that saying  ‘No’ in an assertive way requires you to believe in yourself and in what you are saying. In addition, you must learn to phrase your sentences in a polite but nevertheless firm way. Here is an example of an assertive response – the sort of thing you need to practise saying.

Imagine that a very good friend asks you to go on holiday to an exotic location. It sounds fantastic but you know that you will not enjoy doing the same things together and that, most importantly, you will ultimately be wasting time and money.

You know that you have to refuse and that, to be convincing, you have to do so assertively;

‘Thank you for asking me, but I don’t think that you and I would enjoy the same type of holiday. I think  you should ask someone else.‘

There are, however, some people who do not seem able to take ‘No’ for an answer and you may need to use a ‘broken record technique’ and calmly repeat yourself until the questions are no longer asked.

2. Mastering the broken record technique

When you want something done about a situation and you know you are within your rights but you are repeatedly told that it is not possible, the time is right for you to use the broken record technique. You might use the technique if, for example, the heel falls of a pair of shoes that are only a month old you are quite within your rights to ask for a new pair.

Calmly ask for what you want and keep repeating the request until your persistence pays off. The broken record technique does not always guarantee success but it does increase your odds and decrease your stress.

The technique can be applied in almost any situation. For example, when people try to fob you off with poor service. A good case in  point was when I left my car with the garage for a check-up. I was promised that it would be ready for collection at 5.30 that evening. I arrived on time to pick it up, only to be told that it would not be ready until the next morning. I was infuriated, especially as the mechanics were still working. I took a deep breath and calmly but firmly said:

‘I have to have the car this evening and, as the mechanics are still working, I am happy to wait for it to be done.’

I kept on repeating the statement and eventually an agreement was reached. I drove home in my car an hour later!

3. The ‘DESC’ technique

This is another useful technique for tackling potentially stressful situations and enabling you to become more adept in expressing yourself assertively.

DESC stands for Describe, Express, Specify and Consequences, and the technique is most effective when combined with ‘I’ statements that avoid blaming others.

Use of the DESC formula is especially practical in situations such as when a friend keeps cancelling
your tennis game at the last minute for no good reason.

Describe. Be specific and focus on the problem. State the facts without being emotional. ‘When you keep cancelling our tennis game at the last minute…..’
Express. Let the other person feel how important the issue is to you. Use ‘I’ messages so it is clear that you are not blaming him or her. ‘….I feel let down and upset’.
Specify. Be specific and firm in one or two sentences. State your wants or preferences, not commands. ‘I would like you to let me know well in advance if you are going to cancel the game.’
Consequences. Clarify the positive or negative consequences of your request. ‘If you don’t let me know in advance I think we should stop playing together,’ or, ‘If you do let me know in advance, it gives me time to find another partner.’

Assertive behaviour hierarchy

To help you to recognise in which areas of your life you need to make an effort to be more assertive and, consequently, the areas in your life that are stressful, it can be useful to make a list.

Write down ten situations where you would like to be more assertive. Now list them in order of difficulty, the most difficult being the one that is also the most stressful. Writing down a list of situations in which you would like to be more assertive serves two purposes.

First, it highlights situations that you might otherwise prefer to keep hidden. Secondly, once you have identified a situation on paper, you are more likely to consider it seriously and take action.

You list may include tackling your boss for a salary increase or asking your partner to clean the bath after he or she has finished. If you rate asking for a salary increase as the most difficult and most stressful thing to do, this would be  number one on your list. While the bath cleaning question is a touchy one, you may give it a stress rating of just five.

Once you have compiled the list, use the three techniques we have already discussed in the article to help you get the results you require.

Assertive behaviour hierarchy

Situations in which to be more assertive

1. Questioning Jack’s insane desire to shoot traffic lights.

2. Correcting Arthur (my boss) over (his) mistakes.

3. Saying ‘No’ to James (colleague) when he asks me to do some photocopying that ‘won’t take a minute’.

4. Questioning the plumbers next time he comes about his exorbitant call-out fee.

5. Telling Ron (my secretary) to be more punctual in the mornings.

6. Asking questions at parent-teacher meetings.

7. Telling queue bargers at the bus stop where to get off.

8. Asking for identification when the meter reader comes.

9. Telling children not to drop litter in the park.

10. Washing up – why is it always me?

The next article will deal with time management.

Instant ways to manage your time >>

Text Copyright © Alix Needham
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