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Assertive communication

If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu, Elizabeth Warren.

The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives, Anthony Robbins.

We need an assertive style so that effective interpersonal communication could take place. It is the middle ground between aggressive and passive behavior. It is “a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without the need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view,” Dorland’s Medical Dictionary.

It is about feeling free to express our thoughts and ideas, being able to control our anger and frustration, communicate with others in a clear, calm, and effective way, compromise(it is not always possible -or even desirable- to have things our own way), and maintain deep and meaningful relationships.

Assertiveness is not what you do, it's who you are! Shakti Gawain.

Assertiveness is not what you do, it's who you are! Shakti Gawain.

How to be assertive?

Good communication requires: the right mood -What you say is just as important as how you say it; honesty and integrity -say what you mean and mean what you say; the ability to listen actively, connect with others (empathy), and express yourself clearly, confidently, and effectively in ways that some will find helpful and insightful. Keep it simple, short, and sweet

Keep it simple, short, and sweet

Let me illustrate this with an example, a meeting with someone who arrives late.

Man A: “The traffic was absolutely horrendous! There were absolutely no parking spaces anywhere. A parking space is almost impossible to find. It’s like going through an obstacle course. It is a nightmare! I have lost my temper and yelled a few times.”

Man B: “What time do you call this to be making an appearance!”

Man A: “Do not preach to me! I am facing way too many problems and the last thing I need is you giving me a lecture about being organized and manage my time. I’m going through a rough time right now. I’m very stressed out because I have many things to do, more than I can handle.”

Man B: “Do not talk to me about your life. Your problems do not interest me at all. I have problems of my own, too. What do you think you’re the only one with a busy, super-packed schedule and suffering from stress? Let me tell you something clear and straight: That’s the last time you arrive late! Otherwise, I will inform your boss because you’re such an irresponsible employee!”

If we analyze this conversation, ‘Man A’ started on the wrong foot by arriving late and not apologizing. Besides, his partner, ‘Man B’, has also been affected by this negativity and his talk was more a litany of reproaches and recriminations than a real conversation. Furthermore, he did not ask him to change, but demanded punctuality (“That’s the last time you arrive late!”), and even worse, he threatened him if he did not change (“Otherwise, I will inform your boss because you’re such an irresponsible employee!”)

It is important to understand that this communication style is not likely to achieve anything. Its results will be poor, if any. If the threat is serious and credible, ‘Man A’ may reconsider and change his behavior. However, the relationship will become so strained and conflictual that both of them will not be able to work together in an effective manner.

If you feel angry or upset, take a deep breath and delay your response. Wait for a moment when things are not heated, but calm and relaxed.

It is important to avoid extremes. For example, if your eyes are looking down with an elusive gaze, you keep a stooped posture or sit on the edge of a chair, speak in a low voice, slowly, and with a hesitant tone, you are clearly showing many doubts, fear, and low self-confidence. On the other hand, if your tone of voice is loud, bossy and unpleasant, your talk is very fast, you are leaning forward with closed arms and/or hands, your whole style of communication is being very aggressive.

There is a story that fits in with this like a glove. There was a young man who, quite unknowingly, entered a cloistered convent. He was very surprised when he was told that no-one was ever allowed to talk about anything at all. Just pray and work (“ora et labora”) except on patron’s day when everyone was allowed to express their views and experiences taking turns in a large assembly.

Ora et labora

Ora et labora

Our friend prayed for long hours and worked very hard, day after day until the patron’s day arrived. Father Prior began the meeting by saying: “Blessed be the Lord.” After him, the most senior monk stated: “We must glorify, praise, and give thanks to the Lord our God.” The third monk was also pretty brief: “Praise his holy name!” and thus, under the watchful and incredulous eyes of the young man, all monks delivered their speeches in similar terms. Finally, when his turn came, he just said: “The food is crap.”

Then, another year of silence, work, and pray passed by. The big day arrived, and yet again Father Prior affirmed: “Blessed be the Lord.” After him, the most senior monk added: “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.” And so on, and so forth. The young man was really annoyed because nobody was saying anything about practical matters. When finally he could talk, he exclaimed: “The beds are really uncomfortable! I can’t sleep well at night.”

You’ve guessed it! Another year of silence, work, and pray passed by. As usual, the meeting started with Father Prior speech: “Blessed be the Lord.” The rest of the monks all followed the same script, they praised and thanked the Lord for his goodness, holiness, and mercy. The young man could not understand why nobody was talking about normal stuff. So he announced his resignation: “I’m leaving now!” But this time, someone else replied to him: “I’m glad because you have not stopped protesting since you have been here!”

The moral is clear: Our days are numbered. We need to be happy with what we have, who we are, and where we are in life. If you are constantly complaining about everything, people will label you as a difficult or grumpy, and therefore, your chances of getting anything done or moving forward will be quite small even though you may be right.

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