We’ve all been in an argument where we feel that the other person is not listening, doesn’t understand what we are saying or just seems to not care all together. In those situations, we have a tendency to attribute the failure of communication to the other person and simply give up or explode in rage. Neither is effective.
Ineffective communication occurs at work, in our relationships, at grocery stores, with our kids… everywhere! But is there a way to say things so that the other person is more inclined, and even happy to, give us what we want? Of course there is. Some people call it “charisma”, some “leadership”, and others a “je-ne-sais-quoi”. Effective communication, and more specifically assertive communication, allows us to make ourselves understood better and results in both parties being more satisfied with the results. Assertive communication is an entire field in itself, and mastering it would require a never-ending learning and practice. However, there are a few simple rules that everyone can apply in everyday conversations to get a better outcome. I’ll try to simplify all this for you as much as I can. If you have more questions or want clarifications, don’t hesitate to comment below.
First, let’s look at the 3 main types of communication types:
- Passive behavior: you don’t obtain what you want, the other person does.
- Aggressive behavior: you obtain what you want, the other person doesn’t.
- Assertive behavior: both parties obtain what they want.
As you can see, the healthiest communication is assertive. Here’s how works:
The “I” method
Use “I need”, “I feel”, and “I want” instead of pointing fingers at the other person by saying “YOU do …”. For example, Instead of telling your partner “You don’t care”, say “I feel that you don’t care.” This allows the other person to see your point of view instead of feeling accused and she/he will be more open to discuss a solution.
Don’t be afraid to say “NO”
If you cannot satisfy a request, be direct and say it. If a justification is appropriate, you can briefly explain. You value your time and you respect yourself. People appreciate honesty and simple direct communication.
Effective communication is based on the fact that both parties’ points of view are acknowledged and they work together for a solution satisfying to both. When you acknowledge the other person’s feelings and thoughts they feel like you are working together towards a goal as opposed to against each other. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you are fighting AGAINST the other person, as opposed to trying to work WITH them. Say, for example, “I understand that it hurts you when…”, or “It makes sense that you are disappointed by…”.
Summarize what you understood
If it is unclear to you what the other person is asking of you, what their goals are or if you find their demand unreasonable, say “So if I understand correctly, you would like me to…”. This will force the other person to reconsider or clarify what they said.
Use body language to your advantage
OK, so you’re not the most confident charismatic person out there. No problem! Here’s how to fake it. The Mayo Clinic website (a site that I, as a doctor, consider a reliable resource for patients) suggest to “Act confident even if you aren’t feeling it. Keep an upright posture, but lean forward a bit. Make regular eye contact. Maintain a neutral or positive facial expression. Don’t wring your hands or use dramatic gestures.”. Check out the following TED Talk on body language (I love TED Talks!) if you want to learn more:
Control your emotions
Keep your goal in mind: obtaining what you want, either mentally or physically. Conflict has a tendency to make us angry, loud, disappointed, frustrated and weepy. However, it is crucial to keep your emotions in check. Delay the conversation if you are too emotional.
Use a WISE MIND
You probably noticed that this is what my blog is called, and there is a reason for that. A wise mind is a combination of our emotional mind and our reasonable mind. If we balance these 2 we succeed in thinking and acting logically while taking care of our emotional needs at the same time. Such a difficult task sometimes, right? When you are explaining your side, make sure that you consider both your emotional and reasonable needs, otherwise you end up being overly emotional or disappointed with the outcome.
Don’t dwell in the past
Do not accuse the other person of things that happened in the past. Don’t say “You always do this.” or “You never do that.”. The only issue to resolve is the current one. Reminding the other person of incorrect behavior (“incorrect” according to you) from the past will only escalate the argument because they will feel attacked and you will bring out unresolved issues. Remember, you are working WITH them to find a solution, not AGAINST them!
Think about it before hand
The most important part of developing the skills of assertive communication is to think about what we want and how we will say it in advance. In order to develop an efficient communication strategy, there are 4 things that you need include in your argument. You can write them down in advance at first, rehearse, and eventually it will come to you naturally because you will quickly notice both the immediate and delayed positive effects that it has on the outcome.
Here are those 4 parts of your argument (Source: MindTools):
- The event: tell the other person exactly how you see the situation or problem. “Jacob, the production costs this month are 23% higher than average. You didn’t give me any indication of this, which meant that I was completely surprised by the news.”
- Your feelings: describe how you feel about express your emotions clearly. “This frustrates me and makes me feel like you don’t understand or appreciate how important financial controls are in the company.”
- Your needs: tell the other person what you need so they don’t have to guess. “I need you to be honest with me and let me know when we start going significantly over budget on anything.”
- The consequences: describe the positive outcome if your needs are fulfilled. “I’m here to help you and support you in any way I can. If you trust me, then together we can turn this around.”
Remember… nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes at times, and we all become overly emotional or overly detached in an argument. Mostly, this is because our communication is inefficient. Keep in mind that, although rarely, some arguments just cannot be resolved and some people will absolutely refuse to collaborate… don’t lose your time with them. If you’re trying too hard to communicate effectively and the other person is not willing to make an effort at all, it will be simply demoralizing for you. On the other hand, not everyone has good communication skills but they are willing to work on it, so you can prompt them to use the above mentioned skills. For example, if someone is being loud and very EMOTIONAL and ACCUSES you of NEVER doing something (notice all the ineffective communication here!), you can say “I understand that you feel very angry right now because I don’t do X, however, the important part is that we work together to find a solution.”
I hope all this helps, and let me know if you have any questions.
Until next time… happy communicating ❤