4 Steps to Assertive Communication
Do you know what the healthiest and most effective communication style is? According to Dr. Karin Ryan, Clinic Director and Outpatient Therapist at Nystrom & Associates, it’s assertive communication. Assertive communication is where you respect and honor your needs while honoring the other person’s needs. While that makes sense, putting it into practice can be hard, especially when emotions are high. Keep reading to learn the four steps to assertive communication.
Related: What’s Your Communication Style?
Nystrom & Associates on Twin Cities Live
Watch Dr. Karin Ryan on Twin Cities Live as she discusses the four steps to assertive communication.
1. Listen and Connect
The first step is to listen to the other person and attempt to connect warmly and softly. This allows you to soften your start and bridge the gap. It can be through words, but it is also about body language, tone, and timing. “What this looks like is validating what the other person has expressed, showing you hear and understand the person’s needs, feelings, or the situation,” says Dr. Karin Ryan.
For example, if you’re talking about the messy kitchen, connect by saying something like, “I hear you; the kitchen has felt like a disaster lately.” Or, if you need to bring something up, “I am thankful that we have so many positive things in the evenings.” Or “I love that our family is active.”
The second step to assertive communication is to express your needs. Use an “I” statement to express how you feel or what you need to express yourself properly.
“Our tendency can be to focus on what we want the other person to do or change and are often tempted to start with ‘You need to…’ or ‘You never…’ or ‘Why do you…’ Or, our tendency can be just too general or vague about how we feel.”
To combat this, Dr. Karin Ryan says to literally check in to make sure you start with or use “I” before you express it to the other person. To help spark some ideas, here are a few examples of “I” statements:
- “I start to feel really worried when you come home later for work than expected.”
- “I am feeling overwhelmed at how many things I have to do today.”
- “I have been feeling down and like I am stuck in a rut.”
Thirdly, specify the actions you want from the other person or what you want to happen.
We tend to give our complaint or say that we are struggling but then not share what would be helpful or what we need. The other person cannot read your mind; if you do not know what you need, it is unfair to expect the other person to know. Try to ask for a specific behavior, not a judgment, general change, or mood change. Ask directly for what you want or need to be done. Keep it to one specific thing and add an appreciation statement or please, if you can.
For instance, here are several ways of specifying actions following an “I” statement:
- “I start to feel worried when you come home later for work than expected. Will you please call me if you will be after 6:00 pm in the future?”
- “I am feeling overwhelmed at how many things I have to do today. Would you be able to walk the dog, make dinner, or do the grocery store run today?”
- “I have been feeling down and like I am stuck in a rut. I think it would help me to do something fun this weekend. Would you help me plan something for us to do?”
Lastly, share the anticipated outcome of the change (or negative aspects of no change). This is an optional step of self-care or validation; however, it helps tie everything together. It describes how this will help you and everyone. See below for full assertive communication examples that include a validating outcome step.
Assertive Communication Scenarios:
- “I start to feel really worried when you come home later for work than expected. Will you please call me if you are going to be after 6:00 pm in the future? That way, I won’t worry, and you do have to worry about being late.”
- “I am feeling overwhelmed at how many things I have to do today. Would you be able to walk the dog, make dinner, or do the grocery store run today? If you do one of those, then I can be sure to have the house cleaned for the weekend.”
- “I have been feeling down and like I am stuck in a rut. I think it would help me to do something fun this weekend. Would you help me plan something for us to do? That way, we can have fun together, and I’ll be ready for the start of the next work week.”
A Word From Nystrom & Associates
Remember, the next time you want to practice assertive communication, listen and connect, express yourself with an “I” statement, be specific about what you want or need, and wrap it up with how it will be helpful.