Assertive speech is a style of communication in which individuals clearly state their opinions and feelings, and firmly advocate for their rights and needs without violating the rights of others. Assertive communication is born of high self-esteem and is a primary tool for effective communication in relationships when coupled with respecting the rights of others.
Benefits of Assertive Speech
- Reduces anxiety and stress often caused by misunderstandings and conflicts.
- Allows you to express your thoughts and feelings clearly and effectively.
- Self-esteem and self-confidence is enhanced and you have better control over your own life.
- Others have more respect for your ideas and opinions by knowing where you stand.
- Relationships with others are greatly improved by disagreeing without being hostile.
- Having the ability to say “no” when you mean “no” without feeling self-conscious.
- Motivates others to clearly state their own opinions and ideas.
- Allows you to ask for help when needed without fear and stress.
- Increases a feeling of connectedness to others.
- Enables one to mature because you address issues and problems as they arise.
- Creates a respectful environment for others to grow and mature as well.
Ideals of Assertive Speech
- “We are equally entitled to express ourselves respectfully to one another.”
- “I am confident about who I am.”
- “I realize I have choices in my life and I consider my options.”
- “I speak clearly, honestly, and to the point.”
- “I can’t control others but I can control myself.”
- “I place a high priority on having my rights respected.”
- “I am responsible for getting my needs met in a respectful manner.”
- “I respect the rights of others.”
- “Nobody owes me anything unless they’ve agreed to give it to me.”
- “I’m responsible for my own happiness.”
Assumptions of Assertive Speech
- Productive communication and positive assertiveness create good relationships.
- Allowing others to manipulate your behavior sacrifices your self-respect and sense of personal responsibility.
- In addition to the “fight or flight” response to challenges, humans can solve problems verbally.
- People can make you feel guilty by labeling your behavior “good” or “bad,” just like your parents did when you were a child.
- The right to be the judge of your behavior is the foundation of all the other rights.
- People may use manipulative behavior to make you believe that you should live by their rules.
- “You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behavior.”
- “You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself for any reason or no reason at all.”
- “You have the right to judge if you are responsible for finding solutions to other people’s problems for any reason or no reason at all.”
- “You have the right to change your mind for any reason or no reason at all.” see consent.
- “You have the right to make mistakes – and be responsible for them for any reason or no reason at all.”
- “You have the right to say, ‘I don’t know’ for any reason or no reason at all.”
- “You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them for any reason or no reason at all.”
- “You have the right to be illogical in making decisions for any reason or no reason at all.”
- “You have the right to say, ‘I don’t understand’ for any reason or no reason at all.”
- “You have the right to say, ‘I don’t care’ for any reason or no reason at all.”
Paraphrased from The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, twisted thinking are thought pathways that are inconsistent with assertive speech and work against it. Consider avoiding twisted thinking.
black or white categories. a situation that falls short of perfect is seen as a failure. example: "I ate a brownie. My entire diet is ruined."
a single event is seen as a continuing pattern of defeat. over using the words "always" and "never". example: "I am always bored. I never get to have any fun."
- Mental Filter
Focusing on one detail of a situation while screening out all others. Example: You receive praise and criticism for your work on a project. You only remember and focus on the criticism.
- Discounting the Positive
Positive experiences are not acknowledged or "don't count". This is a joy killer and can cause feelings of being inadequate and unrewarded. Example: You may do well at something but you tell yourself that "it wasn't good enough or that anyone could have done as well."
- Jumping to Conclusions
Negative conclusions with no (or inadequate) supporting evidence.
Mind reading: Making assumptions that others think or feel negatively about you.
Example: "I'm sure he doesn't like me, I just know it."
Fortune-Telling: Making negative predictions about the future.
Example: "If I don't pretend to be more interesting than I believe I am at the party, no one will like me."
Magnifying importance of failures and shortcomings or minimizing importance of desirable qualities. Example: "I missed catching the ball and now the whole team must think I'm a loser." or "I'm really no good at settling accounts, I only got six out of seven today."
- Emotional Reasoning
Assuming negative emotions are a sure indication of the nature of a situation. Example: "I feel angry. Therefore, I am being treated unfairly." or "I am afraid of _____. Therefore, _____ must be dangerous."
- Should Statements
"Should", "must", "oughts", and "have tos" are imply a moral imperative that often lead to guilt, anger and frustration. "Should" is often used to attempt to motivate people but frequently has the opposite effect and creates anxiety. Attempt replacing these words with "benefit". Instead of saying, "You should drink more water." consider saying "It might benefit you to drink more water."
Labeling is when you over identify with the way you or someone else has behaved and is "all or nothing" taken to an extreme. Example: A person behaves badly. You decide "they are an asshole". You will not want to amend the situation now because you perceive them as a disgusting object instead of a human to be worked with. Example: Saying "I am a failure" as opposed to saying "I made a mistake".
- Personalization & Blame
Personalization is a thought process that leads to guilt, shame and inadequacy. Example: "Climate change is happening because I didn't sign enough petitions." or "My mother is sick because I didn't take good enough care of her." or "He broke up with me because I'm not a desirable person." Blame is similar but directed at others. It often leads to a cycle which includes resentment, anger, and the blame being tossed back and forth between people without the potential for resolution.
How to Speak Assertively and Effectively
- use “I” statements to state your thoughts clearly and concisely
- state needs and wants clearly, appropriately, and respectfully
- express feelings clearly, appropriately, and respectfully (avoid idiom and analogy)
- communicate respect for others
- listen well without interrupting
- feel in control of yourself
- have good eye contact
- speak in a calm and clear tone of voice
- have a relaxed body posture, be warm and open with gesturing
- feel connected to others
- feel competent and use a tones that conveys confidence in yourself
- do not allow others to abuse or manipulate you or others
- stand up for your rights
- utilize silence rather than "umm", "like", "uhhhh" and similar speech delay tactics
- admit to mistakes openly and seek to learn from, remedy, and prevent them in the future
- practice assertive speech on your own, with a mirror; be mindful to be respectful if practicing a confrontation
- respond to criticism by asking open ended questions that address the criticism
- utilize good grammar, understanding of colloquial expressions and dialect
- use the minimum amount of force in your tone required to assert your rights, avoid blatantly offensive or hostile speech
Conflict resolution, especially regarding subjects where emotions run high and are between close parties, can be very difficult to maintain a level head and speak assertively.
If you find this is a recurring problem, consider both you and your parnter agreeing to use exclusively the following format:
"When you ___A___, I feel ___B____."
A is something another person did, said, did not do or did not say, and is exclusively a fact, not an opinion. Example: "When you ask me to take out the trash more than once.."
A is not your impression, opinion, or exaggeration of the instance. Example: "When you nag me to take out the trash a thousand times like I'm an incompetent douchebag.."
B is a single feeling you have/had. Example: "I feel humiliated."
B is not a thought you have/had phrased as a feeling. Example: "I feel like you are being a condescending ass monkey that doesn't care about my feelings."
When you use this format you have the following results:
If you have used this communication method effectively, since you have stated a fact and a feeling, the person cannot argue the fact, and cannot get defensive about their feeling. You also have not told them how to resolve the situation, you have simply informed them of your feeling. How they decide to proceed and deal with the action and/or your feelings is still up to them/open to discussion, this promotes the idea that you have informed them of the situation, but not coerced or accused.
It is suggested to respond to such a tactic with "Why does this make you feel this way?" if that isn't readily understood, or some other open ended questions.
Gathering data in this fashion will allow your partner to communicate the root of their feelings, and give you more data to understand how to best move forward.
When either of you do come up with a plan to move forward consider proposing the idea and asking for feedback as this will help them feel that they are heard and that their feelings and input is valued, which is especially important during times of distress for many individuals. They also may have interesting ideas that contribute to the overall wellness of the new agreement.
When engaging in dialog... consider using LAER methods.
- Listen: Listen to the concern(s) of the party. Listen to understand, not to respond.
- Acknowledge: Let the party know you understand their concern(s)and that you are interested and want to help them find a solution.
- Explore: Learn about the party's concern(s) using open-ended questions. Begin your questions with words like: what, when, why, how, tell me.
- Respond: Respond using Assertive Speech.