In our last post on conflict – oh my, that word does invoke a shiver – we looked at different ways people approach conflict. In today’s post, we’ll delve deeper into the assertive approach and how we can deliver an assertive message. But first, let’s get clear on how assertion differs from aggression by looking at a dictionary meaning of each.
Aggression: hostile or violent behaviour or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront.
Assertion: a confident and forceful statement of fact or belief.
Clearly, these two approaches differ by a wide margin. Let’s keep that in mind as we proceed to look at the various dimensions of sending an assertive message to another person.
Try to describe the behaviour using only information that comes through the senses. We’re looking for a description of actions here not an attack on personal characteristics.
Something like: The TV is very loud.
As opposed to: You are a freaking, inconsiderate moron for having the TV that loud.
Next we attach our own meaning to the behaviour. Interpretations come out of a myriad of factors – past experience, assumptions, expectations, knowledge or current mood to name just a few. We recognize that any interpretation we arrive at comes out of our own perceptions and is subjective. Because of this, it is helpful to be somewhat tentative.
Something like: I’m wondering if you realize how distracting it is to have the TV that loud.
As opposed to: I know you turn it up to get at me. You’re so petty.
Expressing how we feel about another person’s behaviour can be challenging. To start with, we don’t always know what we feel. This step becomes important in clarifying feelings for ourselves and others.
Something like: I feel frustrated.
As opposed to: I feel like I could smack you up the side of the head.
Consequences – to you or to others
A statement of consequences explains what could happen as a result of the behaviour in question. It clearly states the consequences for you, for the other person and, when appropriate, for the wider community. These consequence statements are valuable because they help you understand more clearly why you feel what you feel and it helps the other person to see the results of his or her behaviour. Good consequence statements leave nothing to the imagination.
Something like: When the TV is that loud, I can’t work effectively. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. If I don’t get paid, we don’t eat.
As opposed to: How do you expect me to finish this work? If I don’t get paid for this, we don’t eat. How would you like that? Maybe you could get off your ass and go to work. That might solve all our problems.
This is where you make a request for the behaviour to change.
Something like: I need you to turn the TV down.
As opposed to: Turn that TV down right now or you can kiss my pay cheque goodbye. I’ll be out of here before you can even get your ass off that couch.
How to use the clear message format
The elements need not be delivered in a set order. Make sure to word the message to represent your particular speaking style. You don’t want to sound robotic or like you’re reading from a text on assertive conversation. Take your time so you can get it right and remember – the less wordy you can be the more effective your message will be.
Pulling it all together
Describe behaviour: The TV is very loud.
Interpretation: I wonder if you are aware of how distracting it is.
Feeling: I feel frustrated.
Consequences: I can’t get my work done.
Intention: Please turn the TV down.
Easy, breezy – right? Oh, if only. But seriously, the Saying What Matters lady urges you to learn the steps and give it a try. Sure, it will sound mechanical at first. It will seem awkward. But if you get this down to an art, delivering your message in an assertive and clear way will make a difference in conflict situations. I’m not saying the other person will always respond as you might wish they would. The difference will be for you. You’ll know you are doing all that you can do to handle the situation well. That puts a very different light on the other person’s behaviour.
Use the talents you have. You will make it. You will give joy to the world. Take this tip from nature: The woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except those who sang best. (Bernard Meltzer)
For your enjoyment today, stunning bird photography compliments of Father Charles Brandt.