In the preceding blocks, attention has been given to the role of the listener and the use of Active Listening Skills to encourage meaningful discussion and develop understanding of the other person’s point of view and needs. It is now important to consider the responsibility of the speaker to use effective Speaking Skills to disclose and explain his or her own perspective and interests in a way that can be heard and understood by another individual.
In this block, you will…
- explore the difference between passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive behaviours.
- be introduced to a model that can be used to create an assertive message.
- practice assertive expression.
- gain an understanding of the purpose of feedback.
- practice giving and receiving feedback.
In everyday interaction, individuals commonly respond in one of four ways: passively, aggressively, passively aggressive or assertively.
|not reacting visibly to something that might be expected to produce an emotion or feeling.
“Could you please look over this paperwork for me?”
|inclined to behave in an actively hostile manner.
“Could you please look over this paperwork for me?”
“I didn’t do it good enough the first time for you? Are you saying there’s something wrong with my work?”
|the expression of negative feelings, resentment and aggression in an unassertive way (such as procrastination or stubbornness).
“Could you please look over this paperwork for me?”
“I guess…” [with a sigh or eye roll]
|able to positively state with assurance, confidence or force, his or her own belief or position.
“Could you please look over this paperwork for me?” “Absolutely, as soon as I have the time.”
We have already learned that people in conflict often blame, attack, engage in aggressive and competitive behaviour, or avoid confrontation altogether. However, whenever it’s appropriate, we want to be able to respond in a way that communicates our reactions clearly, without retaliating in a similar manner or becoming defensive.
In other words, as you become more skilled, your goal will be to behave assertively to depersonalize the issue, stop the unproductive behaviour, and get back on track, so you can work with others to solve the problem.
Communicating assertively involves both nonverbal behaviour and verbal skills.
Assertiveness is conveyed through physical presence and actions such as . . .
|standing or sitting up, on the same level as the other person, facing him or her, respecting personal space
|looking directly at the other person while being aware of cultural differences
|an expression that is congruent with the message
|calm, well-modulated, conversational
|appropriate for emphasis but non-threatening
Principles of Assertiveness
Examples of relationships where it might be difficult to assert yourself effectively are when dealing with authority figures (such as teachers, doctors, or police officers), employers or supervisors, relatives, close friends, children, or your spouse. Situations where it can be difficult to assert yourself can include accepting or giving a compliment, being interviewed, giving instructions, protesting criticism, asserting a difference of opinion, and saying no to requests of your time or money.
However, it is important to note that lack of assertiveness can be the result of poor self-esteem, discomfort or being unsure how to handle a situation. Regardless of the cause, living a non-assertive life may be extremely stressful because other people may bully you or feel bullied by you or you may not be able to get the results you want. You may end up taking more than your fair share of work or responsibilities or end up being resented for not doing your fair share or taking responsibility.
Here are 12 tenets that, if followed, will lead to assertive behaviour:
1. Take responsibility for what you say.
2. Speak only for yourself.
3. Allow the other to speak for him/herself.
4. Say what you think.
5. Say how you feel.
6. Avoid putting yourself down.
7. Avoid putting others down.
8. Hear the other’s point of view.
9. Hear what the other has to say about you. Accept feedback about your behaviour.
10. Listen and observe, then reflect back to the other your most accurate restatement of his or her feelings and thoughts (active listening).
11. Pay attention to the present moment. Avoid dragging in the past.
Theory: Behaviour Description
Describing behaviour is a means of letting another person know what behaviour we are reacting to, by describing it clearly and without inferences as to his or her motives. Very often we presume to know why someone is behaving in a certain way, based on the reaction we have. For instance, if we get irritated we may think that they are trying to annoy us.
When we speak from that assumption, we tend to increase feelings of defensiveness in others. Listen to the difference …
|“Stop trying to intimidate me!”
“I’m finding it very difficult to listen when voices are raised.”
Similarly, if we judge or assign blame to another person, we are likely to trigger a negative reaction.
|“When you behave so rudely …”
“When I am talking and I am interrupted…”
In the first statement of each example, the other person is very likely to be offended and react negatively; whereas in the second version, we are taking responsibility for our own reaction and describing the impact on us personally.
Guidelines for Behaviour Description
- Describe what you see and hear; limit your comments to only what is observable.
- Be clear and specific.
- Be objective; avoid judging or blaming.
- Be concise.
- Address the important issues.
- Address the person who is involved.
Using “I” Language
Using “I” statements enables us to help a listener understand what feelings and reactions we are experiencing. With “I” statements we take ownership of our feelings and our part in the conflict, as opposed to “You” statements which tend to place the blame and responsibility on others. You are more likely to use I messages if you work on speaking only for yourself, stating what you see and hear specifically, saying what you think, saying how you feel, and describing what you want or need. Notice the difference in the examples below.
|“You never listen to me.”
“I want to explain my point.”
|“You never let me say anything.”
|I’m frustrated because I want an opportunity to say more about what I think.
|“You make me furious.”
|“You intimidate me.”
|“I feel intimidated.”
|Your attitude toward me is unacceptable.
|I would like to improve our working relationship.
“I” language is assertive, rather than aggressive. It provides an opportunity for expression of our views and feelings, and does not cross over into judging, accusing, or analyzing others. “I” language is less likely to provoke defensive or aggressive responses or cause conflict to escalate.
Guidelines for “I” Language
- Speak for yourself: state your own observations, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.
- Describe your primary feeling, taking care to accurately reflect the intensity.
- Be genuine.
- Express your feelings in ways that indicate you are accountable for your own experience.
- Request co-operative behaviour.
When speaking with others to address differences or resolve conflict, it is important to state our goals, intentions, needs, and our commitment to an inclusive, collaborative approach to achieve mutual benefit.
Theory: DESC Model
The DESC model can be used to express yourself assertively, to give feedback, when disengaging from a situation, and to clarify.
Take care to use language which is clear, specific, and positive and be sure to do these four things, which make up the following Assertive Expression Formula also known as the DESC Model.
|Use objective, observable, non-judgmental language to describe the other person’s behaviour and circumstances. Describe what you are hearing, seeing, smelling, etc.
|Describe the effect the behaviour or situation is having on you using I language.
|State your intention or need
|Describe the positive outcome for both yourself and the other party
|When I hear/see _____________________________
“When I began to speak a moment ago, I was interrupted.”
|I feel ___________________________
“I’m feeling annoyed because I’m thinking I’m not being heard.”
|I would appreciate it if ____________________________
“I’d like us to try to hear each other’s point of view.”
|Then we will be able to ___________________________
“In that way, I think we might both feel respected.”
We have examined how to explore to determine another person’s interests by identifying issues, asking open-ended questions, probing for more information, and reframing negative fears and concerns into positive needs and values.
However, to disclose your own interests effectively requires that you first prepare yourself by developing a meaningful degree of self-awareness. Thinking back to disclosing your own interests using PEACH BFVNs, determine the following:
What are your needs?
How much are they motivating you?
Which interests are of highest priority in this situation?
What are you worried about?
What confuses you or requires clarification?
What do you fear?
How strong are your feelings?
What do you want to disclose? What are you worried about sharing?
What degree of confusion are you experiencing? What do you need clarified?
What is your emotional state? Why do you think you are experiencing particular feelings?
How effective will your self-talk be in managing your emotions?
Intention or Thought
What do you need to think about or prepare?
What is the worst possible scenario? How valid is it?
What has led you to hold the interests you hold? How did this interest become important?
Tell a story to the other party so they can really understand why your interests are important to you.
As you prepare, be aware that both the number of disclosures as well as the depth of sharing are important. For instance, we cannot expect another person to trust us with their deepest concerns or values if we are not prepared to reciprocate with something of equal importance to us.
Take care to explain yourself clearly and provide examples wherever possible to facilitate understanding. Your responsibility is to give enough information that your words will realistically convey what is important to you and why. It is also important that you think about how you model behaviour in terms of presentation, manner of speaking, and language, to make sure that your meaning is congruent with what you are conveying.
Take responsibility for your own reactions, be open, respectful, and take responsibility for your own reactions, being careful to avoid blaming or judging.
Shifting from Positions to Interests
Consider the diagram below which illustrates the relative relationships and desired movement from positions to issues to interests to agreement within four phases of the interest-based model.
A Goal Statement is a summary of interests unique to each party in the conversation, as well as the interests they share.
The goal statement serves as a transition between the third and fourth phase of the interest-based model. It moves the conversation from the “seeking/sharing understanding” phase to the “finding a resolution” phase. Creative options generated by both parties in Phase 4 are then tested back or measured against the interests identified in the Goal Statement. If the options meet the interests identified to the greatest degree possible, then it is likely the options are sound. If the options fail to address the interests identified, then it is likely any agreements will fall apart.
The Goal Statement also links the interests to the topic/issue under discussion.
A Goal Statement sounds like the following:
- Given that we both value ______and it’s important to you that ______ and it’s important to me that_______, our challenge is now to come up with options that will resolve the issue of ______while meeting both of our needs to greatest degree possible.
- You have indicated that ______is important to you, and for me what is important is ______. Both of us agree that we value_____. Regarding the issue of ______what ideas do you have to resolve the situation that will meet both of our needs to the greatest degree possible?
- What’s important to me around the (topic) is _______ and you’ve shared that you value ________. Through our conversation we have also identified that __________ is important to us both. Let’s look at ways we might address the (topic) that will satisfy both our needs to the greatest degree possible.
- When it comes to our relationship as neighbors, we both value respect, kindness and inclusivity. You’ve identified that peace of mind and understanding are important to you, while safety and a sense of order are important to me. Given our identified values around our relationship as neighbors, let’s figure out how to best meet our needs .
Jampolsky, G. M.D., & Cirincione, D. V. (1993). Change your Mind, Change Your Life. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
© 2014 ADR Institute of Alberta
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