The ability to communicate effectively is one of the biggest factors contributing to success. Part of good communication is self-awareness. Do you have trouble saying no? Find yourself trying to please others and/or putting others’ needs above your own? Think it is important not to make waves? Get irritable or lose your temper when you feel unheard? These can be signs that you could benefit from communicating more assertively. Assertive communication is the ability to express your feelings and needs openly and honestly without being aggressive.
• Body language sends a message, not only to others, but to you. If you are hunched over, avoiding eye contact and talking quietly you are sending a completely different message than if your body posture is erect, you are facing the person directly and you are making eye contact – and that is before you even say anything!
• Using a calm steady tone of voice sends an assertive message. Whining and talking softly or yelling and arguing send the opposite message.
• Communicate with ‘I’ messages. Rather than “You never listen to me” you might say “I feel hurt when you don’t pay attention to what I am saying.”
• Send direct messages. Don’t expect the other person to read between the lines or hear what you really want to say. – Eliminate “should” and “have to” statements and substitute that with “choose to” or “want to” statements. – Avoid qualifying statements such as “This probably sounds silly” or tag questions such as “Is that okay?” – Be nonjudgmental. Statements that blame or insinuate will only get the other person into a defensive mode.
• Focus on behaviours not personal attributes. Rather than “You are such a slob” you might say “Will you please keep the bathroom clean and tidy”. Stick to factual information.
• Stick to the present. Bringing up past behaviour or old arguments will likely get right back to old patterns of communication. Focus on the behaviour you are concerned about now.
• Be prepared to repeat your message. Don’t get sucked into arguing, having to explain yourself or giving up. You often have to use the “broken record technique” which means repeating your point in a calm, even manner.
• Deal with criticism without taking it personally or buying into it. Making excuses or feeling like you have to explain your performance can lower your selfesteem. Instead, leave it at statements such as “You are right, I did not do my best work on that assignment.” Evaluate criticism to see if it is justified. If the criticism is valid look at how you can use it to improve; if it is not valid or important, ignore it.
• Learn to say “No”. Don’t feel you need to elaborate or justify. If you are unsure if you want to do something don’t commit right away. (e.g. “I’ll check my calendar and get back to you” or “I’m not sure. I’ll let you know later”). Take some time to think about where your boundaries are in various areas of your life and then stick to them. If you find yourself becoming irritable or angry it is often a sign that you have been too passive or that you are going outside of your boundaries.
• Learn from the past. You can’t expect your communication to change overnight. Evaluate how you feel after an interaction. If you don’t feel good about yourself think about what you could have said or done differently, and then mentally rehearse a more assertive response. And if you know an uncomfortable interaction is coming up, mentally rehearse your assertive response beforehand.
It isn’t always appropriate to use assertive communication. And it doesn’t always work to get you what you want. But practice becoming aware of when you are feeling unheard, mistreated or unsatisfied with results, and gradually take steps to increase appropriate assertive communication.
Counsellors at NAIT Student Counselling are available to help you with this, or other personal or academic problems.
If you would like further assistance book an appointment:
Counselling is free to registered NAIT students and is completely confidential. Book an appointment at Student Counselling. Personal counselling is free, confidential and available to all currently registered NAIT students.
Main Campus: Counsellors are available from 8-4:30 with extended hours for apprentices. Book in person at Room W-111PB in the HP Centre or by phoning 780-378-6133.
Souch Campus: Counsellor available Wednesdays and Thursdays. Book by calling 780-378-6133 or in person in Room Z-153.
Patricia Campus: Counsellor available Mondays and Tuesdays. Book by calling 780-378-6133.
– Margaret Marean, NAIT Student Counselling