This is the best formula for assertive communication:
I feel [emotion] when you [action]. What I would prefer is [alternate action].
I feel ignored when you come home from work and play with the kids before saying hello to me. I would prefer if you came home and said “hi” and we could talk about our day.
Assertive communication respects both you and your partner and can be learned. Continue reading for a breakdown of how this works.
How does assertive communication work?
The first part “I feel [emotion]” takes it out of the aggressive or passive realms right away. “I” statements do not place blame on others and gives a voice and ownership to our feelings or perceptions. This is very important. We must take ownership of our own thoughts and feelings. It is important to realize that not everyone in the world would feel what we feel in response to what has just been said or taken place. In the above example, some people may feel relieved that their partner is spending time with the kids so they can get started on dinner or have a few minutes to themselves.
The next part “when you [action]” needs to be very specific. What exactly did the person say or do that you are responding to? Whatever you fill in the blank with should be limited to a sentence or two. It should be objective, something that if 10 people saw or heard it, they would all describe it the same exact way. In the above example, it is stated in 16 words and takes only seconds to say. If 10 other people observed the situation, they would all see the same thing.
The last part of the statement is “what I would like for you to do instead is [alternate action].” This should also be said in as few words as possible. This part often gets left out. Most people are pretty good at identifying a problem or something they don’t like, but they don’t give the other person a clue as to what it is that they would like for them to do instead. Now, you may be thinking “Well, isn’t it obvious?” It may be to you, but not to the other person. Of course, we can only REQUEST a change; we cannot MAKE others change. In the above example what is wanted is stated as a request.
Remember, the goal here is to talk to each other. Keeping this in mind, it is now time to look at the other part of communicating – listening. Click here to learn more about listening in relationships.
Sharon S. Bremer, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
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