Saturday, December 4, 2010

Getting your needs met with Assertive Communication

It’s hard to find the right way to discuss issues within our stepfamilies. We don’t want to come off as bossy or wicked, and at the same time we get treated like doormats if we don’t stand up for ourselves.

Nagging gets us nowhere—how many times have we heard “I don’t have to do what you say, you’re not my real mom”? Yelling doesn’t work, either. Our partners resent us for being mean to their kids, and his children just feel more justified in acting out towards us.

The solution is to find the right middle ground: assertive communication.

Neither passive nor aggressive, assertive communication involves stating your thoughts, needs, and feelings in a manner that is direct and pointed but at the same time respectful and diplomatic. Assertive communication is especially useful for dealing with difficult people and situations because it clearly communicates information between the parties involved without escalating emotions.

Importantly, as this article by the University of Iowa mentions, assertiveness is “the ability to honestly express your opinions, feelings, attitudes, and rights, without undue anxiety.” It’s certainly a lot easier to confront a frustrating situation when you can talk about it without it becoming a big emotional blow up.

I’m really enthusiastic about encouraging stepmoms to practice assertive communication because not only is it an effective way to set boundaries and get your needs met, but is also respects the child and appeals to his/her desire to be taken seriously as an equal member of the family. On top of that, assertive speaking communicates authority and garners respect—two things all of us stepmoms can appreciate.

Here are some examples of assertive communication techniques from the website “Learning to be Assertive" by the University of Texas:

1. Basic Assertion

This is a simple, straightforward expression of your beliefs, feelings, or opinions. It's usually a simple "I want" or "I feel" statement.

2. Empathic Assertion

This conveys some sensitivity to the other person. It usually contains two parts- a recognition of the other person's situation or feelings, followed by a statement in which you stand up for your rights.

"I know you've really been busy, but I want to feel that our relationship is important to you. I want you to make time for me and for us."

3. Escalating Assertion

This occurs when the other person fails to respond to your basic assertion and continues to violate your rights. You gradually escalate the assertion and become increasingly firm. It may even include the mention of some type of resulting action on your part, made only after several basic assertive statements. For example, "If you don't complete the work on my car by 5:00 tomorrow, I'll be forced to call the Better Business Bureau."

4. I-Language Assertion

This is especially useful for expressing negative feelings. It involves a 3-part statement:

· When you do . . . (describe the behavior)
· The effects are . . . (describe how the behavior concretely affects you)
· I'd prefer. . . (describe what you want)

The real focus in I-Language Assertion is on the "I feel," "I want" part of the statement. When expressing anger, often the tendency is to blame the other person, fly off the handle and get caught up in the emotion. I-Language Assertion can help you constructively focus that anger and be clear about your own feelings.

Example: When you didn't buy the groceries like you said you would, I couldn't cook the dinner for my parents. I feel hurt and angry with you. Next time, I'd like you to follow through when you agree to do something like. that."
Assertive listening is another important part of assertive communication. Assertive listening involves making sure you understand what the other person is saying and making sure that they feel heard. Some examples from the article "Assertiveness Skills" include:

I'd like to hear your views on....
I'm confused about your stand on....
Would you tell me more about how you see the situation?
I heard you say _____________, did I understand you correctly?
Your view is _______________________, is that right?
I know first-hand that communicating assertively can feel intimidating if you’re not used to it. If you feel nervous about being so direct with your partner and stepchildren, try practicing some of these phrases with your friends first.

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