We often find ourselves navigating complex situations where our wants and needs feel unnoticed, unacknowledged, or unfulfilled — in both personal and professional contexts. Learning how to recognize and respond to your own needs is a dynamic and lifelong process, but might not be something you think or talk about all that often. Many people struggle with being passive or aggressive (or passive-aggressive!) when it comes to the fulfillment of their business or social needs, for a litany of reasons learned from our life experiences. Maybe you were raised to value politeness to a fault, or you struggle with low self-esteem; both can result in a belief that other peoples’ needs are more important than your own.
Finding a balanced and assertive approach can make all the difference in getting what you need and improving your relationships both at work and at home.
Here are three quick steps towards more assertive communication:
1 – Recognize
Notice, acknowledge, and label your needs. By acknowledging the validity of your feelings, you are telling yourself that you matter. Practicing this inward empathy will help you to be more empowered, and ultimately more successful in clearly communicating your needs to others.
2 – Prepare
Thinking through the “how” of asking for what you need is the next step. Using “I” statements, rather than questions or “you” statements, can be a great way to demonstrate confidence and minimize defensive reactions. Practicing in front of a mirror can help you to also polish your nonverbal communication, such as eye contact and posture, and will help you feel more prepared and confident.
3 – Communicate
Now that you’ve recognized your needs and prepared a strategy for asserting yourself, it’s time to execute your plan with confidence. Be prepared to step back to allow others’ to respond to your statement or request. Monitor your own thoughts and feelings about the situation and take time to be intentional and not reactionary.
Remember that assertiveness differs from aggression in that assertiveness values everyone’s needs and is solutions-focused. Maintaining this perspective should help you to ensure that you are walking the line of assertive communication.
Katelyn is a therapist and clinical supervisor with Peaceful Way Psychology, specializing in anxiety and relationship issues.