What does it take to communicate honestly with other people?
First of all, it takes knowing your own mind. But when it comes to communicating honestly with others, knowing yourself isn’t enough. Communicating with others is a skill – but not necessarily a skill we’re born with!
Of course some people are natural-born communicators, but most of us aren’t. But even if you weren’t born a communicator, don’t despair – there’s still hope. Fortunately for us, communicating honestly, openly and directly is a skill we can all learn. And in this connection, learning to be assertive is a key factor.
Expressing Yourself Assertively
So how do we express ourselves assertively when disagreement arises? What does it mean?
First of all, when you disagree with someone, state your position or point of view as clearly as you can. No need to get upset. Try to be present and firm. But don’t expect the other person to agree with you!
Being assertive doesn’t have anything to do with winning arguments or being right. Being assertive is about honestly expressing your point of view and taking care of yourself. It’s not about winning and losing. So state your position clearly – and be willing to hear the other person’s point of view.
When you have stated your position, don’t expect the other person to agree with you. He or she probably won’t. When the other person has stated their position, don’t be afraid to repeat your own position or point of view again, kindly but firmly.
When you see or hear that the other person does not agree with you, don’t attack or criticize him or her. Just stay in your own business and repeat your own position. Remember – you are responsible for your feelings and opinions about the matter. The other person is responsible for his or her feelings and opinions about the matter. Each person has a right to his/her feelings and opinions.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to offer explanations or excuses for your choices, opinions, beliefs or behavior. (You might want to explain but you don’t have to. Remember you have the right to be you!)
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In most disagreements, the best possible outcome is what is called a ‘workable compromise’ – in other words a solution that both parties can accept. So it’s not a question of right or wrong or of one person winning and the other losing. It’s more about finding a way to deal with the matter that both people can live with if possible. (And sometimes it’s just not possible. That’s also reality.)
It is also important in disagreements to show the other person that you recognize them and hear what they are saying. You don’t want to make the other person wrong just because he/she doesn’t agree with you – and you don’t want to make yourself wrong either. But you do want to acknowledge that you hear the other person’s point of view and respect their feelings about the matter. This is the respectful, yet assertive way to be.
And finally, remember you don’t need to agree with the other person to find a workable compromise. Once both parties understand each other’s position, it can be much easier to find a solution that both parties can accept.
So to summarize, here are the main points to keep in mind:
– State your position as clearly as you can.
– Be kind but firm.
– Don’t expect the other person to agree with you.
– Be willing to hear the other person’s point of view.
– Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself, kindly but firmly.
– Don’t attack or criticize the other person. (Stick to the matter at hand.)
– Stay in your own business.
– You are responsible for your opinion and feelings about the matter.
– The other person is responsible for his/her opinion and feelings about the matter.
– You don’t need to offer explanations or excuses for your choices, opinions or behavior.
– Show the other person you hear what they are saying.
– Don’t make the other person wrong just because he/she doesn’t agree with you.
– Don’t make yourself wrong (or criticize or excuse yourself).
– Remember, you don’t need to agree with the other person to find a workable compromise.
Things You Can Say
When you are having this kind of discussion, here are some good ways to acknowledge the other person’s point of view while maintaining your own rights, position, and point of view. You can say things like:
– I can understand how you might feel that way and I prefer...
– You could be right and I would rather...
– I can understand your point of view and I believe...
– I really appreciate your feelings (point of view) in this matter and I think...
– I agree with much of what you are saying and I prefer...
– I can sympathize with what you are saying and I would rather...
– I appreciate your thinking of me and the answer is still no.
Asking For What You Want
Another side of being assertive is to learn to ask for what you want. You have the right to be you and to want what you want. People who are assertive understand this and are not afraid to ask for what they want. They are clear that the worst thing that can happen if they ask for what they want is a “no”! As a result, it’s not so dangerous to ask for what you want when you understand this.
People who are non-assertive are often afraid to ask for what they want. So instead they try to get what they want by trying to manipulate other people. What do I mean by manipulating? I mean situations where one person is trying to get another person to do something they want by trying to make the other person feel guilty. Or by appealing to some arbitrary code of behavior or so-called norm instead of just asking straight out for what they want.
If you are in doubt about manipulation, you can be pretty sure someone is trying to manipulate you if instead of asking you directly for what he or she wants, the other person is trying to get you to do what they want by trying to make you feel guilty, anxious, or ignorant. If you look closely, you will see they are probably doing this by appealing to some ‘higher’ code of right and wrong that you are supposed to know about but apparently don’t! This type of behavior occurs because we haven’t learned to be assertive and simply ask for what we want. One of the areas where this can be a big problem is in our relationships.
Arbitrary Codes of Behavior
People have all kinds of arbitrary rules and codes of behavior when it comes to the way things ‘should’ be done in relationships. As a result, we may get into trouble with our partners because we have somehow unknowingly violated one of their arbitrary codes of behavior or rules. Codes and arbitrary rules, which we weren’t aware of to begin with – and which we might not agree with if we were aware of them!
The list of unspoken, unwritten arbitrary rules that people have and use to try to manipulate and control each other is unfortunately rather long. This is why it is so important to try to uncover these belief systems and arbitrary rules and investigate them since they are motivating so much of our behavior. When we get a little clarity about these issues, a lot of unnecessary disagreement and drama can be avoided.
When you feel someone is trying to manipulate you, a good way to avoid being manipulated and uncover what’s really going on is negative inquiry. When you use negative inquiry, it means that instead of getting defensive when the other person tries to manipulate you or make you feel guilty, you respond by asking questions.
Here’s an example of how negative inquiry works. Let’s say you want to spend some time alone this weekend. Your partner is upset because you want to spend time alone this weekend and tries to manipulate you by making you feel guilty for wanting what you want. Using negative inquiry, you can respond to his/her criticism with questions such as:
– I don’t understand why my wanting to spend some time alone is making you unhappy.
– What is wrong with me wanting to spend some time alone this weekend?
– I don’t understand why something like this upsets you.
– Why does my wanting to spend some time alone this weekend make you unhappy?
– I hear what you are saying, but why does my wanting to spend time alone upset you?
When you ask questions like this, you prompt the other person to explain why they are feeling as they do. When he or she answers, you may discover, for example, that your partner feels insecure when this situation arises because he/she equates your wanting to be alone with not loving him or her. This uninvestigated belief may be causing your partner a lot of anguish about something, which is just not true. You do love your partner and you still want to spend some time alone. In your mind, these two things are not connected; but in your partner’s mind they are. As a result, a misunderstanding has arisen.
By means of negative inquiry, you can bring this belief to light and hopefully clear up the misunderstanding. You can assure your partner that you really do love him/her and still want to have some time alone!
Another spin on the above scenario could be that your partner thinks that since you are a couple, you ‘should’ spend all your free time together. But who says people who are in love should spend all their free time together? Again, this is another interesting belief that may be causing a lot of anguish in a relationship. Regardless of what your negative inquiry uncovers, bringing uninvestigated beliefs out in the open can be a great help and clear up misunderstandings.
© Barbara Berger. Reprinted with permission.
Are You Happy Now? 10 Ways to Live a Happy Life
by Barbara Berger.
What is preventing you from being happy now? Is it your partner, your health, your job, your financial situation or your weight? Or is it all the things you think you “should” do? Barbara Berger takes a look at all the things we think and do that prevent us from living happy lives now.
About the Author
Barbara Berger has written over 15 self-empowerment books, including the international bestseller "The Road to Power / Fast Food for the Soul" (published in 30 languages), "Are You Happy Now? 10 Ways to Live a Happy Life" (more than 20 languages) and “The Awakening Human Being – A Guide to the Power of Mind”. American-born, Barbara now lives and works in Copenhagen, Denmark. In addition to her books, she offers private coaching sessions to individuals who wish to work intensely with her (in her office in Copenhagen or on Skype and telephone for people who live far away from Copenhagen). For more about Barbara Berger, see her Web site: www.beamteam.com