Assertive communication, a crucial DBT skill in interpersonal effectiveness, involves expressing opinions, emotions, and needs clearly and respectfully. Our focus will be on six assertiveness skills, divided into two parts. For individuals with a more passive communication style, adopting assertiveness may initially appear too aggressive.
Understanding Your Priorities
Before seeking something specific from a relationship, it's crucial to identify your desires. Initially, clarity might elude you, so a helpful approach is to tune into your emotions. Are you gravitating towards one aspect more than another? Do you sense a void? Pay attention to these cues.
Consider a significant relationship and engage your Wise Mind. Ask yourself what you truly need. Is it support, a desire to reciprocate love, or perhaps more quality time together? Do you need to establish clearer boundaries or assertively decline a request? It could be something entirely different; reflect on it.
On the worksheet, jot down your priorities. Don't worry if you think of more than one. After listing them, assess their importance on a scale of 1-5.
Relationship: My relationship with my daughter.
1. I want her to be more obedient and listen to what I say. (5)
2. I want to know more about what's happening in her life. (4)
3. I want her to recognize my efforts to be the best mom I can be. (3)
Requesting Your Desires
Once you've identified your priorities, the next step involves articulating your needs. The most effective approach is to describe the situation without judgment or assigning blame. Present the facts objectively and express your feelings about the situation. Then, assertively communicate what you require.
Consider a significant relationship, possibly the same one from the previous step. Is there a desire for more or less of something? Is there an additional element you wish to introduce into the relationship? While asking for what you want is essential, it's equally crucial to preserve the relationship. Envision how you would formulate your request and document it in the worksheet.
Asking for What I Want: I might say to my daughter, "As a young girl, you still need guidance. I respect your need for space and time with friends, yet I feel responsible for your well-being. What I'm asking is for you to heed my advice more and trust that I only want the best for you."
Continuing the Communication Flow
In this phase, we persist in our journey and turn our attention to gathering information from the other person—an integral aspect of the assertiveness method's six steps.
Seek to understand their opinions, thoughts, needs, and fears. Interpersonal effectiveness thrives on fair and respectful treatment of both parties. Be cautious of hasty assumptions or being preoccupied with your own fears; strive to be present and mindful. Cultivate genuine curiosity about the other person.
Consider a need you wish to communicate in a significant relationship. Envision how you would navigate this step. What questions would you pose to uncover their stance on the matter? How would you extract information about their thoughts, emotions, and needs?
Ben aims to convey to his boss that he often lacks sufficient break time at work. Having already expressed his request respectfully, he now focuses on articulating the information-gathering step. He plans to ask his boss the following questions:
"What are your thoughts on my request?"
"I'm curious to understand your perspective on this."
Declining Requests with Relationship Care
Assertively saying no to certain requests is a valuable tool for establishing healthy boundaries and meeting your needs in a given situation. Despite the common tendency to feel guilty about setting boundaries, fearing potential anger from others, this skill is crucial for safeguarding relationships and ensuring long-term quality.
It's essential to note that delivering a no in a passive or aggressive manner can harm the relationship. Consider the relationship from the previous step and practice articulating a no to some of the requests the other person might have. Record your responses in the worksheet.
After discovering the reasons behind his boss's reluctance to allow ample break time, Ben proceeded to say no while setting a healthy boundary:
"I understand that our company operates in a competitive environment, striving for efficiency. However, if I constantly feel overworked and fatigued, the risk of burnout increases, ultimately impacting my productivity. I'd appreciate working together to find a solution that allows me to maintain quality work."
Aligning Actions with Values
When communicating our needs, it's beneficial to consider our values and morals in two dimensions:
1) Values underlying the request: Reflect on the honest motivation and reason behind your request. Being mindful of these values is crucial for truthful and transparent communication. It could be as straightforward as, "Let's avoid having lunch in the park due to my severe allergies," or more complex, such as, "Discussing my friend Sarah behind her back makes me uncomfortable." What values are guiding your actions in the situation? What holds significance for you?
2) Values shaping relationships: Contemplate the type of relationship you aim to cultivate. Relationships built on dishonest intents and motivations seldom result in meaningful connections.
As Ben strives for mindfulness regarding his request, he uncovers the importance of his mental health. Preventing resentment at work and maintaining optimal job performance are crucial values for him. Equally important is avoiding communication that is either aggressive or passive, aligning with his commitment to open and respectful dialogue.
Skills of assertiveness play a pivotal role in psychotherapy, serving as a cornerstone for effective communication and personal empowerment. In therapeutic settings, individuals often grapple with expressing their needs, setting boundaries, and navigating interpersonal dynamics. Assertiveness skills provide clients with the tools to articulate their thoughts, emotions, and desires openly and authentically, fostering a deeper understanding of themselves and their relationships. Therapists guide clients in developing assertiveness to enhance self-advocacy, improve self-esteem, and cultivate healthier connections. By integrating assertiveness training into psychotherapeutic approaches, therapists empower individuals to navigate life's challenges with confidence, ultimately contributing to personal growth and positive interpersonal experiences.