Many clients that I have come into contact with have seemed to struggle with a very basic relationship skill – communication. This seemed to pose a problem for them with developing and maintaining healthy relationships. It has become apparent to me that communication is not a skill that everyone is born with, but rather effective communication skills need to be taught. Many people are raised in homes where healthy and effective communication are not modeled and therefore, they grow up with a rather unhealthy skill set to use in their adult relationships.
There are four main types of communication:
Passive – The passive communicator feels safe by not taking any risks. They believe that by not saying much, they won’t make any mistakes or show their true thoughts and feelings. This person tends to be very dependent and gives up being themselves. They would often say that what happens or the choices that need to be made don’t matter to them (even though they do) and let others decide for them.
Passive-Aggressive – Someone who communicates in this form tends to try and avoid conflict by appearing to agree. The Passive-Aggressive communicator can appear to be non-aggressive, however they tend to manipulate the relationship and hold feelings of anger and resentment. This person would often say that something doesn’t bother them, but then when it happens, they sulk or put the other person through a guilt trip.
Aggressive – The aggressive communicator feels safe by using tactics that will guarantee them the results they want. They remain in control through intimidation and fear. This person demand what they want and will show anger when they don’t get it. This type of communication can become very abusive in nature.
Assertive – Assertive Communication is the healthiest way to communicate. This type of communication allows a person to feel valued and show respect to others. Both parties would feel protected and safe while sharing their feelings.
I would always encourage my clients to strive to achieve an Assertive level of communication to allow them to communicate effectively without either ignoring their own feelings or ignoring someone else’s feelings. Some characteristics of Assertive Communication are standing up for oneself without putting someone else down, expressing ones true feelings without any fear, saying what you mean directly, asking for things you need or are entitled too, saying no to unreasonable demands or something that makes you uncomfortable.
One skill to use in professional and personal relationships is called the Assertiveness Formula. This formula allows someone to express themselves in an assertive way and ask for what they need without fear and without putting someone else down. It prevents us from pointing fingers at others and starts conversations with I. Often I see couples trying to communicate by immediately placing blame or using “YOU” statements. This only increases the other person’s defensiveness and usually ends up in both parties blaming each other.
The Assertiveness Formula is:
I FEEL ____________ (identify the emotions or feelings)
WHEN YOU ___________ (identify specific behaviour of others), and
I NEED ____________ (make a request for a change in behaviour)
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?
By owning our own emotions, it allows the other person to hear what we are saying and can often respond with empathy rather than defensiveness. Try this skill at home and reach out to a calgary counsellor for some help in developing more skills in this area.
Aziza Giga-Hirji MSW, RSW specializes in the areas of stress management and communication, as well as many others. For more information on Aziza, her work, or other articles she’s written for Living Well click here to link to her full bio page.