What is Assertive Communication?
Clients don’t usually come to me and say that they’d like to work on being more assertive. I think this is because there isn’t a very good understanding of what assertive communication is. However, assertive communication (or the lack of it) is often related to many other concerns that clients do want to work on such as:
- improving their boundaries between work life and personal life
- decreasing their stress levels
- learning to better deal with conflict and confrontation
- finding ways to better communicate with their team or clients
- learning how to say NO
- navigating difficulties in relationships with their kids, partner, or employees
- improving their confidence and self-esteem
- …and more!
The Stage Metaphor of Assertiveness
For many of my clients, explaining the “stage metaphor of assertiveness” is when it clicks for them that the problems they want to work on together do connect to their communication style and that assertive communication is exactly what they need as an entrepreneur. It’s also a great metaphor to use to connect the dots between their concerns that may appear unrelated. I’ve actually had clients say to me-
“This metaphor works for everything, doesn’t it?”
While it doesn’t actually apply to every single concern that comes up in the work with my clients, I do find it very helpful for most of the people I work with. If you’re struggling with any of the concerns I mentioned above, read through the explanation below, to learn more about this metaphor and how it explains the three types of communication styles.
The Metaphor: Explained
Imagine an auditorium with a stage and seats in the audience. The three main categories of communication styles can all play out in this auditorium and this is what they look like:
Someone who is communicating aggressively stands on the stage and wants the stage all to themselves. They’re the only ones who deserve space on the stage and push others off of the stage. Often people who communicate aggressively do so because they’ve previously been pushed off the stage themselves. They’re trying to reclaim their space on the stage but haven’t learned a healthy way to do so. This might show up by them saying that their ideas are the only way, refusing to listen to others’ ideas, and criticizing or bullying others.
Someone who is communicating passively is sitting in the audience. They believe that they don’t deserve to be on the stage. However, they’re often unaware that they hold this belief. People who communicate passively often do so in order to not hurt other people or to avoid conflict. They don’t want to push anyone off the stage. But they end up putting other people’s needs above their own, which often means they’re stepping off of the stage and communicating to themselves that they don’t deserve to have a space up there. Over time this can erode a person’s sense of self-worth and confidence.
This type of communication is the ideal to strive for. Someone who communicates assertively recognizes that everyone deserves to have space up on the stage. We all deserve to share our opinions and express our emotions. They also often tend to believe more in community over competition. Sometimes we may offend or disappoint someone else when we communicate assertively, but as long as we are being respectful and not pushing someone off the stage then it’s ok. Someone who communicates assertively also sees that the stage is very large and there is enough space to agree to disagree and go to separate sides of the stage if needed.
What Communication Style Do You Recognize In Yourself?
After reading through those descriptions, did one of them ring true for you? You might notice that with certain people you communicate in one way and with others you communicate in a different way. Or maybe there is a difference in your personal life vs. your professional life.
Many of the entrepreneurs I work with are expats, immigrants, or location independent. When you’re outside your home country or culture, or communicating in a language you feel less comfortable in, it may affect your communication style. Any time we’re trying to “fit in” somewhere it’s likely that we may accidentally step off of the stage. This makes sense at times, but in the long run may affect your feelings of self-worth and confidence. If you notice that you’re repeatedly stepping off the stage, it may be time to reach out to a professional to start finding ways to increase your assertive communication.
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