What does Assertive Communication look and sound like?

Often, we’re encouraged to “Be better at your communication” or “why are you being so passive-aggressive”. The reality is that from a very young age most often we’re taught to look at the ways we shouldn’t say/do something as opposed to what we should. The same may be said for communication styles.

So What does Assertive Communication look and sound like?
One of my favourite assertive communication workbooks The Assertiveness Workbook – How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships, speaks to five categories to most communication styles, including passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive communication.

These five categories include,

  1. Behaviour: This includes making honest, clear and direct statements of my immediate needs to others, while still allowing others to have or hold their own views,
  2. Non-verbal: Take notice of a calm, relaxed body that feels casual and at ease. Notice how you make frequent eye contact – but of course, let’s not glare, 
  3. Beliefs: Assertive communication allows you to recognise both you own and others needs are of equal importance,
  4. Emotion: When expressing yourself you feel positive in your interaction, your self-esteem rises as opposed to feeling rejected, afraid, angry or misunderstood,
  5. Goal: is to respect both yourself and others when communicating – expressing yourself rather than having to win the conversation or feel compelled to “control” the interaction.

Now by all means being aware and mindful of these five elements may not simply bring about assertive communication – however with practice and noticing any of these elements while you talk with others notice how your interactions may change over time. We should of course also factor in others who may have other communication patterns and its effects on us. Furthermore environmental triggers such as stressors, anger and frustration that often accompanies strained communication also play a role.

Now that we’ve reviewed five ways of understanding what assertive communication looks like, here are a few tips and examples of assertiveness skills.

  1. Express your ideas and emotions calmly – this may need a pause or a break in a heated conversation – while using “I” statements such as “I feel”, “I would like” and “I think”. By taking responsibility for your emotions and ideas we normalise and express ourselves clearly.
  2. Be respectful – not only to others but yourself as well – by showing our respect we acknowledge the importance of what we’re all saying and thinking.
  3. Say “No” when you need to – feeling guilty is normal when saying no – however saying yes all the time isn’t making anyone happy either. When we say no more often than not the receiving party could understand your point of view better – providing more opportunities to express your needs.
  4. Check-in with yourself – plan, or review briefly some of the things you’d like to say – this may include knowing your needs and finding the words to express them.

 By engaging in these five traits and four assertive communication techniques when engaging your next conversation, check-in and see if you’re noticing how you’re communicating – get feedback from a trusted partner or friend, and with more frequent and mindful practice assertiveness can become apart of not only your social skills repertoire, but could lead towards mental wellness .

More resources

  • The Assertiveness Workbook How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships by Randy J. Patterson, PhD.
  • Communication techniques by Woody Schuldt on therapistaid.com

Written by:
Alex Koen
Specialist Wellness Counsellor (ASCHP)
B.A. Psy. Soc. (UP), B.A.Counselling Psy. (Hons)(UNISA)
Cert. Counselling, Cert. Art Therapy (HELIOS), Cert. Play Therapy(CPTT)

The Unsocial Consequences of Social Media for our Students

A short time ago I was teaching a critical thinking class for 17 to 21-year-old Singaporean students.

The students arriving for the first day of class came into the room as 25 individual islands, totally focused on the phones in their hands.

Introducing myself, I asked if there were any questions regarding the syllabus or actual content. This was met with silence. Asking the class for their full attention I told them I was going to outline what was required of them to receive an “A”.  Immediately I had their full attention. Also, I had discovered that this group of students was motivated by good grades.

Outlining the class expectations, I told them that they would be working together in teams of five to solve complex and authentic problems. They would be learning how to engage in research. They would learn how to determine valid and reliable sources and evidence. They would develop an argument and then defend it to the other groups of students.  In simple words, I told them that to pass the class, they would have to engage in social exchange with their classmates and with me.

Over the next few weeks, I helped my students discover for themselves the pros and cons of growing up in a culture of social networking. While rarely being asked to engage in actual exchange with each other, these skills had not been developed. Because they had ready accessibility to “information”, they had not spent much time actually learning and retaining knowledge. Yes, they knew how to memorize facts for an exam, but if asked to apply any of their learning, they were left paralyzed.

While my students held the illusion that they could multi-task, checking their social media sites, while trying to engage in research, they were being brought face to face with the realization that our brains are not hard-wired to be able to do this. Slowly, each member of the class was understanding that they were unable to concentrate on the task at hand while remaining connected to social media. Because they were required to work in teams, they were realizing that they had never learned how to socialize in person. Because social media lacked body signals and other nonverbal communication, they had not learned how to pay attention to another’s tone or inflection. They were admitting to themselves and others that they did not know how to skillfully communicate face to face with each other.

Six weeks into the course my students admitted that they had accepted information found online, believing it without question. Having learned research skills, they were astonished that they had never required evidence. They were learning to question themselves and others. They were demanding evidence for positions held.

Towards the end of the term, I had the students research what things potential employees looked for in the people they hired. They were finding out that potential employers often investigated the social networking profiles of their applicants. In response, the students started critically filtering their posts. Reviewing their past, lax postings they began to seriously evaluate their sites with their newfound awareness.

There were other problems I required my students to research.  They researched  the consequences of spending large amounts of time on social media and how this impacted their physical health and well-being. As they researched they found that students who spent large amounts of time on social media sites complained of significantly more stomach aches, sleeping problems, anxiety, and depression. The evidence they were unearthing was overwhelming.

Of greater concern, they found strong evidence that young people, who were spending large amounts of time on social media displayed more narcissistic behaviors along with other psychological disorders, including aggressive tendencies.

While we may not have the amount of time or the same structure that allowed my class to construct their own understandings of some of the anti-social consequences of social media, we can still encourage our students and client’s to participate in solving some of their own problems. As they are encouraged to use their intellects, they can be helped to discover their own important role in finding their own solutions.

For far too many of our students and client’s, social media has not only changed what they do, but it has also changed who they are. While they may have the illusion of being connected, they often walk among the crowd as individual islands in the vast ocean of social media.

Written by:
Vivian Colvin

Tutor & Mentor

What is the Enneagram and how is it helpful?

The Enneagram is a guide/framework to help you reflect upon yourself in a beautiful protected way. 

The Enneagram describes 9 basic world views and each type has its own way of behaving, thinking and feeling. The beauty of the Enneagram is that it doesn’t box/ label you, but allows you to be you. It is a pathway to more self awareness, self discovery and self development.

You will get more insight in your qualities, strengths, motives, gifts, struggles, challenges, blind spots, growth points, fears and defence mechanisms. The Enneagram will lead to self growth, more acceptance and a way to get in contact with and to become more aware of your inner self on a deeper level.

We all resonate with a type of the Enneagram (9 core-types) and a sub-type (27 sub-types, 3 sub-types in every core-type). Below a brief summary of the names of the core-types with their motivation and core fears.

  1. Strict perfectionist.
    Motivation: Have to do the right/good thing
    Core fear: being criticized
  2. Considerate helper
    Motivation: have to be liked and appreciated
    Core fear: being unloved
  3. Competitive achiever
    Motivation: have to outshine the rest
    Core fear: being worthless
  4. Intense creative
    Motivation: have to be unique
    Core fear: being ordinary
  5. Quiet specialist
    Motivation: have to understand
    Core fear: being foolish
  6. Loyal sceptic
    Motivation: have to be safe and belong
    Core fear: being unprepared
  7. Enthusiastic visionary
    Motivation: have to experience it all
    Core fear: being limited
  8. Active conctroller
    Motivation: have to be in control, be strong
    Core fear: being vulnerable
  9. Adaptive peacemaker
    Motivation: have to keep the balance
    Core fear: being in conflict

Be aware you are more than your core type! The description above is just a little bit of information but to find out more I would recommend doing an Enneagram typing test with an accredited professional. At SACAC Counselling I do guide people through the Enneagram journey. More information is available on request.

The Enneagram is a lifelong journey which will help you live a more integrated and fulfilling life.

Written by:
Flo Westendorp
Registered Clinical Psychologist
Extended Health Care Psychologist Certificate, MSc & BSc (Clinical Health Care Psychology)
Accredited by Integrative Enneagram

The Power of Attention

Have you noticed how hard it is to walk behind someone playing with their phone? Dancing unpredictably with themselves and generally getting in your way, they move like they are treading on an ant colony. If only they were paying attention to you. 

Attention is central to our world. Everyone and everything competes for it; from TV screens in bars which draw your eyes from your friend’s, to social media and advertising shouting at you from any device. In school, teachers despair at children who simply will not pay attention. Soldiers are ordered to ‘attention!’ Yet few hold it for very long. Indeed, at times it is conspicuously missing, or occasionally in ‘disorder’. Perhaps it would help to look at it from a different angle, one where attention is very much present.

On becoming a parent, you are attentive to your baby’s every need. Your awe-inspiring little bundle of noise, mess and love is attended to like an unexploded bomb. Over time, this attention develops in line with your experience and interests, but also in response to your child; you learn together as you get to know each other. The dictionary describes a parent as the mother or father of a person; you have a position. From your position, you have a view of – and a perspective on – your child. What you attend to will help shape your relationship. 

Some parents attend particularly to their child’s appearance, or their education; others to their leisure time or family relationships. Your child will develop a sense of the importance of the things which receive attention. They may take them on for themselves, they may adapt or reject them, but they will not go unnoticed. The attention you give is therefore powerful and will colour your child’s responses to you and others. 

It is also important to attend to yourself; to look after yourself, but also to catch yourself and what you are focusing on when you are with your child. You then have a sense of what they may see in you. It is a reflective position, where you think about how you may be understood by someone else.  It is something akin to Mindfulness. “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgementally.’’ (Kabat-Zinn, 1994 p.4) If you are looking for ways to understand your child, look no further than where you direct your – and their – attention. 

References:
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever You Go, There You Are. Piaktus, New York

Written by:
Robert Leveson
Psychotherapist & Counsellor,
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC)