Good communication is hard. But personal relationships are more authentic and satisfying when we’re honest the people we spend time with and when we invite them to be honest with us, too. Experimental Wifery offers you a quiz to assess your own communication skills, some advice to communicate during conflict, and a personal anecdote about learning to communicate better–at twenty-seven years old.
What Kind of Communicator Are You? An Experimental Wifery Quiz
1. Your sister forgot your birthday again. Do you…?
- Avoid her calls for a week and decide not to say anything
- Yell at her angrily that she never remembers your birthday and she must not love you at all
- Explain to her that you feel neglected when she doesn’t acknowledge your birthday
2. How would you get your boss to consider you for a promotion?
- Show him copies of your work every time you do something well
- Hand him your resume and strongly suggest that you deserve a promotion
- Explain to your boss why you think you are an asset to the company and ask him for his consideration
3. Your husband came home from work grumpy and is taking it out on you. Which words are most likely to come out of your mouth?
- “Well,” “I mean…,” “I guess…”
- “Always,” “Never,” “You caused…”
- “I feel…,” “Please,” “ I would like…”
4. Your four-year-old just dumped a giant box of packing peanuts on the floor and spread them all over the floor. What does your voice sound like when you react to him?
- Weak, hesitant, or soft
- Tense, loud, or demanding
- Firm, warm, or expressive
5. The guys in the dorm next door have been partying since 6:30 last night. It’s 2am and you’re ready to go to sleep. When you knock on their door, where are your eyes?
- On the floor
- Staring the down—maybe you can bore a hole through their brains
- Making eye contact
So how’d you do?
In all these questions, answer 1 is a good example of communicating passively. (I’m definitely recovering from overly-passive communication) Communicating passively means that you avoid saying what you want, think, or feel. You try to please others or make others like you. But it usually leads to disappointment, shallow friendships, and self-loathing. After all, you’re not saying and showing what you really feel!
Answer 2 exemplifies communicating aggressively. In this mode, you say what you want, think, and feel without considering the needs or feelings of others. Whether or not you consciously realize it, aggressive communication usually makes others feel dominated or humiliated. It makes you hard to get along with and may leave you feeling ashamed of the unintended harm caused by your words.
Answer 3 typifies assertive communication. You honestly say what you think and feel in direct and helpful ways. Instead of hiding your thoughts and feelings, or making other people want to hide their own, you can have a two-way exchange of ideas. There will always be disagreements, but communicating assertively means that everyone involved can express what they think and desire in a way that leads to a just solution.
A First Step in Assertive Communication
We aren’t stuck with one of these ways of communicating for life. The way you communicate can be different, depending on who you talk to, the surrounding circumstances, and how you’re feeling that day. And you can also change the way you communicate by conscious practice.
Dealing with conflict in a healthy way is a great place to start. By following these three steps when we need to disagree with others, we can better communicate our thoughts and needs without hurting others or ourselves.
1. Describe a behavior
Describe what is observable about the way the other person is behaving, not what you guess about motives. Make sure you are specific. Avoid absolutes like “always” or “never” and keep it brief.
It is easy and counterproductive to let a behavior description turn into a character assassination. Focus on what a person has done, rather than insulting them. Instead of telling a friend that he’s always lazy and thoughtless, which isn’t a good lead-in to conversation, start with an objective description of what happened that everyone can agree to:
2. Disclose your feelings.
Honestly and precisely describe the way you feel. Try an “I” statement—“I feel…” in stead of “You make me feel…”
3. Identify a consequence of the behavior.
Without knowing it, we all say and do things that hurt others. Find a way to objectively explain the effect this action has on you, without insulting the other person. The goal is not to make someone feel bad by lashing out, but to make them honestly understand you and prevent future hurt.
Now that you have identified what happened, how it made you feel, and what effect it had on you, leave space for the other person to respond. This pause can be the hardest part of communicating: not knowing how the other person will respond, waiting in silence to find out.
Some people will respond with ways that you have hurt them, to which fairness demands you listen. And some people just won’t care. But whatever the outcome, communicating assertively was the right thing to do. You could have blamed yourself for the other person’s action, or secretly held a grudge, but instead you told the truth and tried to repair the relationship. Part of communicating assertively is learning to take pride in knowing that you have truthfully expressed what really happened.
My Quest to Become an Assertive Communicator
I have struggled with poor communication habits and they have seriously hurt my mental health. That’s why developing strategies for assertive communication has been so helpful and important for me.
I grew up an aggressive communicator. I was a very bright little girl so I tended to accidentally lord my intelligence over my peers. When I had trouble making friends with other children, I thought that I needed to change who I was–to be less smart, less curious, less brash–when what I really needed was to communicate who I was in a less aggressive way.
Even when I went to college and made lots of similarly-dorky friends, I still accepted the lie that there was something wrong with me and the way I communicate with other people. I gradually became a more passive communicator in an effort to make people like me. I’m not a naturally passive person, so I began to feel the bitter pain of being fundamentally untrue to myself. I apologized for things that weren’t my fault and constantly made jokes at my own expense. Eventually, I started to hate myself. And that self-hatred made me very vulnerable to depression.
During therapy for my depression, I gradually learned to separate my thoughts about how I communicate from what I communicate. The only thing I can communicate is me: an introverted, book-smart person who loves to tell stories. I should learn to talk with people who are street-smart, or analytical, or extroverted, without trying to dominate the conversation with my form of communication.
But learning to talk with others in their own way doesn’t mean hiding what I think and feel, or changing the fact that I tell stories to make a point. And I shouldn’t feel guitly or blame myself every time there’s a misunderstanding or an akward silence.
Getting ideas from one mind to another is hard work, and we all have to practice. Assertive communication is about figuring out what is really true (not just what you are fearful or angry about) and expressing it in a way that someone else can understand and accept.
Simple, guilt-free, true-to-myself assertive communication in action. It’s something I’m learning to practice one step at a time.
Do you have any bad communication habits? Do you hide negative feelings from a particular friend? Or always snap back at people early in the morning? Let us know in the comments.