Sometimes people find that developing a long-term health condition can mean it is more difficult for them to communicate with others. People may feel unsure how to explain their condition, or guilty about asking for help. Communication difficulties tend to come across in two ways. They can be either passive, or aggressive as explained below:
Passive: you may feel guilty, put others first, avoid expressing your own thoughts and feelings, or act submissively.
Aggressive: you may be caught up in thinking things are unfair, feel angry and frustrated, express your own thoughts and feelings at the expense of others, or you may shout or argue.
Neither of these styles of communicating is particularly helpful. Being passive makes it very difficult to ask for what you need, whilst being aggressive can push others away and leave you feeling isolated. But there is a third way of communicating which meets the needs of both parties involved. This is called assertive communication.
When you are assertive you can express your own thoughts and feelings whilst respecting the other person's, listen to the other person properly, and respond calmly and confidently.
Communicating assertively means we can express ourselves and ask for the things we need, in a way that strengthens our relationships with others, and helps us to live our lives in line with our values.
When we're trying to be assertive, there are some things that it can be helpful to bear in mind:
- Try to be clear and succinct
- Be polite but firm
- Try to keep a calm voice and body
- Use good eye contact
- Listen carefully to what the other person is saying.
There are also some techniques that can help us to communicate more assertively:
I-Messages: This involves trying to start each sentence with 'I'. So, instead of saying, "You are always taking advantage of me like this", you could try, "I feel like I'm being taken advantage of."
Broken Record: This involves being persistent and calmly repeating the same statement. For example, if someone stopped you in the shopping centre and tried to sell you something, you could say, "Thank you, but I'm not interested." They may well say something in reply as part of their sales pitch, to which you can calmly and politely repeat, "Thank you, but I'm not interested."
Fact, Feel, Want:
- Firstly, state the fact, e.g., "I did all the washing up this week, even though half the dirty dishes are yours."
- Secondly, say what you feel, e.g., "I feel taken advantage of." (Own this feeling - use, "I feel...", not, "You make me feel...")
- Then, say what you want, e.g., "Can you do the washing up tomorrow?"
To Me, To You: This involves checking what something means to the other person you are talking to. For example, "To me a holiday is relaxing, lying on a sun lounger and reading a book, to you I feel a holiday is going exploring and doing lots of activities… Have I got that right?" or, "To me a holiday is relaxing, lying on a sun lounger and reading a book, what is it to you?" By clarifying what is similar and different about what you both think, then it is possible to go ahead and make a plan or compromise.
Letting Others Know What You Want From Them
Often it can be helpful to let people know how you would or wouldn't like them to behave – people may not even realise that the things they are doing or saying are unhelpful or hurtful to you unless you tell them. A way you might do this is by saying "When you do/say..., it is unhelpful to me because.... In the future it would be more helpful for you to do/say..." or "When I am struggling I would like you to…"
Sometimes people end up avoiding doing things because they worry what others will say. An assertive statement is a statement that you prepare in advance as a response to what you worry about, in case someone does ask. What you say will depend on who asks, and how much you want to share. Sometimes, having a statement prepared means that you have more confidence to go ahead and do something, rather than avoid it completely.
Saying no can be particularly difficult for a lot of people. Preparing statements in advance can be especially useful here, for example, "I'm sorry, I'm too busy at the moment," or, "I'd like to help you out, but I don't feel up to it right now." Remember that you don’t have to give an answer straight away – you could say something like, "I'll have a think about it and get back to you."
Have a go at coming up with some assertive statements that can help you in your own life. It's important to be aware that if you usually communicate passively with people, then you are likely to get resistance from others when you start to communicate more assertively with them. This is normal, but with practice assertive communication will come more naturally to you.
Please note - at current the links below are re-directing to our old website which is no longer covered by a security certificate. We are working to sort this as soon as possible and we are sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause.
Worksheet 6.1 - Communication Styles
Worksheet 6.2 - Assertive Communication Record