Communicating Your Needs
You need to be able to share your needs in a calm, rational way. But, you also need to show respect for your partner. In a relationship, the partners are equal. As a result, you have the right – and the responsibility – to express your needs and desires.
Assertiveness has three components – what you say, how you say it, and your behavior when you say it. Your partner may not break down the components and analyze them, but they will sense the total package.
The content of your message is quite important. That includes the words you choose and the order in which you deliver them. There are two different ways to express assertiveness.
The first is to express a feeling. These statements start with “I feel...” The second is to express a request. One way to phrase this is “I would appreciate it if you would...”
Avoid statements that could be taken of acts of aggression rather than assertiveness. Instead of saying “You make me so mad,” say “I feel angry when you do that.”
Also, avoid telling other people what they feel or think. You are not a mind reader. This will either spiral the argument out of control or make your partner shut down.
Don't pretend to ask a question when you are really making a statement. If you want to go to a restaurant, don't say, “do you think we should go to the cafe tonight?” Instead, state what you want. Say, “I would like to go to the cafe. How do you feel about that?”
Don't call your partner names. Telling him or her that they are dumb, stupid, or idiotic is not going to open up lines of communication. Calling them names like “bimbo” or “bastard” are not effective communication tools.
Similarly, avoid power words like never and always. Things are not black and white. Don't make them out to be.
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The next part of assertiveness is how you deliver the words. The key elements to delivery include timing, volume, speed, pitch, and tone of voice.
Timing involves when you say what you say. For instance, if you cut your partner off mid-sentence, he or she is likely to feel that you are not respectful of what they are saying. This can lead to a situation where both of you are cutting each other off and speaking over the other.
Communication is a two way street. You need to listen to the other person before you speak. Each person should get a turn.
Volume is another aspect to respectful communication. You should try to keep all discussions – especially heated ones – at a conversational level. If you begin to get louder, take a deep breath and remodulate your voice.
The next component in communication is the speed at which you talk. When you get agitated, you will tend to talk faster. Whether consciously or unconsciously, your partner will pick up on this and respond to your agitation. Speed often goes hand in hand with volume. Together, they can ratchet up the intensity of the discussion or fight. So, when you catch yourself talking a mile a minute, catch yourself and slow down.
Some people have distinct pitches to their voice when they get emotional. Usually, their voice becomes higher in pitch. People associate high pitch with stress and lower pitch with calm. When you are arguing, try taking your pitch down a notch and see whether that doesn't calm the situation down.
Finally, the tone of voice you use conveys your mood through inflection. Think about the sentence “what did you do?” Ask that in a number of scenarios and see how your tone changes:
• When your spouse has just emptied out the bank account and gambled your rent money away.
• When your spouse has brought you flowers as a suprise for no reason at all
• When your spouse was out for the evening on a “girls night out” or a poker party and you approved of it.
• When your spouse was away for 12 hours without letting you know where he was.
The tone of your voice can sometimes convey more than the words you speak.
Tomorrow's article will continue on the series of articles on "The Nuts And Bolts Of Good Communication".
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