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Assertiveness And Being Heard
by Charmaine Saunders
November 6, 2006

Communication is a two-way street. Therefore, the listener is just as active a participant as the speaker. We often forget this and come to believe that as long as we're talking, we're getting our point across and the listener automatically understands us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Poor communication is the single most common factor in relationship breakdown and learning to communicate effectively - not just talk - is a vital skill in getting along with others; whether they be the people we live with, work with, are related to, are friends with or meet on the street.

Further complicating the process is that, in the moment it takes for an utterance to leave a speaker's mouth and enter the listener's hearing, it is already translated into the listener's code and that's why so much misunderstanding occurs between people. For example, you might ask a simple question which sounds like an attack, pay a compliment and be accused of fawning, make a comment and have it totally changed around in the mind of the listener. All this happens in seconds and is mostly unconscious. The best illustration of this process is the child's game of "Chinese Whispers," where a chain of people repeat the same phrase or word over and over but the last person will finish up with something completely different. This is an error in listening.

So, how do we help the people we love to listen better and by doing that, improve our chances of being heard and understood?

General Tips

  • Be a better listener yourself and always speak clearly and concisely.
  • Make sure you have someone's attention before you start.
  • Establish eye contact.
  • Ask for confirmation that you've been heard.
  • Approach every exchange in the same way, not one way for requests, one for criticism and one for general news.
  • Minimize the "chatter" when you have nothing special to say as people tend to tune out if you talk incessantly.
  • Don't try to be too "subtle" as hidden or double meanings can cause problems.
  • Always communicate with love, even if you're angry, as verbal attacks simply put people on their guard or cause them to reciprocate with like-emotion.

There are some basic requirements for effective communication which will help us achieve our aim of being heard.

Three of the most valuable are:

  • Self-esteem - without a strong sense of self-worth, you will never be able to find your own voice, let alone ensure people listen to it. Know that you have a right to speak up, that what you have to say is valid and then speak without fear.
  • Empowerment - if you wait till someone asks for your opinion or allows you time to be listened to, it might never happen, so hold your own power and ask for these things, feel confident enough to offer your views.
  • Boundaries - have clear and firm limits that you are sure of and have outlined to others. Saying "no" is difficult but vital at times; not taking on issues and problems that rightly belong to someone else; letting your family know you have individual needs which also merit priority.


The rules of this most crucial life-skill are simple:

  • Speak softly but firmly.
  • Say it once.
  • Walk away after speaking or change the subject - never stop to argue.

Yelling is a very ineffective way of trying to get your point across, but it's not good to be passive and give in all the time either. Assertiveness is the balance between these two polarities. Let's look at some specific examples - you're trying to get your teenager to clean up her room. Nagging and shouting won't work because a child feels justified to disobey when requests are presented negatively. Asking won't work either but an assertive approach might be something like; "I expect your room to be cleaned up by Friday," without any additions or embellishments. If they sense you mean it because of your assertive manner, they're more likely to oblige.

With someone who's trying to get you to do something you don't wish to do, a gentle but firm "no" without explanation or further discussion is the way to go. With a husband or partner, there are three main types of communication: complaint, request and news.

  • Complaint - be as objective and as unemotional as possible. Say why you are unhappy about a given situation and come from the heart. Resist the temptation to gloss over the issue or change the context, for example, if you're feeling hurt, don't make it about a practical matter; "I am sad when you come home late at night and we can't spend quality time together," not; "I'm sick of you coming home late every night and I have to keep your dinner hot!"

  • Request - if you want to go to a certain place for a holiday or make a household purchase, state your case and offer up your reasons, the costs, etc. Guys like to keep conversations simple - if they're given the facts straight-out, they're more likely to consider your request seriously. Remember you are an equal partner in your relationship and have a 50 percent vote in all decisions.

  • News - A good rule is not to tell news but to share news - ask about his interests and his day as well as talking about what you want to.

As a general rule, do not repeat yourself, negotiate arrangements to death or allow people to ignore you. After a request, ask, "Have you heard me?" After a criticism, ask, "Do you understand my point of view?" Sometimes, it's also necessary to double-check with the old, "What did I just say?" test, especially with children. In this way, they realize you won't let things slide. Your time and energy are precious and you don't want to waste them on useless speech; make every word count. Be positive in your approach, expect to be heard and you will. In the end, it's a matter of mutual respect, honesty and caring - the cornerstones of good communication.

Read more articles by Charmaine...

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