There are some skills that can be learnt in order to communicate respectfully and assertively. At some point in life, we feel the need to tell another person what our thoughts, opinions, discourse or what our needs actually are. In order to keep this relationship intact, our assertiveness will need to be used. Assertiveness is the ability to honestly express your thoughts, opinions, feelings and ideas in a respectful way to another person.
For some people, their thought patterns are that we should avoid conflict or surrender to another person’s ideas because it is the polite, appropriate or even correct thing to do. However, assertive communication can help avoid frustration, resentment, or feelings of being uncomfortable in the presence of that person. This can have detrimental long term effects on trust between parties, cooperation as well as on life because there is no clear way to communicate thoughts, opinions or ideas clearly to the owner or tenant that may need to hear them.
For others, being assertive is seen as also being aggressive. This is not true. Aggressiveness is where a person behaves in an actively hostile fashion. In contrast, assertiveness is where a person behaves in a confident, self-assured positive and constructive way.
To be skilled in assertive communication, three key components should always be used;
- A statement of the problem,
- A statement of what you want to see in the other person.
Empathic communication is expressing to the other person your understanding of their feelings. This can show the other person that you are reaching out rather than picking a fight with them.
An example of this is;
“I can imagine getting laid off is stressful, especially during Christmas, I appreciate the fact that you were up front about it and gave me a heads up.”
A statement of the problem is where you can clearly explain your difficulty or disappointment with the situation and says why you need something to change.
“…Will you be getting a new job soon? Can you help from family and friends? How do you think you will be able to pay the rent? Rent must always be paid in advance. The owner has bills too. Raising your voice and telling me I have no heart only creates tension and doesn’t benefit anyone. Have you considered asking a family member or friend to move in with you and share the bills? You need to apply yourself and apply for new jobs ASAP.”
In order to be effective in our assertiveness, our body language helps. Look the person in the eye, stand or sit tall, uncross your arms and have a friendly but serious facial expression.
In a conversation with the person try to: actively use some of the following behaviours:
Speak politely, use their name and try to be smooth and calm when talking. If you panic it can be seen as weak and tenants might take advantage of that. Alternatively, if you panic tenant might also panic.
- Focus on the facts, not the emotional component or your personal judgments. For example, “When you use the pool and BBQ area; you often leave bottles on the ground, this is a health and safety issue.” This is more respectful and clear when compared to, “You always make a bloody mess!”.
- Use “I” statements and focus on the problem behaviour that you are experiencing, not their personal appearance. For example, “I would like to tell you something today, without disruption”. This is more helpful than, “You are always interrupting me!”.
- When explaining your thoughts, take full ownership of them. For example, “You make me so frustrated” can be rephrased, “I often feel frustrated when you ask about every item in the monthly statement when the description is very detailed and distinct”.
- Aim to understand the other person’s point of view. It is just as important that you listen to them as they listen to you. (Seek to first understand before being understood.)
- Before advocating your point of view, allow them time to speak it without interruption.
- Once you have heard their point of view, respect it. This does not mean you have to agree with it.
- If you can, find common ground, “Let’s meet in the middle.” as it will be much easier to come to a solution that you are both happy with. This takes careful listening but open questions around their interests, values and needs can help. This is also an effective negotiation strategy.
- Be honest. If you can’t achieve something by their deadline, say so.
- Know a hopeless cause when you see it. Don’t accept tasks that are beyond your capability.
- Always promise less and deliver more; then owners and tenants will be happier that their expectations are met.
- Communicate clearly. If you are making a direct request, don’t invite a question where the person can say “no”. It is more useful to say, “Would you mind…?” rather than, “Will you…?”.
- Do not speak behind someone’s back, say it to their face. Always be polite. “Great people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things. Small people talk about other people.”
- Thank the owner for giving you some time to speak, hearing you and giving you their opinion on the matter.
When seeing a person again after an assertive but respectful conversation, it is important to remember that a healthy relationship (personal or professional) is one that evolves, and is flexible and able to adapt to changing needs. Try to not to go over the same conversation again and again, but find new common ground with them. Talk to them about their interests and hobbies to create rapport, a different kind relationship, one that is based on clear communication and respect.
Carol Price, (1996) Assertive Communication Skills for Professionals
Wisconsin DHFS Caregiver Project – Prevent – Protect – Promote CVI Tipsheet
Ashton, J. (2004) Taking Care of Yourself and Your Family. A Resource Book for Good Mental Health.
5 Steps to Better Relationships Using Assertive Communication