Different communication styles

How might you define communicating effectively?

Some people might define effective communication as ensuring that you convey your desires to the other person (i.e., getting what you want). However, aggressive communication, which focuses on your own needs rather than the other person, may affect your relationship with others.

What if you were to focus on the other person’s needs and neglect your own? In this case, passive communication may help retain the relationship but affect your well-being and self-esteem because your own needs are being pushed by the wayside. Perhaps worse of all is passive-aggressive communication, where neither party gets what they want.

Kid listening to somebody

Communicating effectively based on our goals

Assertive communication is a type of communication style that allows you to honour your own needs and goals (as aggressive communication does) in an interaction while maintaining your relationship and meeting the other person’s goals (as passive communication does).

Although it’s easy to say “just be more assertive”, there are a couple issues with this statement.

First, it’s easier than done.

Telling someone to be more assertive is easy, but what does assertiveness actually look like in practice? How do we go about being assertive?

And second, a one size fits all strategy doesn’t necessarily work in all conversations. The reason is because our goals can differ depending on the context. In some situations, our priority in communication is getting what we need (e.g., a group project) whereas our priority in an argument with a partner might be maintaining a healthy relationship.

Consequently, we need strategies to communicate effectively depending on our goals in a situation. In this article, I’ll draw from emotion regulation strategies to provide you with specific skills to use based on your communication goals.

1. Objectives effectiveness: Getting what you want

Objectives effectiveness is when we are focusing on getting our needs met. For example, you might have been grouped in a school project who are a little less motivated to complete their parts of the project. In this case, the focus is getting these students to pull their fair share. This is when the skill DEAR MAN can be effective.

DEAR represents what say and MAN represents how we say it.  

D – Describe. Describe the current situation and stick to the facts. “You told me that you would complete the introduction section by Tuesday and it’s already Thursday.

E – Express. Express your feelings and opinions about the situation. “When we don’t meet deadlines, I get worried that this affect our ability to do well on the project”

A – Assert. Assert yourself by asking what you want or saying no clearly. “I would really like it you finished this part before Friday”

R – Reinforce. Reward/reinforce the person ahead of time by explaining the positive effects of getting what you want or need (or explain the negative consequences). “I would feel really relieved if you did that. As well, we would all have a chance to review and increase the likelihood of getting a better grade”

M – Stay Mindful. Keep your focus on your goals. Strategies can include ‘broken record’ where you say the same thing over and over again and ‘ignore attacks’ – not responding to threats or attempts to divert or distract you. “I would still like you to complete this section because everyone was assigned the same amount of work”

A – Appear Confident. Fake it till you make it. Appear effective and competent. Use a confident voice tone and make good eye contact. Be decisive, rather than stammering, whispering, or saying “I’m not sure”.

N – Negotiate. Be willing to give to get. You can offer other solutions to the problem, reduce request (while still honouring what’s comfortable for you). “I can help out with a few talking points for you to work on, but the bulk of the work is still on you”. It’s also possible to turn the tables and ask the other person for solutions. “What do you think we should do?”

2. Relationship effectiveness: Keeping the relationship

Let’s say you want to communicate with your partner about responsibilities at home. Although you want to communicate the need for feeling like home tasks are fair, you also don’t want to create substantial conflict in your relationship and would rather keep a healthy and positive relationship. In this case, the skill GIVE can be helpful.

G – be Gentle. Be nice and respectful. This means no verbal or physical attacks, no threats, no judging, and no sneering (e.g., saying that’s stupid, smirking, eye rolling)

I – act Interested. Listen and appear interested in the other person. Maintain eye contact, lean towards he person, don’t interrupt, be sensitive to their wish and needs

V – Validate. Show that you understand with your words and actions what the other person is feeling. “I realize this is hard for you…”, “I see that you are busy”

E – use an Easy manner. Smile, use humour, be light-hearted. In this case, you might pair GIVE with DEAR MAN to ensure that you communicate what you desire effectively, but doing so in a way that makes the other person feel validated and loved.

healthy relationship

3. Self-respect effectiveness: Keeping your self-respect

Focusing on the other person and their needs can often be a great thing, however it should not be done at the sake of your own needs. Therefore, we need skills to ensure that we keep respect for ourselves in addition to the other person. The FAST skill can be a great way to do this.

F – be Fair. Be fair to yourself and the other person. Validate your own feelings as well as the other person.

A – no Apologies. This doesn’t mean never apologize. It does mean that you not over apologize. Don’t apologize for having an opinion, or disagreeing – or be ashamed that you have needs too. You are also a worthy human being just like the other person.

S – Stick to values. Stick to your OWN values. Don’t compromise your values or what is important to you unless it feels right. Be clear in what you believe in.

T – be Truthful. Don’t exaggerate or lie.

Tips on using these skills

  • Practice, practice, practice! Communication, like other skills, require practice to get better. Although these skills will feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first, they will feel much more natural through regular practice  
  • Be curious about how these skills impact your daily life. It’s easy to say that these skills aren’t helpful, or you won’t need it, but I would encourage you to try the skills out here and there just to see if it improves your interactions in any way

I hope this post was helpful in communicating a little more effectively in your day-to-day life based on your goals!

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Best wishes,