Shirley J. Caruso, Ed.D.
Creating a dialogue is much more than simply having a conversation. It means you are fully engaged with the other person, giving him or her your full attention, and paraphrasing to check for understanding. It is being non-judgmental and open.
Assertive communication is based on the belief that you and others have the responsibility to ask for what you want or need. Be sure the following assertion skills are in your communication toolbox:
- Acknowledgment: Let the other person know he or she was heard. For example, in talking with an employee about a chronic tardiness problem, acknowledge the employee’s explanation: “So it sound like you were late because your alarm clock didn’t go off this morning.”
- Use “I” statements as opposed to “you” statements: Instead of saying “you need to show up for work on time”, say “I need to be able to rely on you to be here by 8:30.”
- Repetition: Keep coming back to your statement of what you need or want. “I understand you had a reason for being late. I need to be able to rely on you to be here by 8:30.”
- Validation: Let the other person know you value them. “Your work is excellent, and I enjoy working with you. I need you to do whatever it takes to be here on time, and if you are going to be late, call me so I can get your phone covered.”
Giving Feedback without Blame or Finger-Pointing
Know the results you want to achieve. Encourage change by looking for patterns. What is the other person doing when the problem doesn’t happen? Search for patterns in other settings, and apply them to this situation. Don’t ask, “Why do you have this problem?” Fix situations, not people.
Receiving Feedback Without Becoming Defensive
Receiving feedback can be hurtful and demoralizing. These tips will help you reframe it, so you can use it to help you and not upset you:
- Actively invite it. This eliminates the unexpected aspect of it and enables you to be better prepared for what you may hear. Remember, it’s better to hear it directly than have the other person talking behind your back.
- Listen to understand. Assume the other person has good intentions for telling you. his will help you to remain open and non-defensive.
- Ask questions. This enables you to get specifics, focus on behaviors you can change, and guide the conversation to be useful to you, not a venting session for the other person.
- Assess validity and importance. Ask yourself, “is this valid? Is this important?” Obviously, your response to something that is not valid or not important will be different than if it is valid and important. Understanding the difference among disapproval, disagreement, and direction will help you disengage from subjective interpretation and focus on common goals.