Article – Compassionate Assertiveness in Action

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Published: 20 Jul 2018

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Compassionate Assertiveness

Why bother communicating well?

Many of us don’t. We don’t always see the importance.

We think that things will ‘magically’ get sorted out by themselves… but they don’t.

Many a person has got divorced, dragged through unnecessary stress, disappointed, disillusioned – even died, through lack of effective communication.

What if I could give you a solution to understanding effective communication?

I think about communication all the time, in every single interaction that I have with a human or animal. I think about whether they understand me, whether I get my point across, and what impact my words or actions will have on the other person/animal.

The elemental starting block for me was founded on the simple premise that grown-ups have been telling us for eons – “Treat others how you would like to be treated.” The reverse engineering of this is therefore – “Get others to treat YOU how you want to be treated.” You are not doing yourself, or someone who uses you, or treats you badly any favours by tolerating it. With the right tools in your toolbox, you can build yourself a better future, with people who treat you well, and communicate with you appropriately.

Better communication, compassionate communication, humanises us. It makes us think more objectively; pay more attention when listening, be more observant when watching others’ body language – and engage our sensible brain a split second before we speak.

Compassionate communication seeks to clarify understanding on all parts, and ensures that the interaction serves everyone it involves…..not just you. It builds up, invigorates, and is a new best friend to resilience and tenacity. It cares…..enough to make suggestions, remind people of the inner strength they possess, and why you, and other people admire them. It does not ‘buy in’ to the scenario, but merely acknowledges it – all the while promoting self-analysis of their behaviour, acceptance, ability to adapt, and a new willingness to step out of the comfort zone.

Where to start? Simple. Start with you.

The only person you will ever be able to guarantee you can change – is you.

There is little glory in shaming, blaming, or naming someone into doing something  you want. Coercion is cowardly, and if you believe in universal (karmic) slap- backs (and I do) you’ll know that eventually you will get treated how you (badly) treated someone else – and you won’t like it one bit.

Communication where you look for the win-win, not just being the winner.

Communication where the 93% that makes up the non-verbal part of communication was recognised and decoded in every single interaction.

Communication where clarification of the issue, checking for understanding, and input by both/all parties is considered and actione

Who did you last interacted with. What it was about? Was it positive/ negative? Was there a winner or a win-win? Did you need to resolve something? Were you coerced or you volunteered to do something you didn’t really want to do? How did you feel? How did they feel? What could you have done differently? Did you regret not doing or saying something as someone left you?

What communication style do you favour?

Most people have an everyday communication style that they favour, (as it appears to work for them), in addition, they will flip into different communication styles dependent on what is happening around them or things they have chosen to respond and react to.

  • You have a choice over whether to engage in a situation or not depending on whether you show empathy or compassion for others
  • Communication style starts with you. You set the tone for what is acceptable, and what you will accept… or not.

So, how does the communication style chosen affect the outcome? In several ways, and they aren’t all productive. And, just to be crystal clear – I am absolutely ok with walking away from the communication thread if it threatens you physically or verbally, brings down your own personal energy level, or seeks to diminish your self-esteem and self-confidence.

Which communication style do you think you usually are ‘running in’?

Aggressive?

In an aggressive stance, the thread can be kept going, but in a destructive way. It’s hard to find a way back from aggressive verbal communication as your subconscious mind (and that of your target/victim) won’t easily forget things said in the heat of a discussion, even if your sensible mind wants to.

An aggressive communication style is about instant gratification, there is short term glory in saying your piece, being the loudest voice, or getting your point across at the expense of others. You like the sound of your own voice.

It makes you feel powerful – whilst simultaneously having the ability to make you look like an idiot to onlookers!

Aggressive communicators often over react. They are the drama kings and queens of life, they have no respect for others rights, they get off on dominating and overpowering people. And, let’s not forget that every single time you choose aggression you have created a victim, and emotions that have to be cleaned up. Some can. Some can’t. That’s why therapists make a very good living out of people bringing up things from their past.

Your moment of instant gratification and glory at the very least leads to shame and guilt from you. At its worst creates a ripple effect that is hard to forgive – if ever!

If you are put in a position of interacting with an aggressive communicator, remember to go ‘Low and Slow’© – start talking lower and slower. The minute you adapt your speech level and patterns to theirs, and ‘mirror’ their aggressive body language, nothing can be achieved. You have brought yourself down to their level, and it’s not pretty!

You are role modelling the behaviour you expect in ‘Low and Slow’©. Often just this simple act causes a degree of self-analysis from the other person as they begin to hear how unreasonable they sound.

If you can’t find common, more reasonable ground, be prepared to go ‘Low and Slow’© and say something like, “I’m happy to pick this up when you are ready to communicate in a more reasonable, productive way.” And then walk away. Communication terminated until a later date.

I’ve found a really easy way to move aggressive people into a place of Zenlike reflection by saying two simple words to them – “you’ve failed!” It’s not nice to hear, but true. Unless your life is in danger, someone else’s life is in danger, or someone was stupid enough to pick on your babies (human or fur variety), there is NO excuse for aggressive behaviour. Corrective coach, See it, Say it, Low and Slow, instead.  (more about this later on).

Passive – aggressive (In – direct)?

If you take a passive aggressive (in-direct) stance it is non- productive. It actually only serves you. The other poor souls that have to listen to you whinge and whine about someone or something when you could have communicated properly in the first place is a different story.

It’s painful, awkward, embarrassing, and depressing to listen to. They, (the listener) instead of hearing the good things about your day and having the opportunity to talk to you about theirs – instead have to put up with your failure to communicate in a compassionately assertive way, often hours and days after the event took place.

Often (nearly always) the person who you are directing the passive aggressive communication at has absolutely no comprehension of what you are feeling, because you haven’t said it to them in open communication – hence nonproductive. No outcome. Waste of words. Waste of your time, and of the people who have to listen to you.

I feel so strongly about this nowadays that I go straight to ‘See it, Say it’© if confronted by passive aggressive people, and say something like. “That’s unfortunate that you didn’t deal with that appropriately at the time. What could you have done differently?”

Passive- Aggressive’s are the toxic person at work, the friend who leaves you feeling worse when you leave them than when you arrived. The subtle nuances of passive aggressive behaviour are breath taking in their toxicity. Passive- Aggressive’s are the garden mulch of humanity. They are born, they exist, they die, and in between they add nothing to the world, nothing to the lives of the people who have to deal with them, and nothing to their own insular existence. They are the people you can’t wait to get away from.

Passive?

If you take a passive stance in communication, I would argue that it is non- productive – unless you choose it. And here is the distinction – if you choose a passive communication style, it is assertive! Because you have chosen it. This can take the form of dis-engagement, or even dismissive behaviour, where you have no interest in ‘buying in’ to an issue, or alternatively hearing what the other person has to say.

It’s always been interesting to me that we stick around to engage with people, and listen to what they have to say, when we don’t want to. Societal norms have a lot to answer for. They have indoctrinated us to believe that it’s rude or anti-social. If you take the minimalist and logical viewpoint – why would you waste your precious time on this earth – time that you could spend in another way, with another person? It’s not logical!

Taking a passive stance as a communication style allows others to take advantage of you and decide how you spend your time. Is that what you want? For other people to decide for you? Passive communication is more about avoiding conflict than anything else. It is certainly not the case that passive communicators don’t have a point of view, often they have a very strong point of view – they just don’t have the confidence to voice it, so they don’t get what they want out of life.

Assertive?

Assertive communicators are the most likely of all communicators to be leading a life that they actually want to. Assertive communicators are honest, they have no problem in expressing their feelings or voicing their opinions.

How and why are they assertive? Because they are confident either in what they know, in themselves or both. Assertive communicators have a greater sense of control over their own life, and got the memo about responsibility for your own stuff affording you a more authentic life.

An assertive communication style saves time, energy, misunderstandings, and in general forges closer working relationships. It’s ….wait for it – the most logical of all the communication styles.

How to get your head around the idea of assertive communication being the most productive and constructive style of communicating if you’ve spent your life believing that ‘assertives’ are forthright, bossy, and demanding (which is a common perception)?

  • Assertive people usually (but, not always) have a ‘knowledge bank’ that makes them confident in what they are saying. They either know the truth or facts of a matter or topic, through study, or life experiences.
  • Assertiveness usually (but not always) comes from a place of honesty
  • Assertiveness saves time and energy
  • Assertiveness helps prevent mis-communication difficulties
  • Assertiveness gives you more chance of getting what you want

The 5th Type? Compassionate assertiveness

Has all of the best bits of standard assertiveness, but with added forethought as to the way your receiver will be affected.  At its heart it endeavours to look for the win-win, not the winner.

So, why is it that some people operate from a stance called ‘compassionate assertiveness’ and others don’t?

People who operate from this stance ask themselves one simple question before, during or after every single human interaction. That question is – “how does that work for me? If it doesn’t work for them, they find the most compassionate way to say no possible, the kindest way to tell someone something they need to know, ideally ending in a win-win too if possible.

The traits of compassionate assertiveness:

  • Keeping your mind and body ‘calm’. Talk in a low, slow voice.
  • Asking yourself if it works for you? (This is YOU personally. Not your partner, kids, work colleagues YOU. The fight or flight sensations will try to take over, and the calmer you are the more LOGICAL you will think.
  • If you see it, say it. How many times have you wanted to tell someone something you know they should hear? Every ‘no tell’ has a ripple effect, and the ripple may be far worse than you not telling
  • Understand where the other party is coming from BEFORE you seek to be understood yourself. Give them the opportunity to talk.
  • Open up communication with a non- accusatory statement, rather than an accusation.
  • Use ‘next obvious question’ techniques to keep communication flowing otherwise it will halt at the wrong point causing confusion, resentment, or anger.
  • Agree what you have agreed on. A good tactic in compassionate assertiveness, is paraphrasing what you have agreed on
  • Can you make a suggestion to ensure you don’t end up re-hashing this issue sometime in the future?
  • If you have to diagnose the cause of the breakdown in communication, do it without naming, blaming or shaming. Lead with the facts only.
  • Practise often with ‘small’ issues so that over time compassionate assertiveness becomes natural and logical, without you feeling guilty, or selfish. Learn to lead with the facts, then you will increasingly see the logic in choosing compassionate assertiveness.
  • Compassionate assertiveness really is the ONLY way to get what you want out of life, live an authentic life, and have ‘real’ relationships that are loving, caring and continue to enhance rather than diminish over time.

It takes practise, but it’s worth it. Have a go. It will be difficult at first as you stop for a nano-second in interactions, ask yourself how this works for you, and how it will affect your recipient?

It gets easier the more you do it. People will quickly notice the difference. It will change your life, and the lives of the people you interact with.

Change starts with you.

You can be the change.

It’s logical

It looks calm, and feels composed.

When we feel slighted, threatened or challenged we tend to go straight to fight or flight. Everything becomes enhanced – facial expressions, body language; verbal language.

There’s a secret to this that I’m going to share. Calmness is all about ‘buy in’. The more buy in you have to a situation or line of conversation as it unfolds, the more or less your level of calmness will be apparent.

In other words, do a really quick (I mean nano-second) assessment as the communication begins and check your ‘buy in’. Is it something you actually need to be involved in? Is it gossip that you want to listen to? If the answer is no, then be ready, (and willing) to walk away. Once you have honed this skill beautifully, watch how your life changes.

Why is no such a difficult word? Why do humans intrinsically feel the need to justify?

Words are important. Words are ALWAYS important. It’s the difference between saying “I’d prefer not to,” and “I don’t want to.”

Don’t start a conversation where you don’t want to do something by saying “I’d love to but…”

Sounds cold? What’s the worst that can happen if you take a compassionately assertive stance? You stop a gossip gossiping. You lose a ‘friend’. The best that can happen? You don’t buy into someone’s character being demolished. You don’t commit your valuable, precious time to such nonsense, because that’s what it is. Nonsense. Your life. Your time, that you can’t ever get back, listening to gossip.

You don’t end up doing things you don’t want to do, feeling resentful, time poor, money poor, stressed about things you are not doing for yourself.

If you see it, say it! 

Can it really be this simple?

Yes, it can!

This one simple mantra has saved me (and many others) hours of time, money, heartache, and second guessing.

If you see it, say it. Don’t leave words unsaid, actions unfelt, don’t say yes when every fibre of your being is saying no.

If you could reverse engineer this concept and truly believe that you are doing the person a great service by seeing and saying it, it might help you to get over those initial feelings of guilt, peer pressure or the willingness to comply with societal norms.

What it sounds like?

Low and slooooooow

It sounds low – your voice is low, not high pitched.

It’s slow. Just slowing things down gives you (and the other person) more time to process, and provides a better chance of a win-win.

It says what you mean, what you want, what you need.

Learning to be a better communicator can be exhausting. The alternative is EVEN more exhausting. At least with effective communication you don’t end up disappointing people, making them angry, getting divorced, losing your job, or having a shitty relationship with your kids or friends.

Now do you want to try it?

Here is the model created in 2012 by Elemental Potential.

Stage 1 is getting the person to self-analyse. If you can achieve this first then you may need to go no further. Ask the person how it is working for them doing what they are doing – without sarcasm or disdain. It doesn’t need to be this exact question – just get them to self- analyse

How is that working for you? Could turn into, “I see you haven’t done the dishes Jake, and we are meant to be going to the cinema at 6pm.”

It MUST be directed at your recipient first – this makes them question instantly what they are doing and saying. Self-analysis is a powerful communication tool.

Stage 2 is about getting the person to reflect on how their behaviour is affecting you and your life. This again is an important tool. Occasionally they may not see this at the time, but will reflect on it afterwards and come back to you about it through guilt, greater understanding of the situation or reflection about their actions being unreasonable.

“I feel disappointed that we won’t be able to make it to the cinema on time now.”

Again, makes the recipient think about how their actions are affecting you.

Stage 3 is all about consequences. The thing everyone threatens and hardly anyone delivers. Part of corrective coaching has to be in the consequence and following through on it.

“If the dishes aren’t done we won’t be going to the cinema and that will be disappointing Jake.”

Stage 4? CHOICE/surrrender

What do you think should happen?

This gives the recipient control over their actions as an option. It does not mean you have to agree. If you don’t agree, go back to one of the four questions and repeat it. If you still don’t get a satisfactory response, go to consequences i.e. walk away, stop doing something, take away a privilege.

So why don’t you just give a person the choice first? Well, you can of course, but you may be leaving yourself open to passive behaviour if you do that. You will likely still have to jump back on the next obvious question loop if they come up with a scenario that is not acceptable to you. It is much better to get a person to self-analyse their own behaviour, reflect on how they are affecting you, think about the consequences, and then, and only then ask them their opinion in a corrective coaching situation.

There is one other reason that the choice works supremely well. If you need to hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sometimes you have to concede that YOU are wrong, or at the least misinformed. Asking people what they think should happen as part of corrective coaching will usually get to the real truth of the matter… but, I can’t guarantee you’ll like the answer.

These four stages have been formulated over a long time period having used them in all types of situations and with all types of people. They are designed to enable your recipient to self-analyse their opinion on what is happening. Then, you ask yourself if their response is working for you. You then encourage them to think about the ‘worst case scenario’ (consequence) of what could happen. And finally, you (appear) to give them a choice about what they think should or could happen.

Think about your own behaviour and communication style. Compassionate assertiveness works – for you and everyone you interact with – mostly. If it doesn’t, then you just space cleared someone from your life. Move on. Change is good.

Good Luck, and I wish you well on your personal journey to being a better communicator. Remember, whatever you think is more important than great communication… it isn’t! Do whatever you need to do to communicate in a healthy, considerate, way to everyone in your life (including you) and just watch the difference it makes, in your life, in other peoples’ lives.

Try and think of every single human interaction as a separate entity to be perfected. If you learn and hone your skills this way, every day, you will see yourself becoming a better communicator.

Communication should be really easy. You say what you need to, in the most compassionate way that you can. If people treat you in a way you don’t like, tell them, educate, or correct them in a compassionate way. Believe that you are helping them. Use your body language to help you, remember that you are less effective if you only use words and listening.

Use paraphrasing as your secret weapon to clarify details that will stop you making assumptions about people or details. Remember if you don’t clarify, there will likely be a ripple effect – which could be worse!

Slow down, why are you in such a hurry to communicate – it’s all about time and engagement. So no drive-by communication, no talking over people. Think about what you are asking for, think about how you are going to ask to get the best result, and think about how your actions and words will be received – if you wouldn’t like it – then don’t do it to someone else.

I’m excited for you, because I know what’s ahead for you if you really embrace this as a way of life – Compassionate Assertiveness in all its glory.

Give it your all.

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