We talk a lot, and those conversations, if we use assertive communication skills, can make a big difference in how our relationships go. If I have anything to add to the assertive communication skills dialogue, it is an awareness of how rapidly we change internally based on our perception of and interpretation of nonverbal communications.
Mihalyi Csikzsentmihalyi in his book Flow (1993) estimated that we process seven bits of sensory data in parallel, and that the shortest amount of time between sets of seven bits is 1/18th second. Remember, it takes 1/10th second to blink your eyes.
Michael Merzenich,Ph.D., one of the world's leading researchers on neuroplasticity, says that Senior drivers need to be prepared to process changes in driving conditions in 1/45th second.
Paul Ekman,Ph.D. says we respond to facial expressions in 1/25th second, and my stress response to a look of contempt from a boss, a mate, or a child, may happen faster than I can create words. I had better be on my assertive communication game plan if I am to sustain assertiveness.
Assertive communication skills begin in my head, with a thought or a commitment to use them.
My commitment revolves around "I" statements, awareness of my feelings, heart beat by heart beat relaxation, playfulness, reflective listening, and the offering of choice.
In my domestic violence groups, I really use the reflective listening and the relaxation skills.
Every person who comes to my group has a story to tell, which will be told using their current level of assertiveness training.
More than likely, their story will be told using aggressive or passive-aggressive communication skills.
In those early moments of building our relationship, reflective listening will be a key part of helping my court ordered student to settle in.
So I will begin my comments with the phrase, "Here is what I hear you saying...." and repeat back to them a summary of the story.
In order to summarize the story, I need to listen closely, and I make an effort to repeat the client's story verbatim in my head,which keeps me from preparing my "very knowledgeable" retort.
My goal in using the reflective listening is to begin teaching by example what assertive communication skills are. I often ask clients how they feel when someone pays attention to them, and the usual reply is, "good".
In fact, when I use reflective listening skills, I can watch an agitated person calm down.
I may even begin to teach my clients at this point the HeartMath process, which always intrigues them, because I ask some provocative questions leading into it.
Then I may even hook them up, so they get a sense at this early part of the process that it is their thinking about the external world that brings on physical changes, and how fast that happens.
By the way HeartMath is a biofeedback tool that gives very accurate information to a client via a computer screen about the time between heart beats and how to make that time more consistent, which is called coherence, by breathing deeply and regularly, and managing thoughts. HeartMath is a feel good experience, and once learned, (took me six 1/2 hour practices), I can cue the physiology on demand by repeating a thought.
The heart has a very sophisticated nervous system, and sends a lot of data to the brain about emotions, much more than the brain sends to the heart. This brain in the heart is affiliative and cooperative, so cuing the HeartMath physiology has a huge impact on assertive communication skills. There is a link to the Heartmath suite of tools in the right column.
I also like to teach the assertive communication skills that are part of the John Gottman,Ph.D., model called The Art and Science of Love, especially for my domesitic violence and anger management clients.
Gottman has studied couples for 30 years, and has teased out of his work the skills that the Masters of Marriage use.
Those skills apply to assertive communication skills. After discovering your partner's Love Map, you begin to Turn Towards Each Other During Everyday Events by honoring what Gottman calls invitations to turn toward.
Those invitations can be very subtly communicated, so one has to pay attention and make quick decisions about how to respond.
I teach quite a bit about how we respond nonverbally to facial expressions, based on the work of Paul Ekman,Ph.D. Ekman says that we can respond to a subtle expression of contempt with anger in 1/25th second which is about 2.5 times as fast as I can blink my eyes.
So assertive communication skills have got to come online fast, along with my HeartMath skills to give me a chance to respond to contempt assertively rather than aggressively or passive-aggressively.
In any communication, I will respond to facial expressions and body posture before the words that are spoken.
If the speaker is not congruent in verbal and nonverbal communication, the listener may create an stress response faster than they can create reflective listening words.
Daniel Goleman calls that an amygdala high jack, and it floods us with stress hormones, making assertive communication very hard, if not impossible.
The Gottman's address what they call 'flooding' in their work. They recommend for men that a minimum of 20 minutes be taken to calm down.
Next comes the use of 'repair phrases' that the Gottman's supply examples of.
So as you can see, assertive communication skills are dynamic and must be applicable to a huge number of situations and responses.
They can be learned, and relationships built using them, and relationships can be repaired when there are breakdowns in communications.
The basic assertiveness training skills are remaining committed in my head to using assertive communication skills, no matter the response they get, using reflective listening, maintaining my heart intelligence, and offering choice, if I am communication with a peer. If I am communicating i a hierarchical relationship, then I need to either listen to feedback, or offer it, and be prepared to accept consequences for delivering a command, or accepting one.
In all cases, awareness of my physiology gives me choices.
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When I was beginning my personal growth journey, a wise person told me that when I was feeling resentful or afraid or sad, that I should remember the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was ready to feel better. That phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
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