Healthy Communication Skills

by Clinical Staff

“Your word is the power that you have to create”

As Don Miguel Ruiz says in The Four Agreements. Words can start wars. Words can heal wounds. Words are our primary way of expressing ourselves, and communicating our needs, desires, thoughts and feelings. Words are our primary way of relating and connecting with others. Even the sweetest relationships can turn bitter because of our words, and the most bitter can sweeten with our words. Our word is indeed powerful, and with great power comes great responsibility. What I find interesting is that communication is such an integral part of our human existence, yet we’re never really taught how to communicate in a healthy and assertive way.

There are many ways to look at communication, but we will explore the several styles that we use to present our thoughts and feelings, which range from “the silent treatment” on the passive side, to the “temper tantrum” on the aggressive side. And right in the middle, of that continuum is assertive communication, which is the goal.

Passive Communication

Passive communication doesn’t actually state our feelings or thoughts directly, or at all sometimes. Passive communication can look many different ways, from agreeing with others despite our personal feelings, to shutting down/withdrawing from a conversation, to making veiled statements of our true wishes, or sarcasm.

Passive Communication Sounds Like:

“I’m fine, it doesn’t matter”

“It would be cool if I got the door held for me sometimes”

“I wish hadn’t come over here”

Where does that kind of communication get you? Most of the time our needs don’t get met, we suppress and let our feelings build up, we end up being misunderstood, people will walk all over us. Withdrawn or lack of communication can leave a lot to be assumed, and make us wonder, “What did they actually mean by that?”

Aggressive Communication

Aggressive communication is marked by expressing your needs, desires, and feelings in a way that is disrespectful of others, or violates their rights to support our own perspective. Aggressive communication is often hostile, defensive, demanding, blaming, and fueled by emotions. It can be a way we try to gain control over a situation.

Aggressive Communication Sounds Like:

“I’m f@#king pissed right now”

“Somebody better hold that door for me!”

“Get out of here right now!”

Where does that kind of communication get you? It often starts a conflict. Our needs get met but at the cost of relationships and reputation. People start avoiding us or meet us with aggression, and others tend to get hurt.

Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is the ideal communication style. Assertive communication is the most direct, honest, authentic, and respectful way to express ourselves. When we are communicating assertively, we are respecting the feelings and needs of others, while speaking our truth. We take accountability for our emotions, state what we are feeling and thinking clearly, and we considerately ask for what we need. Using “I” statements is a good place to start. Assertive communication doesn’t assume anything about how others are feeling, or what their intentions are, it is purely based in communicating our own experience: I feel, I believe, I need.

Assertive Communication Sounds Like:

 “I feel sad right now”

“Will you hold that door for me?”

“I need some space.”

Where does that type of communication get you? People will know how you truly feel, understand what your needs are and you are trusted, which is the foundation for healthy and long-lasting relationships.

Communicating Your Truth

It feels important to acknowledge that speaking our truth, and sharing our feelings and thoughts is not always easy. Maybe you’re afraid that you won’t be heard, or maybe you were taught when you were growing up that communicating your feelings was a sign of weakness, or maybe you don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings, or maybe you just don’t know how to appropriately put into words what is going on inside. In any case, I invite you to take a look at what makes communication challenging for you. Think about that thing you really wanted to say to that one person, but you didn’t… What exactly was holding you back? What was it within YOU (not the other person) that prevented you from speaking your truth? This is important stuff to look at if you are trying to improve your communication skills.

All that said, I do not want to make this all sound so simple and easy. As I’ve said earlier, we are just scratching the surface with this whole communication thing, and there are many dynamics at play all the time that we can dig into. However, my intention with my words is to help you bring awareness to how you are communicating with the people in your life, and how you communicate with yourself. Once you bring awareness to the way you communicate, and what situations bring up each style, you can begin to make changes toward a healthier way of communication. It takes a lot of practice to communicate assertively. Begin practicing assertive communication in the quiet moments, in the everyday moments that “don’t matter”, so that it is easier for you to call on your assertive communication skills when it DOES matter. Don’t forget, your words have the power to change lives.

How Will You Use Your Power?