An Introduction to Assertive Communication

Many people are interested in increasing assertive communication skills to improve a number of areas of life. In my work, I commonly see individuals wanting to improve their relationships at work, romantic partnerships, and with family and friends. Assertive skills can also preserve self–respect while respecting others, can maintain confidence, reduce guilt about one’s decisions, improve conflict resolution, increase empathy and strengthen esteem in one’s own judgement. An assertive style demonstrates being self-assured and confident without being aggressive and is demonstrated by a balance of clear and direct verbal and non-verbal language with active listening, without being vague, vengeful, spiteful or threatening.

 

Assertive communication is different from passive, aggressive and passive-aggressive communication. When using passive communication, the individual does not stand up for him or herself, lets others take advantage of them, and often do not speak up when something is wrong. Alternatively, aggressive communication disregards the rights of others and often includes interrupting, raising one’s voice, name calling or insulting along with threatening body-language (like hitting a wall or slamming doors). Passive-aggressive communication can be confusing in that the individual may not directly say what he or she needs or express what may be wrong with their words, but will often be spiteful or try to get revenge by punishing others. These communication styles create a disconnect, tension and conflict with others.

 

Assertive communication involves respecting the feelings, needs, wants, and opinions of others, while accepting one’s own needs, allowing compromise in the process. The assertive communicator believes that he or she deserves respect, will not give others permission to take advantage of him or her, and is willing to speak up for what they need. Demonstrating assertive communication balances using words and behavior in a calm, direct and confident manner.

 

Verbal aspects of assertive communication include using a clear, welcoming tone of voice and statements that are constructed with specific, direct, and cooperative words. It excludes vagueness, raised or soft tones of voice, or insults. Non-verbal aspects of assertive communication include active listening (which involves absence of interruption, and provides reflective statements that demonstrate what one just heard the speaker say), welcoming and mirrored body language, and clear eye-contact.

 

There are many benefits of assertive communication, which can include improvements in emotional regulation, effective conflict resolution, strong relationships and self-confidence. If you’d like to learn more detailed steps, this website provides an overview with practice exercises. If your needs are more specific and you’re ready to begin applying assertive skills, contact me.

 

 

How to Choose a Therapist and What to Expect

How to Choose a Therapist and What to Expect

Therapy can be a wonderful experience but if you’re just starting out you may not know how to make that first step or what to look for. You may even feel anxious about setting up a first appointment. This is actually very common for a lot of people so hopefully I can provide some useful information for anyone feeling stuck but wanting to get started.

  1. Know what therapy is and isn’t 

From treating specific mental conditions to navigating day to day challenges, therapists work with a variety of concerns. They have completed required training, are licensed by their state board and are expected to follow specific ethical and legal guidelines. Though a common misinterpretation, therapists do not give advice. Instead, they work as a guide, understanding the individual’s unique experience, trusting the ability to make one’s own choices. The therapist takes an unbiased stance using treatment modalities oriented in counseling theories to work towards goals. Advice, which may have its time and place, is different in that it tends to be opinion based. If you’re looking for advice, friends and relatives are often able offer their thoughts and shared experiences.

  1. Identify your concerns

Most therapists will ask you about what brings you to therapy to get an idea of your situation. Are you feeling sad? Nervous? Stressed? Did a difficult situation happen like a break up or a loss? Be prepared to answer some details about what you’d like help with, even if you’re not completely sure about it. If you are sure, is it important to you to find someone that is considered a specialist in this issue?

  1. Style

Once you have a basic idea of what you want to work on in therapy, consider if there is a specific style you are looking for. This could mean you’d like to work with someone who is direct vs. soft, or uses certain therapeutic interventions/modalities (like CBT), or has certain training in an area of interest. Do you care if your therapist is older or younger? Male or female? What about their ethnic background? Even if you’re not sure, think about who you click with.

  1. Trust

One of the first things a therapist will aim to do with you is establish trust and rapport. While it can seem hard to trust a stranger, building the therapeutic alliance can help you feel assured and comfortable speaking in a confidential setting. As your trust strengthens, you can build on your therapeutic focus.

5. Cost 

Some therapists accept insurance and others don’t. Think about your options and consider what works best for you economically.

  1. Commitment

Therapy typically requires a commitment to attendance and participation. Can you commit to scheduling, traveling, attending and participating in a weekly 60 minute appointment? Are you also ready to spend time outside of your session to reflect on your situation, make meaningful changes or complete homework? Are you also willing to stick with it even if you are asked to face some discomfort or difficult thoughts and feelings?

  1. Inquire

Many therapists offer consultations so they and new clients can ask questions and determine if their services would be a good fit. Sometimes the therapist may have limitations in treating certain conditions or can recognize if someone needs a different level of care. If so, they may offer a referral. They can also provide information about their style, background and approach so you can get to know them too.

  1. Searching for a new therapist

Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for, there are several ways to find a therapist. A Google or Yelp search for therapists in your area can be a good start but depending on where you are, the search results could provide inadequate or overwhelming numbers. There are a few websites designed for therapists to list their profiles for potential clients to view such as Psychology Today or Good Therapy. You can also search under your insurance network, ask your doctor for a referral or ask someone you know for a recommendation.

  1. Fit

Similar with connecting to a style, most therapists believe that the right fit is important in therapy. Therapy is meant to benefit you and your goals, so you should feel like you’re in the right place. Consider calling a few that you think could work well with you and get a consultation. If you set up an initial intake session, you’ll have an opportunity to ask more questions in person and discuss in more detail what you’d like to work on. The therapist can offer information on their treatment approach in relation to your goals. It may take 1 to 2 sessions to decide if the fit is right and you can make this part of your discussion.

 

Consider what’s most important to you and go at your own pace.

How to be a Better Listener

We all go through stuff. One thing that’s certain in life is that we’ll face some challenges that may be difficult to handle or get through. Similarly, we tend to lean on those closest to us for support and to feel less alone. As social creatures, people need support through ups and downs. When I work with clients, I ask about their social support network to address any risk of isolation or withdrawal, coping skills, and self care. On occasion, I hear complaints that friends, partners or family members have good intentions but miss the mark on offering helpful support.

Here are some Do’s/Don’ts on how to be a better listener, be more supportive and connect better with those you care about.

  1. DO: Identify the request. When someone shares a complaint, concern or problem, consider what they may need from you. Do they just want to vent? Are they asking for problem solving assistance? Do they want a solution but aren’t quite ready to decide how to solve the problem? If you can’t tell, ask them directly. You can simply say, “I can tell this is bothering you. How can I help?”. Let them answer with what they need from you. If your job is to just listen, then don’t offer any solutions.
  2. DO: Listen with expression, body language and words. Don’t interrupt. Make eye contact, try to understand what they are thinking and feeling. It’s not about your opinion of what they’re going through, it’s about their experience. Set aside your opinion unless the person specifically asks for it (ex: if you hear, “what would you do?”, “how do I fix this?”, etc). Once the person has shared their concern, your first response should reflect what you heard. This validates their thoughts and feelings and lets them know you understand and heard them. For example, “It seems like you’re worried about making a mistake”.
  3. DON’T: Dismiss their feelings. This is the number one complaint I hear about support gone wrong. Never say things like, “don’t worry about it”, “it’ll all work out”, “I’m sure it’ll be fine”, “things happen for a reason,” “if it’s meant to be, it will be”, etc. This can be hurtful and confusing. The person will begin to doubt their thoughts, feelings and experiences and stop trusting themselves. They may feel guilt or shame. Instead, just try to understand their problem that’s important to It doesn’t have to be a big deal to you, but it is to your loved one and that matters!
  4. DON’T: Start talking about a similar problem you have. Sure, you may have gone through a similar situation. That doesn’t mean it’s time to talk about it. It may have taken a bit of courage for someone to share something vulnerable, so be kind and just listen. The exception to this tip is if the person has asked to hear about your problem and what you did. If that request is absent, don’t assume they want it.
  5. DO: Offer only what you’re able to. If the concern is too overwhelming for you, triggers your own pain, or puts you in the middle of an uncomfortable conflict, set a boundary. If you’re able to listen without bias, just continue to validate their concern and ask what they need. If it’s too much to handle or you think the person may be at risk (are in an abusive relationship, or could hurt themselves or someone else), suggest they seek professional help. Helping them find a doctor or therapist may be the best way to help.

Typically more discussion is sparked once I start talking about these techniques with clients. If there’s interest in practicing better listening skills, I work with clients to rehearse and apply communication strategies specific to their concerns.

The strategies I recommend most for better communication are on assertive styles. If you’d like to learn more, contact me, or find a therapist in your area who utilizes these techniques.

Can’t get motivated? Try going without.

Do you find yourself interested in doing something productive then when it comes time to actually start, your motivation has vanished?

You may know someone who seems to have endless motivation and never procrastinates. Perhaps that person is very organized, is involved in a number of hobbies or work tasks, or is enthusiastically conquering every workout without a single complaint. You wonder why it seems easy for others but such a challenge for you.

Motivation by definition is a reason one has for acting or behaving in a particular way; or a willingness or desire to do something. Feeling motivated can inspire people to set, act on and achieve goals. Generally, people seem to want to feel motivated. However, the feeling isn’t constant and tends to occur in waves. Sometimes you may feel excited and interested in working towards your goal. You feel productive, energized and the work you’re doing may seem fun or even effortless. You’re proud of the work you’re doing and you feel accomplished. Other times, you have less energy, lose interest and your productivity drops, even if the goal is still very important to you. You may still want the outcome you planned, but putting in the time just seems so challenging. This idea of motivation occurring in waves comes from a theory – the “motivational wave” which is explained here.

It’s normal to have peaks and drops of motivation and we can’t expect to experience motivation constantly. Like many thoughts or feelings, motivation, moods and attitudes tend to be fleeting and temporarily come and go. Of course, acting on a goal can be much more pleasant when we feel motivated, but we don’t need to depend on motivation to carry us through the process of working towards or achieving a goal.

When those peaks of motivation occur, take advantage of them if you can. When you can’t seem to muster up any interest, try going through the steps you set out to do anyway, rather than procrastinating. You may not feel an overwhelming sense of inspiration, but you still put in some time on your plan and may end up glad you did.

When motivation is absent, it’s not a signal to make a different choice. It’s likely that there will be incidents when you have time planned out to work towards your goal and you’re feeling everything but motivation; procrastination, fatigue, distraction and boredom set in. When that happens you can mindfully accept the feeling, though uncomfortable, and get to work anyway. Consider directing your inner dialogue with some mindful guidance such as: “I can feel both unmotivated and go to bootcamp today”, or “I’m aware that my tiredness is making me unmotivated, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still complete this task”, or simply, “I recognize that I don’t feel a wave of motivation right now which will make this activity a bit more challenging in the moment”.

So when the time comes to set a goal and start working on it, consider making a list of why it’s important to you and write down small milestones to keep track of as you go. Reviewing your list can remind you of what motivated you in the first place and show you the accomplishments you’ve already made. Even if reviewing your list doesn’t spark a surge of inspiration, keep in mind you can still spend some time on it anyway.

The strategies I use in working with clients on motivation and acceptance blends Mindfulness techniques with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If you’d like to learn more, contact me, or find a therapist in your area who utilizes these techniques.