be more assertive: 3 tips for better conversations

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Disagreement is difficult to navigate–especially in the virtual spaces that have come to dominate our lives.

It’s all too easy to turn inward when faced with conflict: shutting the conversation down rather than hashing out your differences.

But there are steps you can take to improve your assertiveness and make your side of the story heard. Here are 3 tips to become more assertive and improve your communication.

1. Use “and” rather than “but”

“But” is a powerful word in conversation. Someone may agree with everything you’re saying–then hit you with a but that totally negates that approval.

But, in other words, is as powerful as “no”. If you say and instead, it reframes things more positively and turns the conversation on its head.

The comedy world uses a concept called “yes, and” to describe how to approach improv. The yes signifies that you’re moving forward with what was already done (or, in a conversation, said). The and shows that you’re going to build on the other person’s momentum and take it in your own direction.

“A large part of improv is that you are always there for your scene partner or partners, and, in turn, they are always there for you,” comedy troupe Second City says. “This is the goal of ‘Yes, And’!”

The lesson: Listen, encourage, and remain positive to keep your conversations moving forward.

2. Remember the RULER principle

In 2005, Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence crafted a system to help young people monitor and manage their emotions. They called it RULER for the 5 skills that make up emotional intelligence:

  • Recognizing emotions
  • Understanding emotions
  • Labeling emotions
  • Expressing emotions
  • Regulating emotions

The program, now taught in more than 2,000 schools, has been shown to increase warmth, positivity, and cooperation among students and teachers. At its core, RULER is about getting a handle on one’s emotions, rather than simply reacting to them.

Emotion is what can make assertiveness difficult. It’s easy to overthink (“they’re not interested in what I have to say”) or get flustered (“they won’t like me if I disagree with them”). Remembering RULER will help you keep these unhelpful emotional responses in check. Sometimes, that’s as simple as waiting a beat before you reply–rather than blurting something out in the heat of the moment.

The lesson: Cultivate emotional intelligence (and zen) by pausing to remember RULER.

3. Present suggestions rather than ultimatums

If you and your spouse are arguing over dinner, you might be tempted to ratchet the debate down by just agreeing to get what they want. Instead, consider suggesting several options that you’d be happy with and asking them for their opinion.

This process is known as MESO: multiple equivalent simultaneous offers. It’s used in the corporate world for high-stakes negotiations, but it works great for interpersonal conflict too.

MESO is useful because it helps you understand what the other person values. It also presents them with a choice, lessening the chance that they’ll reject you outright.

“Making multiple offers simultaneously signals your willingness to be accommodating and flexible, and your desire to understand the other party’s preferences,” Harvard professor Max Bazerman explains.

The lesson: Suggest ways forward so control is shared — and not “owned” by any one person.

How do you remain calm and confident, even in difficult conversations? We’d love to hear your take–find us on social media @illumyinc.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

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