How to Speak Assertively / Making a Request
Speaking assertively means you can tell others what you need and want clear, directly and respectfully. Using “I” statements and making sure you are not telling others what they think, want or need. You will not use fighting language. You want what is best for you and the other person. You want the other person to hear what you are saying to them without either of you feeling frustrated or defensive.
The skill of speaking assertively is not something most people did not learn growing up. But it is never too late to learn. If possible practice with another person, it’s best if it’s the person you want to learn to communicate with.
1. “When ___________ happens”
Describe a situation you are concerned about. No fighting words. Be careful not to insult or blame. Explain the situation, but be as brief as you can; the other person can become defensive or overwhelmed with too much information.
2. “I feel __________________”
Say what it is that you feel, be as brief as possible.
3. “I’d like ________________ to happen”
Be specific and brief. Ask for what you need to change without being insulting to the other person. For example: “I don’t know how to change if you tell me I’m selfish, but if you tell me you want me to help you more with something, tell me what it is and I can help you.” Remember people can’t change their personalities, but they can change their behavior.
Making an assertive request:
Being assertive usually means controlling your own behavior without trying to control someone else’s behavior. You might need to ask for something from your partner. How can you do this in a non-abusive, non-controlling way? You state what you would like to happen, and let your partner decide whether or not they are willing to go along with the request. They control their actions.
Tips and Observations:
• Ask yourself what you would like to happen.
• Before you make the request, decide for yourself what you think is reasonable in the circumstances.
• You have the right to ask, but remember that the other person has the right to say no.
One way to ensure that you are making assertive requests it to use a DESO script. DESO stands for:
There are four steps in making an assertive request.
Before making your request, define the situation. What is going on? Be as clear as you can without giving a long explanation. If the request has to do with your partner’s behavior, rather than on their personality or motives.
Examples: “there’s a lot to do before we can go on holidays”, “it’s been a long time since we went out, without the kids”, “You haven’t done what you had agreed to do”
Your goal is to make a request not to argue, hurt your partner, even the score or criticize. Accusing another person of having a negative personality trait or that they make poor choices is likely to make them defensive and they will not be open to the rest of your message. Always focus on the behavior.
Express how you are feeling in this situation.
• State your emotions don’t act them out. Avoid “letting them have it” with the full impact of your emotions. A simple statement will do – “I’m not feeling valued right now” this can feel like an understatement, but you will usually have a better outcome.
• Emphasize the positive. Focus more on the positive emotions you wish you were feeling, rather than the negative emotions you are currently feeling. Instead of saying “I am so angry when you do this”, you could say, “When this happens I don’t feel as close to you as I would like to”. Focusing on the positive tells your partner you value them and the relationship.
• Stay calm. Try to stay calm when you say what you feel. Simply stating what you feel is enough, you don’t have to yell or threaten to let them know how you are feeling. Further, if you are empathic, you might realize that showing your emotions might cause a fear response in your partner. This is not a good for them, and it is hard to solve problems when afraid.
• Use “I” statements. Take responsibility for your emotions and do not blame your partner for your feelings. This will only make people defensive. Remind yourself that you want to solve a relationship problem with the person you care about, not FIGHT. You want to bring out the best in your partner – you also want your children to know how to solve problems. So, using “I” statements show that you take responsibility for how you feel.
• Avoid being a Martyr. Some people find it tempting to overemphasize how bad they feel in a situation and might want to make the other person feel guilty. The idea is that guilt will motivate the other person to change. This usually doesn’t work. Even if it does, it often damages the relationship. State how you feel, but don’t overstate it.
This is the stage where you make your request. What exactly would you like to happen?
• Decide what you want ahead of time. You might feel strong emotions while talking to the person, so make sure you know what you want and how you are going to say it.
• Be clear, but brief. In most situations, your request should only take one or two sentences, be specific. For example: “Could you pick up the kids from school on Fridays?” is much better than “You need to help out more.”
• Frame the request positively. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. For example: “Could we spend this holiday with my family?” is better than “I don’t like your mother, it’s not fair we have to spend all our time with her.”
• Focus on behavior. What do you want your partner to do? Don’t ask for changes in how they think or feel. Avoid being too general. For example: “stop resenting me” or “you need to be more considerate”.
Some specific request examples: “I’d like you to tell me what is upsetting you about after the kids have gone to bed.” “I’d like to spend more time just the two of us.” “I’d like us to laugh together more.”
The more specific you are the more agreeable your partner is likely going to be for your request.
The last step is to describe the outcome that you think will follow if the other person does or does not go along with your suggestion. This is not punishment.
• Feelings – You will feel better. The most common outcome statement: “I’d really like that much better” or “I would feel much more comfortable”
• Results – sometimes your suggested outcome will have concrete results. “I think I will get the yardwork done much faster this way and then we can have more time together.” “This way we will get along better.” “I could get the important things done first, and you won’t have to wait on me anymore.”
• Reward – Maybe you will do something for the other person. “If you could do that for me, I could pick up the kids form school all week.” “This would make more time for you on the weekend, and you could go out with your friends if you would like.”
• Consequences / punishment – perhaps the other person doesn’t do what you request, you will do something they don’t like. USE THIS SPARINGLY AND FAIRLY – people react much more positively to rewards! “If you can’t be faithful to me, I will have to do something neither of us want – end the relationship”
By stating this outcome, you are taking responsibility for your own behavior and letting others be responsible for theirs. You are not DEMANDING that others do things – this would be controlling. Instead you are simply saying what you will feel and do if they act in certain ways. Others can decide what they want to do of their own free will.
Remember that negative consequences cause resentment. Research shows that punishment is less successful at changing behavior. In most situations take the time to frame the request in a positive way. It is recommended that you try to give 3 times more rewards then punishments, and 3 times more compliments than criticisms.
One more tip about outcomes:
People often make outcome statements that are vague or excessive. These are unlikely to come true, and your partner will know it. If you do this, others will not take you seriously. Here are some examples:
“And then everything will work out perfectly.”
“Then I’ll never forgive you.”
“Then we wouldn’t have anymore problems.”
So- be specific and realistic when making outcome statements.
Writing a DESO Script
You could use whenever you have an important concern with your partner that you wish to handle in a loving and compassionate way, and when you want a problem solved.
First – think of the situation with your partner:
Now, give the actual statements you could make for each stage.
Describe – Remember to focus on behaviour:
Express – state how you feel without acting it out. Use an “I” statement:
Specify – What would you like to happen? Be Brief, focus on behaviour and frame it positively:
Outcome – What will happen if you get what you want? How will you feel, what results will take place, what will you do in return? If you do not get what you want what will you do?: