I sometimes coach people whose interactions with bosses, colleagues, partners, and significant others rob them of their joy, causing them to want to check out and withdraw into their shell. On the receiving end, they are left feeling unhappy, angry, and sometimes depressed; their confidence and sense of self-worth shattered. The energy expended feels toxic. Sometimes, I also coach the very people who make others feel this way.

If one does not intentionally want to cause harm to others, but instead seeks to get the best out of them, one must mind his communication. But we know that, and often try and do our best. Yes, indeed, we do, but what is less clear is: “what constitutes good communication?” We don’t want to be shortchanged in the process of minding other people’s feelings.  

To bring about a desired outcome and succeed in our interactions, in our conversations, and in our relationships, it pays to monitor the emotional content and the energy we put in motion. Positive emotions build optimism, resilience, grow relationships, prevent depression, and increase well-being, over time.                                        

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying: “Insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

In our interactions, the paradigm shift we ought to make consists in giving energy, focusing on what we can create together, rather than what hurdles we face.

Again, quoting Albert Einstein: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew.”

But what are we really talking about here? We are talking about developing a moment-to-moment awareness of our communication styles and responses.

There are four basic types of communication: the aggressive style, the passive style, the passive-aggressive style and the assertive style of communication.

In the aggressive style of communication, a person expresses their wants, needs, ideas, and feelings, and stands up for their own rights in a way that violates the rights of others. That person humiliates, dominates, hurts, or puts down others. Their communication looks and feels like an attack on another person.  Even if they in turn make other people angry and ready for revenge, they do it often because the aggressive behavior works. They get what they want (to vent anger, to prevail, feel superior and more powerful).

In the passive style of communication, a person fails to express their wants, needs, ideas, and feelings, (or expresses them in self-deprecating ways), and refuses to stand up for themselves when someone else infringes upon their rights. A person with a passive communication style easily gives in to what other people want, inhibits his honest, spontaneous reactions. They avoid unpleasant situations, conflicts, tension, and confrontations, do not get what they want, and feel hurt, anxious and angry as a result. In the short-term, passive responses may reduce anxiety, but over time they produce a loss of self-esteem, internal tensions that lead to stress, anger and a propensity for depression. The more we allow other people to walk over us, the less self-respect we have, the more we feel the need to please everyone around us, be perfect in their eyes, and deny ourselves.

In the assertive style of communication a person expresses their wants, needs, ideas, and feelings, and stands up for their own rights in a way that does not violate the rights of others. An assertive person feels confident, self-respecting, and communicates respect, empathy, and honesty. A person with this style of communication acts in his or her best interest, stands up for self, is confident, and controls their emotions during interactions, while maintaining a positive rapport with others, feeling good, and respectful. Assertiveness is one of the most important strategies for managing the kind of stress that comes from other people. In assertiveness you ask for what you want and need directly and openly. People with this style of communication often get what they want.

In the passive-aggressive style of communication a person expresses their wants, needs, ideas, and feelings, in a subdued, indecisive, unclear and indirect manner, if at all. They appear pleasant, and calm on the surface while underneath they are angry. A person with this style of communication does not act in his or her best interests, does not stand up for self or confront situations or people directly, undermines others behind their back, is not confident, and destroys relationships over time as their behavior becomes more perplexing, and loses other people’s respect.

When you are a transformational leader, assertive communication is the only way to go. You create win-wins. You simply seek to be heard. We have the right to respect ourselves and be respected; to make clear, « I » statements, about how we feel and what we think; to express our own needs as individuals, to ask for what we want, rather than hoping someone will guess what we want; to act on the belief that we are not responsible for the behavior of other adults; and to respect other people and their right to be assertive as well. That is freedom from savagery, and that is pure joy.

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I write in the margin. J'écris dans la marge.

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