Expressing feelings assertively
Once a year on 14th February, many of us declare our love to someone we admire – our Valentine. You might do this secretly with an anonymous card or openly at a candlelit dinner.
However, feelings are too important to express only once a year. The failure to express feelings can lead to an emptiness in relationships and ultimately misunderstandings and conflict such as:
- Why didn’t you tell me?
- Well you should know how I feel
- But I don’t know how you feel if you don’t tell me
- Well, if you don’t know how I feel by now…..
Whether you’re in a relationship or single, the ability to express feelings appropriately in your personal life and professional role is a valuable assertive skill.
Here are 10 top tips on expressing feelings assertively:
1. Don’t assume others know how you feel – tell them – or they have no choice but to make assumptions about you
2. Express your feelings using the assertive skill of self-disclosure to express both positive and negative feelings “I feel…”, “I care”, “I’m upset”, “I’m happy”, “I’m concerned”, “I’m delighted”, “I’m worried”, “I’m pressured”, “I’m nervous”.
3. Expressing or talking about negative feelings appropriately can help you to disperse some of those feelings; to move on or cope better with a challenging situation. Talk to someone you trust: “I’m a bit nervous about presenting to the Board, but I am well prepared”. Expressing the negative feeling and the positive fact will help.
4. Think about what is appropriate to say. This may depend on whom you are speaking to and whether it’s a work or personal situation. It may be fine to say to a friend “I’m worried about work. It’s getting on top of me” but better to tell your manager “I’m concerned about the overlapping deadlines of the two projects and would like to discuss increasing our resources for them.”
5. Who pulls your strings, you or others? Avoid saying: “You make me feel...”. You give away your power as if they, and not you, are responsible for how you feel. It is also blaming and the other person is likely to jump on the barricades and put up defences. It’s a great way to start an argument.
6. When you use an “I” statement, even to express a vulnerable feeling, your ownership of this feeling constitutes a strength, e.g. “I’m disappointed….” and not “you let me down”. Others cannot argue with how you feel since it is true for you: "Well you’ve no need to feel disappointed". "As I said, I am disappointed". So when someone puts pressure on you to buy today as the 20% off closes today, self-disclosure is a powerful tool: “I feel pressured to buy today and what I want to do is to take time to do some research and then make a decision”.
7. Invite others to express their feelings to you and be open to listening. Don’t ridicule or ignore their feelings. Expressing and listening to feelings is a key part of building understanding and empathetic relationships.
8. Be aware that someone who is angry or distressed may not be able to listen or move on until they have been given an opportunity to vent their feelings.
9. If we do not allow people to say it for themselves, we are left to make assumptions about how they feel and what they are thinking. By being open and allowing others to be open, you create paths for empathy and understanding.
10. In situations of conflict and disagreement, one party acknowledging the other’s feelings is often the first step towards defusing hostility and opening the way to dialogue
To summarise, please consider this metaphorical quote from Emily Post:
Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.