principles of assertive communicationAfter a harsh winter, we’re grateful to pack away our coats and gloves and do a little spring-cleaning. While you’re sweeping and tidying your home, give some thought to how you can spring-clean your relationship as well. There’s no such thing as a healthy relationship with poor communication and since spring is all about starting anew, why not use the opportunity to turn over a new leaf in your communication with your partner? The 7 principles of assertive communication are important.

There are four different communication styles: aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. Aggressive communicators are reactive, loud, and point fingers; passive ones frequently apologize and have trouble speaking their mind; and passive-aggressive ones use sarcasm, criticism, and disingenuousness. Assertive communicators, on the other hand, are aware of their emotions and those of others, express their needs directly and clearly, actively listen to their partners, and approach interactions in a spirit of collaboration.

How do you become an assertive communicator?

You may have been using an unproductive communication style for years or even decades, but it’s never too late to learn a new one and it’s relatively easy to. All you need to get started is to learn the seven principles of assertive communication.

Principle #1– Aiming for a win-win
Throw your old win-lose approach to conflict out of the window. Assertive communication requires that you approach every disagreement with your partner with the ultimate goal of both of you “winning.” Only when you’re both happy and healthy is it possible to be happy and healthy together.

Principle #2– Invite emotional sharing
Your partner comes home cranky or withdrawn and you immediately assume their mood is your fault. The assertive way to handle this situation is simple: Ask what’s wrong and ask it sincerely. Let your partner tell you his or her thoughts and emotions instead imagining their internal life and making assumptions.

Principle #3– Learn to listen; listen to understand
As the idiom goes, you can hear what someone says, but if you’re not truly listening then it goes in one ear and out the other. To be an effective listener you must: focus on the present, lower your defenses, remember your goals (“win-win”), look for points of agreement, and repeat what you hear so you can both be certain the other is correctly interpreting what’s been said.

Principle #4– Practice empathy
Empathy for your partner can go much deeper than just seeing the world from their perspective. Empathy can mean caring as much about your partner’s well-being as you care about your own. The first step is to recognize that your partner’s needs and boundaries are separate from yours and that he or she experiences life differently than you.

Principle #5– Communicate how you feel
Being in touch with how your partner feels––by listening to learn and having empathy–– is important, but it doesn’t mean you should dismiss your own feelings. Using I statements is a classic communication skill and one you’ve probably heard before. Although you may not mean to control or criticize your partner, when you use you in a conversation, you’re doing just that.

Principles #6– Learn to negotiate
One strategy to solve conflict is to limit your focus to only what you can and will do to resolve the problem. You and your partner reflect on the issue between you, take responsibility for your respective roles in it, and describe the steps you each will take to resolve the problem. Don’t point fingers or tell your partner what to do. It’s a strategy that generates mutual respect instead of anger.

Principle #7– Say you’re sorry
Even if you follow the first six principles of assertive communication, you’re going to sometimes say or do something hurtful. At one time or another, you’ve been on the receiving end of emotional pain or disappointment and at the time you probably wanted an apology. You wanted to know that the offending person acknowledges your pain and his or her role in causing it. When you’ve hurt someone, remember this need you once had for an apology and apologize.

Mindful attitudes about yourself and your relationship are the key to assertive communication. Dealing with relationship conflict is difficult, but when everyone is listened to, heard, and treated with respect, all parties will be more inclined to communicate openly and honestly and to resolve differences. This won’t happen if you aren’t listening to your own feelings, especially anger, and if you’re not listening to your partner’s.