Deliberate Skills: Assertive Communication

I have been teaching a model for assertive communication for a few years from a book by Marshall Rosenberg entitled Nonviolent Communication, a Language of Life. I like this book because it is accessible and practical.

Rosenberg offers us nonviolent communication in four easy steps:

I notice (provide specific, objective, verifiable data)

I need (identify the underlying motivation, that positive reframe which fulfills your expectations, beliefs or concerns about a situation)

I feel (identify your emotion, knowing that you own your emotions, and they are valid, in fact another piece of data)

I request (a specific, doable feasible request for action which is offered without blame or potential repercussions)

Rosenberg’s model is powerful. It does take some thinking or planning, however. I coach my students to spend quiet time considering the answer to each of these phrases, and anticipating or hunching what might be important to the other party. What are their needs? What are they feeling? What might they request of you?

This works if you have time to plan it, think about it, and if you have the all important safe space for a collaborative dialogue. But what if you don’t? What if the situation is urgent? What is the best way to be heard without raising defenses in the midst of the action?

Let’s take an example of a nurse’s aide and a nurse. The nurse has the medical knowledge, authority, and the responsibility of administering certain medical procedures, but is new on shift and new to the patient. The aide has the benefit of working a 12 hour shift with a particular patient, and knowledge of individual patient needs. In the heat of the moment the aide demands “Turn the patient onto their right side!” The nurse, knowing the procedure is more effective on the left, lashes back and refuses. The aide is frustrated, because her patient knowledge is not recognized, and the nurse is frustrated because her authority and medical knowledge are questioned.

We will rewind the tape. “He has staples in his left hip and is in pain.” The aide focuses on the verifiable data and empowers the nurse to make the best decision for the patient. The opportunity arises for the aide to be recognized for her knowledge.

Very small changes in the way we communicate have a tremendous impact and improve outcomes. Be deliberate with your speaking and listening skills, and improved working relationships will result.

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