Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

A Two-person
 Assertion Practice

Learn from experience

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/skills/assert_practice.htm

Updated  01-04-2015

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      To get the most from reading this, print this intro to assertion and this practice outline, and give copies to a partner who shares your interest in building communication effectiveness. Reserve at least 30" of undistracted time to do this exercise together.

      Bring materials for note-taking. If your partner isn't familiar with the concepts of personality subselves, true Self and false self, R(espect) messages, and empathic listening, brief them on these. Option: invite your partner to take this communication  quiz, and then study this article summarizing communication basics.

      Here are some ideas on how to practice effective assertion with a partner. Read this whole practice-outline first, and then improvise what follows to suit your situation.:

       Prepare: Define What You Need

      Each of you pick something you want a real communication partner to understand or change - something that significantly hurts, angers, energizes, and/or frustrates you. Don't pick a major issue that enrages you or usually starts a huge argument. If you can't define a real issue to practice asserting on, use one of the examples below or make one up.

      Respectful assertion is saying what you need, feel, or think to someone in a way they can hear you clearly. Clarify your definition of effective assertion - e.g. (a) each person gets their current needs met well enough (in their judgment), (b) in a way that preserves or improves (c) their self and mutual respects and (d) their relationship. Are you an effective asserter? What would your friends say?

      1)  Define what you need from the other person, and draft your assertive statement.

 "I need you to...

      Caution - beware of asserting a self-defeating "Be spontaneous!" paradox - i.e. expecting, requesting, or demanding something which by it's nature can only be given spontaneously - like love, trust, respect, interest, caring, awareness, empathy, or tolerance. If you're unclear on whether your need may be one of these, see how to "dig down" to uncover current your primary (vs. surface) needs. 

      2)  Briefly and clearly, identify your real communication-partner's probable response/s to your assertion. Examples: changing the subject / attacking you / becoming silent / withdrawing emotionally or physically / bringing up the past / excusing or explaining why s/he can't or won't comply / arguing / discounting your need or opinion / etc.

      If you aren't sure of their response, review these common blocks for inspiration, or make up some resistances you'd like to practice responding assertively to.

      3)  Write an empathic-listening response you'd use to acknowledge each of their main resistances to your assertion ("So you think / feel / want / need... etc.")

  • Partner’s first resistance to your assertion:


    Your empathic-listening response:


  • Partner’s second resistance:


    Your empathic-listening response:


  • Partner’s third resistance:


    Your empathic-listening response:


      4)  Use your assertion statement and these resistances and responses to guide you in the following two-way practice. 

     Practice Asserting Your Needs

      Decide with your partner who will assert first. Help each other assume the objective, curious "mind of a student,” and recall that “mistakes” help to grow your awareness and communication skills. Progress, not Perfection!” 

    1) Asserter:

  • Do a Self check: sense whether your true Self is guiding your other personality subselves now. If not, sense who is controlling you. If you're practiced at working with your subselves, try the "step-aside" or unblending techniques to free your Self to lead.

  • Brief your partner on your communication situation, and the specific "resistances" (above) that you'd like them to role-play in the practice, or ask them to improvise. Your partner’s job is to help you assert by resisting realistically, not to “beat” you.

  • Focus on your specific needs with your real-life partner, and get some internal "steam" up...

  • Do a respect-check: Do I feel my real-life partner's needs and dignity are equal to mine now? If not – why? How do I expect him or her to react to my attitude?

  • Hold comfortable eye contact with your practice partner, assert briefly and clearly what you need -  and expect resistance.

    2)  Partner: give a “resistance” with some appropriate energy!

    3)  Asserter:

  • Using empathic listening, summarize your (practice) partner's response without judgment. Be quiet and attentive - watch for a nod / "uh-huh" / "yes" etc. Listen empathically again if needed, until you get that. Then re-assert, briefly and clearly, and expect more resistance.

  • Repeat this cycle through two or three resistances, and then stop.

    4)  Partner: give the asserter brief feedback on…

    The R(espect message) you got from them (=/=, 1-up, or 1-down);

    Whether you felt genuinely heard (not agreed with) by the asserter after your “resistances,"

    What emotions you felt during the experience,

    Anything you specifically liked about the asserter's approach, and...

    Anything you feel might help them assert more effectively.

    5)  Switch roles and repeat these steps. Take your time!

6)  Debrief, and describe what you each noticed as your practice unfolded. Allow for the fact that you were role-playing, so some artificiality is inevitable. Possible discussion points:

  • Who was leading the asserter's personality – their (true) Self or someone else?

  • What R(espect) messages did each of you experience – 1-up, 1-down, or =/= (mutual respect)?

  • What did you notice about each person's E(motion) levels - below or above the ears)? Did it go up or down during the practice? If so - why?

  • What was the asserter's self talk (thought streams) as s/he (a) asserted, and (b) experienced "resistance." These are subselves "talking."

  • How did you each feel about the empathic listening responses - were they respectful? Effective? (Did the "resistor's" E-level come down a little?)

  • How did this process compare with the real-life sequence of assertion and resistances?

  • What was the outcome of the assertion sequence - did both people get their main primary needs met?

_ assertion successful // _ negotiation begun // _ something else.

          Keys to effective assertion: with your true Self guiding you, dig down to identify your current primary needs and validate them. Expect your partner to "resist" without blaming them, and when s/he does, respond with brief, respectful empathic listening. Then calmly and firmly re-assert, and expect the next resistance. Watch for your partner's genuine compliance with your need, or a chance to problem-solve together.

     Sample Assertions and Responses (Resistances)

  • "I need you to hang up your (clothes / towel / robe), instead of dropping them on the floor, where they get in my way." (Resistances: "It's too much trouble" / "I just forget" / "Well, you're no neatnik yourself!" / "I'm always in such a rush...")

  • "When you commit to meet me at a certain time, I need you to be on time or to let me know if you'll be late." (Resistances: "I forget" / "I have a different standard" / "You're always so uptight" / "Well, you're always late paying the bills"...)

  • "I need you to not smoke when: (we're in the car with the windows up / I'm eating / we're about to go to bed...). It really distracts me." (Resistances: "This never bothered you before" / I'll do that if you stop snoring" / "You're always trying to control me" / "Sure, sure"...)

      Other high-energy topics: worship / time together / parenting / relatives / special events / money / wills / sex / jobs / chores / home maintenance / socializing / health / trips / politics / trust / respect / reliability / hygiene /  ...

      Repeat this practice periodically with different partners and problems. Note your option to practice with the real person you want to assert to - including kids!

Thoughts / Learnings



 More Communication-skill Practices

      Note this unique Lesson-2 guidebook on effective communication skills: It integrates the key resources in online Lesson 2.

Continue online Lesson 2

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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