How to be assertive (while keeping your relationships intact)

Using “I” statements can help when you get into squabbles.

The question:
My roommate almost never does her dishes. How can I confront her so that she doesn’t get mad at me?

While peace in the home is important, so is cleanliness and your well-being. The good news is that this situation is a great opportunity to practice assertive communication skills, the key ingredient for healthy relationships.

It’s important to understand the difference between assertive and other communication styles:

1. Aggressive: Being demanding, hostile or rude.

Example: “What do I look like, a maid? Stop being so inconsiderate, selfish and lazy, and do the dishes for a change.”

Outcome: Time to look for a new roommate.

2. Passive: Always giving in to what others want. 

Example: You keep doing the dishes without complaint while secretly wishing you could stick a few dirty pots on your roommate’s bed.

Outcome: Resentment that could lead to an aggressive episode or an early coronary. Not recommended.

3Passive-aggressive: You tell people what they want to hear, but continue to display behaviors that express what you’re not saying.

Example: You say you don’t mind doing the dishes and leave a moldy dish on your roommate’s bed.

Outcome:  Time to look for a new roommate.

4. Assertive: Being honest, direct and respectful.
You take responsibility for your own feelings and address the problematic behavior without attacking the character of the perpetrator. The best way to be assertive is to use “I” statements. You can follow this simple formula:

State your feeling: “I get     upset  … “
 
Reaction to a specific behavior: “…when I see your dirty dishes piling up in the sink … ”

Statement of impact: ” … because if I don’t do them, we’ll get bugs. And if I do them, I will feel resentful, which won’t be good for our friendship.”
 
Request regarding the future: “In the future, please try to wash your dishes after you use them or when you notice they’re piling up.”

Think about which response would be easiest for you to hear. Although doing nothing will keep the peace, it will certainly raise your blood pressure. Using “I” statements will not only help you achieve your goal of a clean environment, but it will also help you maintain better relationships with everyone — including yourself.

– Kim Schneiderman, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and former journalist with a private
practice in New York City. She is currently working on her first book, “How to Be the Star of Your Own Story: Writing the Path to Personal Transformation,” based on the therapeutic writing workshops she’s taught at the 92nd Street Y and JCC in Manhattan. E-mail her your questions at askkim@metro.us.

Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages.


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