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Defeat Passive-Aggressiveness With Compassionate Assertiveness

When you express yourself assertively, you stop seeing yourself as a victim.

Key points

  • Passive-aggressiveness is often associated with a posture of helplessness, victimhood, and self-absorption.
  • You must healthily communicate your needs to achieve your goals and form close relationships with people who will support and enrich your life.
  • Empathy is important when communicating with compassionate assertiveness.
BigStock/ Chinnapong
Source: BigStock/ Chinnapong

Many of us were not taught how to communicate our needs and express our anger in a healthy way when we were kids. Even if our caregivers loved us, they might not have been skilled role models when it came to teaching us how to listen and communicate.

Instead, our caregivers may have inadvertently taught us the wrong ways to deal with our emotions, such as through passive-aggressiveness. Now, as adults, when we don’t get our needs met or feel that our wants have not been listened to, we might turn to passive-aggressiveness to get our way or express our anger. This, of course, doesn’t work and further weakens already weak relationships.

Passive-aggressiveness is often associated with a posture of helplessness, victimhood, and self-absorption. The opposite of passive-aggressiveness is compassionate assertiveness. When you listen compassionately and express yourself assertively, you will stop seeing yourself as—and behaving as if you are—a victim. To achieve your goals and form close relationships with people who will support and enrich your life, you must healthily communicate your wants and listen to and respect others’ wants as well.

To use this new communication style, you must empathize with others. This will help lift you out of your self-centered bubble. Beyond their words, you will hear the thoughts and needs they are trying to convey. You will begin to experience the world and situation from their point of view, and that will tell them that you care about them and want to understand them better. It says, “I understand that your thoughts and needs are reasonable, and I respect and care about your well-being.” Begin by practicing these six rules of compassionate listening:

  • Listen with your full attention—don’t look at your phone or computer screen—and make frequent eye contact; don’t look away when they are speaking.
  • Don’t show boredom or impatience. If you feel either, adjust your attitude and remind yourself what’s most important to you, your goal.
  • Treat the other person with respect—no mocking or dismissing their feelings.
  • Ask questions to make sure you understand their point of view.
  • Validate what they are saying. You don’t have to agree with what they’re saying, but you must accept that their feelings matter and are as real as yours.
  • From time to time, repeat back what they have told you so that you—and they—are clear that you understand what they are trying to express. Don’t add a negative spin to their remarks (e.g., “You want to watch that silly TV show”).

Next, you can try expressing yourself with assertiveness while keeping compassion at the forefront and remembering what you have just heard. Keep these rules of assertiveness in mind:

  • Speak calmly, and don’t rush.
  • Be specific; avoid generalizing by keeping words like always and never out of your vocabulary.
  • Don’t assume the other person knows what you’re thinking and feeling.
  • Present your point of view in a composed and confident way.
  • Use “I” statements. For example, say, “I feel a little sad now,” not “You hurt my feelings.”
  • Be conscious of how your voice sounds and what your body language suggests.
  • Assertiveness doesn’t mean hogging the spotlight or interrupting the other person. Don’t.

If you practice these communication skills in all your conversations, you will hone them so they will be ready to work for you when the talk involves conflict resolution. Compassionate assertiveness will make you feel powerful and in control and convey your strength to the people you interact with. It says, “I believe my thoughts and needs are reasonable, and I am confident that you will want to hear what I have to say.”

It is never too late to learn how to communicate in a straightforward way that expresses your position and reaches out to others with empathy and compassion.