Joan felt that her husband, Craig, criticized her cooking too much. Unfortunately, she also felt it was not "nice" to argue and that to do so would make her seem defensive and foolish. Instead, she preferred to remain under-assertive; a martyr to be pitied. That is, until she learned an assertive pattern for getting what she wants called, "absurd communication."
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 raig: "Look! You're burning the chicken again! What's the matter with you, are you trying to drive me crazy?"
Joan: " guessed it! All morning I sat and tried to think of a good way to upset you. Finally inspiration struck me. I decided to burn the whole dinner-- not completely black-- but just enough to make it taste awful. You'll see it doesn't look that burned, but it's going to taste like hell! And gradually I'll wear you down by devious techniques. You'll go mad, and I'll run away with that cute young partner of yours."
Craig: "Oh...well, uh...don't you know by now that an experienced, older man like me has much more to offer?"
Humor can be used in this fashion to express negative feelings without sounding defensive. A word of caution: Absurd communication is not easy and requires practice. The idea is to turn the tables on someone you feel is abusing you; not to misuse the technique and become sarcastic. Before attempting this, familiarize yourself with the "Six C's" for using the assertive option appropriately:

  • 1) Keep cool.

  • 2) Consider the other person's point of view.

  • 3) Communicate your feelings.

  • 4) Clarify how you would like the other person to behave.

  • 5) State consequences whenever possible, both to the other person and to yourself.

  • 6) Correct timing-- choose a moment when you and the other person are calm. In the previous example, Joan could have waited for Craig to calm down. Then she might have utilized a more familiar variation of the assertive option: "I realize that you don't like burned chicken anymore than I do. But when you yell at me, I feel angry. How about it? I'm willing to work on being more attentive to not burning food if you work on not burning me!"

 Use the suggestions for appropriate assertiveness in other situations that have made you feel uneasy. (In a relaxed, even tone...) "Mr. B., I know I you are a busy person responsible for the entire department. However, I feel like I have been doing a considerable amount of work here, competently, and have not been noticed. I would really appreciate your considering me for a promotion. In addition to increasing my income, a promotion would provide me with more responsibilities--which I believe I am capable of handling--and perhaps, lighten the burden on you."
Remember to watch your timing. There is a rhythm to every experience and you don't want to be out of step. When your employer looks or sounds angry, for example, asking for a raise may be self-defeating. Similarly, commenting on how you are affected by some shortcoming of a spouse who, at the moment, is engaged in some activity designed to please you can tangle your feet.
An important aspect of communicating assertively is what you don't say: Nonverbal communication. Consider the lowered head, bend posture, failure to make eye contact; in addition to the low, indistinct voice of an under- assertive person. Effective assertiveness often involves training in erect posture, firm voice and steady eye contact. Practice in front of a mirror. In time these skills will become natural, contextualized--a part of your on-going experience apart from your conscious awareness. But be careful! Avoid becoming "over-assertive." As is might seem inappropriate for one who had just learned a self-defense skill like karate to hang-out in dark alleys looking for muggers, it is also not useful for you to go out and find someone to abuse you so that you can be aggressive and overstate your case. Be seen and heard; and more content... but don't overdo