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Step-By-Step Roadmap To Communicate Your Needs And Get More Out Of Your Relationships

Written by: Laryssa Levesque, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


In any type of relationship, whether that be romantic, friendship, or work-related, a great deal of energy and effort is needed to keep it healthy and fulfilling. But this can be hard when we are faced with unpleasant or difficult situations, such as being hurt by something our partner did or frustration with a colleague during a project. In these cases, we need to effectively speak up for ourselves and communicate what isn’t working and what we need instead to feel better within the relationship.

How to Communicate in Any Difficult Situation

1. Observe your inner world

This initial step of observing and reflecting on what is going on inside you (i.e., thoughts, feelings, reactions, etc.) happens before you say anything and is crucial to showing up authentically in relationships and getting your needs met. Pay attention to any adverse reactions to how others treat you; are you feeling annoyed, upset, or angry when someone said or did something to you? Is a part of you wanting to “be nice” and suppress these reactions to not make the other person upset or to appear “easy-going”? Notice these cover-up reactions to your initial reactions as well.

2. Figure out what you want

The next step involves reflecting on these initial reactions further to figure out what you want in this situation. Why am I so upset? What would make things better for me? Perhaps your partner has a bad habit of going on their phone when you are trying to talk to them and it makes you feel dismissed or unimportant. Do you need them to be fully present when you are talking? Or maybe your boss asks you to stay late to finish up projects that really could be completed the following day and it makes you feel like your time isn’t respected and angry. Do you want your boss to leave overtime up to your discretion? Is that reasonable?

3. Start with “I noticed…”

Now it's time to actually speak up for what you want but in a neutral and curious way. You still might be feeling riled up, upset, or annoyed, but if you let those emotions steer you in your conversation, you’re more likely to come across in a hostile or blaming manner which will only make the other person defensive. Using “I” statements removes the accusatory tone by taking responsibility for what you think and feel, rather than blaming that person for such. You’ll also need to state the objective observable behaviour the person is doing that is leading to your upset. Don’t make any assumptions or interpretations here. For example, “I noticed that you ask me to stay late almost every day to complete assignments” rather than “You never respect my time and make me stay late when it isn’t necessary”.

4. Stay present and self-aware

Give the conversation some time to unravel to explore the other person’s point of view. Remember, relationships are a 2-way street and we have more to consider than just our thoughts and feelings. Maybe there is a reasonable explanation for why someone is doing something and they just don’t understand or realize why it is upsetting us. Continue to use your “I” statements and remain neutral. Be mindful of what you are internally experiencing and repeat steps 1-3 as needed. As well, bear in mind that the other person might be challenging you and pushing back. Stay calm and try rephrasing what they are saying to you and check if you understood – “…is that right?” These are active listening skills that are essential to understanding others’ perspectives in conversations.

5. Express Your Feelings

Steps 1-4 involve information gathering figuring out what is going on inside of you and gently broaching the issue with the other person to explore the situation further. Now it's time to be vulnerable and communicate to them the impact of their actions. We can stick to a more advanced “I” statement like “I felt ___ when you ___ because ___” to illustrate how you feel in response to the objective action they are doing. In the example at work, this might sound like “I feel overwhelmed and frustrated when you ask me to stay late because it bleeds into my personal time and I can’t get other important responsibilities done.” Remember, when communicating your feelings, it is important to stay neutral and calm in your tone and body language.

6. Say what you want

Now we are into the good stuff expressing what you actually want from the situation. This will surely be a difficult thing to do, especially if you struggle with assertive communication or people-pleasing. But if you want to have genuine and authentic relationships with others, you need to speak up for yourself and ask for what you want or need, otherwise, you’ll quickly find yourself in one-sided, unreciprocated relationships where you are the one always giving and sacrificing your needs for others. Approach communicating with the understanding that people don’t mind readers; if we assume they will “get the hint” we are just setting ourselves up for more frustration, hurt, and disappointment. So, try to be as simple and concise as possible- we don’t need to sugar coat it, overexplain or beat around the bush.

…But will this work?

One of the biggest misconceptions in using assertive communication is the belief that all we need to do is express our needs clearly and people will listen interpersonal issues, are solved! Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. When you stand up for yourself and communicate your needs, others might not agree or be receptive to changing their behaviour. They might even be taken aback by your newfound voice and not know how to respond. To ensure the best delivery of your needs, check their understanding by asking “how does that sound to you?” and try to work towards a mutual agreement that will leave you both satisfied.

However, sometimes even after people agree to treat you better and work on the issues at hand, people don’t follow through on their word and you end up back at square one. While this is certainly frustrating and disappointing, it does not mean that you have failed in your assertive communication techniques. All we can control is ourselves; how other people choose to respond is not up to us.

If, after continuously using these assertive communication techniques the issue is still happening, it might be time to take a good hard look at your relationships. Does this person actually want to work on things for you (or with you)? Are you willing to keep being unheard of in relationships? Was the relationship only working when you were not speaking up for yourself to make them happy?

This might be a whole separate issue of facing the hard truth that the relationship just isn’t going to work. This is an unfortunate part of life, but if you are truly ready to work on yourself and pursue genuinely satisfying relationships, then you may need to move on from the relationship. Continuing to sacrifice your needs for the sake of others will only lead to resentment, stress, frustration, and disappointment. (Learn more about how therapy can help you through relationship issues here).

The Bottom Line

Communicating our needs can be hard, especially when it pertains to an uncomfortable or difficult situation. By increasing our self-awareness and clearly communicating our feelings and needs to others, we can work on assertiveness skills that will help lead to better relationships. If you need help with how to be more assertive, reach out to a therapist who can work with you to enhance these skills. Our team offers complimentary 15-minute phone consultations to explore your needs further.

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Laryssa Levesque, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Laryssa is a Registered Psychotherapist and entrepreneur. She is the owner and clinical director of virtual mental health practice, Inner Growth Counselling & Psychotherapy, which provides comfortable, down-to-earth, and genuine therapy services to children, teens, adults, couples, and families. Her mission is to modernize therapy by making it accessible and convenient for people to seek help and destigmatize mental health issues. She believes that everyone would benefit from therapy to help them rediscover their authentic self, find balance and control in life, and live more meaningfully, free of the burden of mental health issues.



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