By John Lee
These four statements if considered, contemplated and completed will enhance clarity and communication and diminish misunderstanding. They will work for virtually every issue, conflict, decision and interaction whether it is personal or professional. The following are examples of applying the four compassionate assertive statements used by my clients and workshop participants over the years. If one or both parties employ this technique regularly a level of intimacy and authenticity will be achieved in ways only dreamed about by many who in their passivity refuse to step up to the plate and really work to be compassionate.
This is what I want ___________.
This is what I need ___________.
This is what I will not do to get the above wants and needs met, achieved, or accomplished __________.
This is what I will do to get these wants and needs met, achieved, or accomplished___________.
The first statement is designed to let you say your best case scenario. It tells the listener what your fantasy about any situation or problem is without criticizing or demeaning the listener.
The second statement is your “bottom line.” This portion of the conversation is usually non-negotiable. It is almost like food, water, air and love. You can’t settle for less now that you are no longer passive. You are actively in charge of securing your needs.
The third statement is a clear message of what you will not do to get your wants and needs met. For instance, you will not bribe, coerce, threaten, etc.
The fourth and final statement is a clear, concise wording of what you are willing to do to get your wants and needs met at this time or in the very near future.
Sandy’s main problem in her marriage—as she identified it—was that her husband works all the time. “He works as much as eighty hours a week. I know he wants a good life for me and the kids but we hardly ever see him and when we do he’s exhausted or asleep.”
“What do you want?” I asked her to write it down. Wants are your best case scenarios, your fantasy fulfilled, your magic wand waved and presto-chango you get them, no questions asked.
“I want more time for us and the kids and I want him to work less,” she said after taking a few moments.
“What do you need regarding this problem or issue?” This is the second statement but note this is considerably different and usually more difficult to answer. Needs are not open for compromise like wants may be. Needs are what you must have and can’t live without.
Sandy took about ten or fifteen minutes on this part. After she wrote she looked up and said, “I need one evening every week for just the two of us to talk, make love, or just cuddle and watch a movie. I need him to take better care of himself so he can be more present and available for our children,” she paused. “That sounds so selfish. Am I being too self-centered to need this? Maybe I’m too demanding.”
“Let’s see,” I said. “Tell me how you have gone about trying to get those needs and wants met in the past?”
“Well, that’s easy,” she laughed. “I just nagged, complained and criticized him for the last couple of years. I guess that’s being more selfish than saying straight out what I need.”
“Okay, next, what will you not do to get these wants and needs met?”
“I won’t nag or criticize him anymore. I won’t try and be both mother and father to the kids to make up for his lack of interaction and attention. I won’t speak badly about him anymore.”
“What you won’t do is more about setting good boundaries, establishing your limits, not being codependent, passive, or a martyr.” I said.
“Okay, Sandy,” I said. “Now what will you do to get your wants and needs met?”
Again she took about ten or fifteen minutes before answering.
“I will speak my truth. I will set good boundaries and limits. I will support him in any way I can, even if that means my going back to work at least part time. I will watch household expenses and my spending so he won’t feel so pressured by money issues. I will love him no matter what. I will tell him so and how much I appreciate all the things he does for this family.” She took a deep breath and let out a heavy sigh. “Why weren’t we taught to talk like this before?”
Then she asked a question that I frequently get, “When the best time was to do this exercise?” The absolute best time is when you and the other person are in a good place. When you’re rested and refreshed and have not argued or fought recently about a particular issue. Sadly most people try to tell other people their wants and needs right in the middle or at the end of a major confrontation when everyone is regressed, exhausted or scared and no one is heard. Or someone interprets the other person’s wants and needs as more pressure, stress, ultimatums or threats.
When I state this so many will say that when things are going smoothly it seems unfair to bring up conflictual issues. What is really unfair and more hurtful and damaging is passively holding in these things until they erupt and get blurted out with no regard for the rage that usually follows.
Here’s another example using the Four Compassionate Assertive Statements.
Mark works at a building supply company for a boss who is less than appreciative of his effort. “I’ve worked there for three and a half years and the man has never once complimented me or given me a raise. He has me managing a section of the store I know the least about. I keep asking to be transferred into the yard and garden section. I know plants and flowers better than anyone at the store. I stay frustrated and angry most of my working hours,” he said looking as disgusted as he felt with the whole situation.
“Okay, got it. What do you want?”
“I want to be in the garden section. I want my boss to appreciate how hard I work and tell me so ever blue moon or so. I want a raise in pay and I want to enjoy where I work. Yeah, that’s about it.”
“What do you need?” He answered as quickly as anyone I’ve worked with.
“I need respect, appreciation and to enjoy where I work. That’s not asking too much is it?”
“What will you not do to get your wants and needs met in this situation?”
On this one he took some time and then said, “I’m not sure,” he paused and thought. “I will not work anywhere or for anyone that doesn’t appreciate me. My boss needs to eventually place me where I can be the best at what I do.”
“What will you do to get what your wants and needs met?” He took some time and wrote this in his journal and then said, “I will ask my boss for a performance evaluation at least every six months and I will tell him I am not being used efficiently in the department I’m in and request a transfer into the garden department as soon as that is possible.”
“How does that feel to say all of this with such clarity and consciousness?” I asked.
“Great! And you know my boss is a pretty smart fellow or he wouldn’t be in the position he is in so I bet he’ll listen to me and then if he doesn’t respond within say three to six months at the most, then I’ll look for a place where my strengths can be put to good use.”
With that, Mark set his limits with his boss.
You can see in both examples that Sandy and Mark both are going for compassionately assertive and if their respective counterparts can hear them and they probably will given how appropriate both will be, there will be much more satisfying outcomes. Because they will not rage, regress, shame, blame, criticize, or judge they are being compassionate first towards themselves and extending compassion to the others in their lives. Sandy’s children will benefit. Mark’s family will benefit too because being compassionately assertive whenever possible comes with incalculable fringe benefits.