In my counselling practice people often ask, how do I talk to my partner about what I need when I’m pretty sure it’s going to lead a fight I don’t want to have? When something is really bothering us it can be difficult to be assertive. Blame comes naturally, we see a problem, identify the person we feel is responsible and tell them about it.
When there is something important to say using the “Three F’s” to formulate an assertive statement can help get the message across in a clear and concise way.
FACT: First we need to consider what can be agreed on.
A fact in this case needs to be objective and non-judgemental. This means avoiding opinions and feelings. For example, if the argument is over what to do about picking up laundry on the floor the fact might be that the laundry is on the floor. In stating this fact we need to be careful to avoid injecting our opinion. Instead of ‘your smelly laundry is always on the floor”, we would simply state, ’the laundry is on the floor’.
FEELING: The second part of an assertive statement is the impact the problem is having on us.
Because it’s about our feeling it should be framed as an ‘I’ statement. The simplest way is to being with ‘I feel”. In the laundry example we could say “I feel angry when our floor is dirty”. Notice there is no accusation or blame in that statement, we didn’t say ‘I feel angry when YOU leave your dirty laundry on the floor’ (even if that is what we are thinking).
FAIR REQUEST: Lastly, we want to communicate our need.
A fair request is specific and reasonable. It doesn’t ask the person to change who they are. A fair request could be, “I would like to find a way to keep the laundry off the floor”.
Altogether our assertive statement looks like this,
"The laundry is on the floor. It makes me angry when our floor is dirty. I would like to find a way to keep the laundry off the floor.”
Notice that we aren’t apologizing for our needs, and we are trying to inspire some specific change in the other person. This structure simply removes the judgemental and negative narrative that we sometimes use when we are angry.
It may be that this statement still leads to conflict. Conflict cannot and should not always be avoided. It is a normal part of relationships and if managed appropriately, can lead to greater understanding and connection in the long run.
The key is to deal with conflict in a mutually respectful manner and this “Three F” structure of an assertive statement is a model on which to build. Give it a try the next time something is on your mind. It might feel awkward at first but with a bit of practice it can be a powerful approach to improving communication. I'd be interested to hear how it goes.