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Have You Stepped Off the Stage? How to Identify Assertive Communication    

  Very few clients come to me saying that they want to work on increasing their assertive communication, but it's still…

post by Melissa


Very few clients come to me saying that they want to work on increasing their assertive communication, but it’s still a topic that comes up weekly with my clients. Why is that? Well, it’s because assertive communication (or the lack of it) is often related to many other concerns clients bring to therapy–work stress, difficulties in relationships, self-esteem, cultural adjustment, anxiety, depression, and more.

For many of my clients, explaining the “stage metaphor of assertiveness” is when it clicks for them that the problems they want to work on in therapy do connect to their communication style. It’s also a great metaphor to use to connect the dots between their concerns that may appear unrelated. I’ve actually had clients say to me, “this metaphor works for everything, doesn’t it?”

While it doesn’t actually apply to every single concern that comes up in therapy, I find it very helpful for most of my clients. Check out this video, or read through the explanation below, to learn more about this metaphor:


The Stage Metaphor of Assertiveness

Imagine an auditorium with a stage and seats in the audience. The three main categories of communication styles can all play out in this auditorium and this is what they look like:

Aggressive Communication

Someone who is communicating aggressively stands on the stage and wants the stage all to themselves. They’re the only ones who deserve space on the stage and push others off of the stage. Often people who communicate aggressively do so because they’ve previously been pushed off the stage themselves. They’re trying to reclaim their space on the stage, but haven’t learned a healthy way to do so.

Passive Communication 

Someone who is communicating passively is sitting in the audience. They believe that they don’t deserve to be on the stage. However, they’re often unaware that they hold this belief. People who communicate passively often do so in order to not hurt other people. They don’t want to push anyone off the stage. But they end of putting other people’s needs above their own, which often means they’re stepping off of the stage and communicating to themselves that they don’t deserve to have a space up there.

Assertive Communication

This type of communication is the ideal to strive for. Someone who communicates assertively recognizes that everyone deserves to have space up on the stage. We all deserve to share our opinions and express our emotions. Sometimes we may offend or disappoint someone else, but as long as we are being respectful and not pushing someone off the stage then it’s ok. Someone who communicates assertively also sees that the stage is very large and there is enough space to agree to disagree and go to separate sides of the stage if needed.

What communication style do you recognize in yourself?

After reading through those descriptions, did one of them ring true for you? You might notice that with certain people you communicate in one way and with others you communicate in a different way. Or maybe there is a difference in your personal vs. professional life. For many of my clients who are living outside of their home country, they find that being in a new country or culture, often in a place where they don’t speak the language, has influenced their communication style. In an attempt to adapt to the new culture they sometimes inadvertently step off of the stage.

If you’re realizing that you often step off the stage and that this is affecting your feelings of self-worth and confidence, you might consider working with a mental health professional to increase your assertiveness skills and address unhelpful beliefs that maintain passive communication styles. If you’d like to find out if I’d be a good fit for you as a therapist, don’t hesitate to contact me for a free 15-minute consultation.

(I have to mention that I didn’t create this metaphor, I found it in an article online several years ago and haven’t been able to find it again. If you know who the original creator is, please let me know!)


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