How to Give the 3 Part Assertive Message

Assertive Message. An image showing two couple sitting in a bench while watching the lake

The 3 part assertive message is a simple tool to talk to someone about an issue you may have.

There are different variations of the message. In fact, with some of my past foster kids, I had taught them one variation to use when confronting each other with issues, and it worked very well.

Dr. Robert Bolton, in his book People Skills, goes into detail about giving an assertive message, and we will follow his template in this post.

The assertive message

The basic message per Dr. Bolton is as follows:

“When you [state the behavior nonjudgmentally], I feel [disclose your feelings] because [clarify the effect on your life]”

In the first part, you state the behavior in a nonjudgemental way. You don’t accuse or attack, you just say what they did.

When you don’t help with the dishes…

In the second part, you say how it makes you feel.

I feel frustrated…

In the third part, you clarify the effect on your life.

because it creates extra work I have to do. 

Here are two more examples:

When I do not correct the kids for their negative behavior, I feel angry because it makes me look like the bad guy when I do correct them.

 When you turn in your reports late, I feel irritated because it puts me behind in my work.

A few points

It’s short

If you didn’t notice, it’s only one sentence. It’s quick and to the point. You don’t belabor anything or go into a lot of detail. You just give the facts and feelings and wait for the other person to respond.

There’s no attack or accusation

There’s no accusation or attack in the statement. You aren’t inferring anything or making assumptions about motives or intentions. You are just stating the fact of what they do or did and how it makes you feel and why.

You still want to prepare

You still want to prepare. Write out the message and practice giving it. Make sure it makes sense and doesn’t have any accusations or assumptions in it. Make sure you are calm and that your motives are appropriate.

The other person may still get defensive

Even with this simple message, the other person still may get defensive. That’s ok. Just listen to them and what they have to say. Don’t interrupt or argue. Just listen. Then restate your message as needed. When the other person finally listens and accepts, work together on a solution.

Also, avoid getting sidetracked. They may try to bring up other issues or try to change the subject. Don’t let them. Tell them that you can talk about the other issue later but right now you are focusing on this one.

The “effect on your life” is not always easy to put into words (at least for me)

Ok, here’s a quick confession. As I try to think of examples, sometimes I have a hard time thinking of a specific effect on one’s life. Sometimes things are just irritating or hurtful. Sometimes they just may make you sad. There isn’t always an easily apparent effect on your life beyond your emotions.

I say that to say, don’t be dogmatic about finding a why or specific effect. Sometimes you may put another feeling into the effect or sometimes you can just leave it blank. Telling someone that something hurts your feelings or makes you feel unappreciated is quite often enough (in my opinion).

In fact, the variation I taught my kids was “It makes me feel X when you do X”. I will teach adding the effect to future kids but also say that the other one is okay as well.

You can do it

The assertive message is easy and simple. It doesn’t accuse but just gives the facts and how it makes you feel. Try it this week when you need to confront someone or if you have been avoiding a conversation.

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