If we start with the communication style, passive communicators usually fail to express their feelings or needs and rather allow others to express themselves. Sometimes they avoid communication and confrontation and this can lead to misunderstanding and anger by other people. Passive communicators often don’t make eye contact, have bad body posture and cannot say “ no.” In their company in the volunteering or working situation, you will often hear sentences “go with the flow.” “It really doesn’t matter that much.” and “I just don’t want to fight.”
We can recognize the aggressive communication style by speaking in a loud and demanding voice, keeping intense eye contact and controlling others by blaming, criticizing, threatening or attacking them. They usually give the commands, rudely ask questions and don’t listen to others. Examples of phrases that an aggressive communicator uses in volunteering or working situations are “You don’t have a right to complain about that!” “I’m right and you’re wrong.” “Look what you did this time!.” and “It’s all your fault.”
Passive-aggressive communication style users may seem passive on the surface, but within they usually feel powerless and that leads them to secretly build up revenge or acting out in subtle, indirect or secret ways. Passive-aggressive communicators will rather stay quiet than confront a person. They have troubles of recognizing their anger and use facial expressions that don’t correlate with how they feel. They even deny there is a problem but will at the same time give others a silent treatment with ignoring, spread rumors around and sabotage others’ efforts. They are actually aware of their needs, but at times struggle to share them with other people. Examples of phrases that they use in volunteering or working situation include: “That’s fine with me, but don’t be surprised if someone else gets mad.” and “Sure, we can do things your way” (with the voice that suggest your way is stupid), “Yes, Yes, I will do it no problem (with the eyes rolling).”
The most effective form of communication that you can use while volunteering and in life, in general, is the assertive communication style. Assertive communicators can express their own needs, desires, ideas, and feelings, while also pay attention to the needs of others, which also encourages and promote the act of empathy, and solidarity. The goal is to win in a situation for both sides and balancing their rights with the rights of others. One of the keys to assertive communication is using “I” statements, such as “I feel frustrated when you are late for a meeting,” or, “I don’t like having to explain this over and over.” It shows we own our feelings and behaviors without blaming the other person.
It’s important to understand each communication style, and why individuals use them. Only in that case we can react and improve our communication in the volunteering environment in the future. As we saw the best communication style in the assertive one. But how can we become one of the assertive communicators and change our communication style in case we used passive, aggressive or passive-aggressive style before?
The first task to practice assertive communication is to say “No” more often. We often feel, we have to please everyone and do everything that they expect. That often leads to our dissatisfaction and feeling that we don’t listen to our needs and in the long term affects our mood and relationship with others. Assertive communicators are okay with saying no, but they do it in such a way that it doesn’t hurt the other person’s feelings. They reject things that are not good for them but they also explain exactly why they rejected them with the usage of the word “because”. For example: “Sorry, I cannot clean the kindergarten kitchen, because today is my colleague-volunteer turn to do it.” In that way, almost no one will be upset because of a negative answer.
We are sometimes so afraid of not being heard that we rush to keep talking. Ironically, such behavior makes it more likely we won’t be heard. That’s why is important that sometimes we just stop and listen to others. It is really difficult to put our opinion on the side but it will really improve our communication relationship with the speaking partner and give us some respect for being a good listener. That comes handy with all important persons in your volunteering circle: mentors, boss, friends, and coworkers. If you have trouble on concentrating what your partner is saying at the moment and your thoughts are still buzzing in your mind, therapists involved a useful technique which helps them to focus and hear everything their clients say— rephrasing what a person has just said to them (called “reflection”). In our everyday volunteering situation, we don’t have to repeat it literally but tell them with different words with the same meaning.
Most of our communication with one another in any friendship or relationship isn’t what we say, but how we say it. Sometimes we forget to pay attention to nonverbal communication signals. Nonverbal communication is our body language, tone of our voice, eye contact and personal space (how far away you are when you talk to someone else). After some time we can recognize what partner’s nonverbal signals takes are saying (studying advice: you can observe yours and other volunteers body language at the first volunteering introduction seminar): folded arms in front of a person may mean they’re feeling defensive or closed off. Lack of eye contact may mean they’re not really interested in what you’re saying, are ashamed, feel inferior to us or find it difficult to talk about something. A louder, aggressive tone may mean the person is escalating the discussion and is becoming very emotionally involved. It might also suggest they feel like they’re not being heard or understood. Someone who’s turned away from you when talking to you may mean disinterest in a rush or being closed off. Our task is also to check our body language: make and maintain eye contact, keep a neutral body stance and tone to our voice. In the beginning, you can just start to observe and control it a little bit. Voice should be relaxed and calm. It important that it has appropriate speed and volume so we don’t rush in conversation or talk too loud. Assertive behavior also means not showing hesitation through a lot of pauses or mumbling. Our arms and legs should be relaxed and not crossed or on our hips. We can also practice better eye contact if it is hard for us to maintain it for a longer time. This can take some time, just like any other new skill.
Important advice that my psychology professor gave me was also being aware of our limits and comfort zone. That doesn’t mean just physical but also mentally. If somebody wants to talk but that escalates to a fight we can calmly say we need our 5 minutes or step out of the conversation. We will make more positive results by moving and cooling down the situation than with participating in a fight that will lead nowhere. Rather move out for some time and continue later when both sides are calm and ready to talk assertively. If that happens in your volunteering working place you can just take a moment and hide in a calm, lonely place for a few minutes. When you think about the situation and have some suggestions on how to improve it return back and calmly start the conversation again.
The benefit of being assertive is definitely better communication. Assertive behavior is great for both, us and our speaking partner in a volunteering environment. If we communicate wisely, we can get what we want out of any interaction and leave the other person satisfied, too. It also assures us less stress with more solutions for both sides. That’s how we can concentrate more on our volunteering job, results and positive energy. Aggressive, passive and passive-aggressive communication styles are stressful; one of the people involved generally ends up feeling humiliated or endangered. If we are on the “strong” side, we might end up regretting putting our need to be heard over the other person’s right to speak. With assertive communication, however, we’re acknowledging the other person’s feelings and desires, while openly sharing ours and trying to find the best solution for the situation. We are also gaining more trust, which is important in personal and volunteering-working relationships. Being trustworthy in our communication greatly builds connection and it also brings us more confidence. When we hide your feelings or interact with others without caring about what they think or feel, we are lowering your self-esteem or building it on the wrong foundation. Assertive communication shows that we are brave enough to stand up for your rights and are in control of what and how we’re saying it.
In the end, we find the balance between clearly stating our needs and giving the other person the chance to do the same and feel –what is the most important: equal and respected.