By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
Remember Goldilocks? She was the one who broke into the three bear’s home and then proceeded to judge the softness of their beds, the stiffness of their chairs and even the flavor of their porridge?
I cannot recommend breaking and entering, napping while trespassing (unless you have serious massochism issues, in which case get some mental health treatment) or eating food that does not belong to you. But there’s something I do recommend considering: What happened after the fairy tale ended, when the bears had to deal with an intruder in their home?
Imagine each bear had their own distinct communication style.
Mama bear was the first one to come inside the house. Mama’s style was passive,
“Oh my!” she said, wringing her paws together and glancing around nervously. “I’m not sure you should be here.”
Goldilocks looked at her and blinked, unsure what mama bear wanted or meant.
Papa was the next one to come inside. His style was aggressive.
“What the heck are you doing in here you brat? I’ll eat you up!” He chased her around the table and out the door, roaring, “I’m going to get you!”
Goldilocks screamed in terror and ran away.
Eventually she had to stop to catch her breath. Baby bear had been eating in the blackberry bushes down the hill and he had seen the whole thing. Baby bear was assertive.
“You don’t belong in our house. Don’t come back again.” He said.
“I didn’t mean to do anything wrong,” Goldilocks explained, “but I’ve been lost in the woods for three days and I was so hungry and sleepy and I smelled your good porridge and the door was open so I thought it was okay.”
The baby bear (showing surprising maturity for such a young cub) learned something that mama and papa did not. He also told Goldilocks what he expected from her and why.
Assertive communication conveys self-respect and personal boundaries while also providing space for feedback. Assertive communicators reveal themselves willingly to those around them. They are trusted because of this, and inspire those around them to reveal who they are as well. Assertive communicators learn more about others because they listen as well as speak.
Aggressive communication creates fear and defensiveness in others. It causes confusion and panic. Aggressive communicators are resented and inspire those around them to become sneaky and two-faced in order to avoid being lambasted. The core fear of aggressive people is that they must be right, or else they are worthless.
Passive communicators are afraid that what they have to say will not be listened to or taken seriously, that they do not have the right to express their needs openly. Ironically they wind up taking up far more time mincing words and trying to say things in just the right way and still don’t manage to say what they want. They murmur when they speak, go off on unrelated tangents, talk about what “other people” are doing, instead of owning their interests as their own. As a result passive communicators are not respected. They inspire muffled screams and eye rolling in listeners who just want them to get to the point.