How Technology Breeds Assertive Communication

Posted on October 1, 2012 by

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Assertive Communication

 

 

Why are some individuals suddenly able to ask for what they need when sending a text or social media message? Does the veil of technology ease the anxiety of having a serious conversation? Research indicates that the detachment and distance associated with online communication lends itself to assertive, and at times aggressive, behavior. Advocating for ourselves is easier through writing.

 

Assertive communication is the way in which we stand up for our beliefs, create boundaries, and interact honestly. Yet, the desire to be polite and make others happy often stands in the way of saying what we really mean. Assertiveness isn’t about railroading others into getting your way. Instead, it’s based on mutual respect and is imperative for resolving conflicts and maintaining confidence. Depending on one’s communication style, this skill may or may not come naturally in face-to-face interactions. In contrast, most people are able to be assertive through technology-based forms of communication.

 

In an article titled, “The Psychology of Cyberspace,” author John Suler discusses what researchers call the “disinhibition effect” of the Internet. When interacting through a cell phone or the Internet there is a degree of dissociation and sense of anonymity. People feel less inhibited and less vulnerable about speaking their truth even to individuals they know in real life. Suler believes that this anonymity overlaps with the invisibility factor. Facial expressions and non-verbal cues are concealed. “Seeing a frown, a shaking head, a sigh, a bored expression, and many other subtle and not so subtle signs of disapproval or indifference can slam on the breaks of what people are willing to express…In everyday relationships, people sometimes avert their eyes when discussing something personal or emotional. It’s easier not to look into the other’s face. Text communication offers a built-in opportunity to keep one’s eyes averted.”

 

In addition, e-mail, text messages, and social media messages are a form of asynchronous communication in that there is a time lapse between message and response. Avoiding someone’s immediate reaction eases the anxiety of being assertive. There’s no need to send a message or reply until you are ready to hear a response. This also gives individuals time to mull over their words. There is no immediate fear of a negative reaction and standing up for oneself doesn’t require on-the-spot communication skills.

 

Authority is minimized online. At least initially, everyone is on a level playing field regardless of gender, race, nationality, wealth, or status. Individuals often hold back when speaking to an authority figure. Telling a parent, teacher, or boss that we believe we are being treated unfairly in-person can inhibit our honesty and ability to be assertive. As Suler states, when we are online it feels like our relationships with others are peer relationships “with the appearances of authority minimized.” In this case, people are more likely to express whatever they wish.

 

This newfound ability to be assertive isn’t necessarily negative. In fact, it’s been shown that technology-based communication can be helpful for individuals with social anxiety. However, it’s still important to develop assertive communication skills. Unless we live in an entirely virtual world, real world situations will arise where confidence and assertiveness are necessary. There has to be some degree of integration between our offline and online personalities to preserve genuine relationships.

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