Advocating for Yourself: Learning to Identify Your Needs and Communicate Them Effectively
As humans, we thrive on social support from friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and others in our community. As a part of life, it’s inevitable that a situation will occur in which a need, such as a boundary or a limit, will have to be asserted in a relationship. This task can be daunting, even when we know it’s what’s best for us and our relationships. To make it a little more approachable, I've grouped the process of advocating for your needs into three main steps:
1. Advocating for your needs starts with awareness of what they are.
Here’s a helpful article that explains the theory of human needs, called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
~ We have physical needs such as food, water, and shelter
~ Needs for safety and security
~ Needs of belonging and love
~ Esteem needs such as purpose and value
~ The need for fulfilling our potential, including finding ways of expressing our creativity
2. Once you’ve processed your thoughts and concerns about your needs, your next step is to decide what you want to say and how you want to say it.
This is a good time to review assertive communication skills. It’s easy to do a quick
internet search to find instructions on assertive communication skills, or you can feel free to use this easy guide here.
Many people get nervous about bringing up concerns within relationships because conflict, especially with those you care about, can be anxiety-provoking and sometimes even negatively impact a relationship. One way to move past your feelings of anxiety is to practice what you want to say on your own or with someone who can be supportive and constructively listen, offer feedback on whether your words and behavior appear assertive, and address whether you are clearly communicating your needs. Some people also find it helpful to write out what they want to say to help sort out their thoughts and concerns while editing their words.
3. The final step in this process is to decide when and how you are going to communicate with your intended audience.
If the need is not immediate, then I recommend giving yourself a day or two to consider what you want to communicate and to help yourself be calm and focused instead of angry or confrontational, (especially if you are communicating with someone that you have regular interactions with, or want or need to maintain a relationship with, it’s not productive to come across as attacking, aggressive, or unreasonable). Engaging in these behaviors will also increase the likelihood that a conflict will occur which may adversely affect your relationship or deter you from wanting to advocate for your needs again in the future.
Additionally, It’s important to choose a good setting and give yourself and the other person enough time to process what is communicated. If you are communicating a need that takes more time to discuss or there are experiences to address in which you felt your needs were violated in some way, don’t rush it into a five-minute conversation that doesn’t allow the other person time to process or respond. Keep in mind that sometimes it may take someone a couple days or more to process what you’ve said to them.
Engaging in this process can be scary when you first start. The more you practice advocating for your needs, the more comfortable you will become with it. The end result is that your relationships will become more satisfying, fulfilling, meaningful, and supportive.
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]
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