What is assertive communication and how do you use it?12 Mar 2019
Communication is vital for building a cohesive workplace. It strengthen or weakens relationships, influences how others view you and is a reflection on how you see yourself. Have you considered whether you’re expressing yourself in the best possible way? Unless you’re communicating assertively, the chances are you’re not.
Defining assertive communication
Assertive communication is a clear expression of your point of view while showing respect for the rights and opinions of others. It’s ensuring you’re heard and understood, without being pushy or aggressive. I’ve always found it a very direct, engaging and honest way of talking with people that leaves both parties feeling satisfied.
It’s important to remember that assertive communication breaks down into two parts – language and delivery. For example, how you state something may give the appearance of assertiveness, but your words might come across dismissive of someone’s needs or thoughts. Ensuring the two are in line helps you communicate more effectively and in a mutually respectful manner.
How assertive communication can benefit you
I believe assertive communication is a strong indication of self-confidence. However, something I’ve also noted is how individuals who learn to express themselves assertively tend to grow their self-esteem. Actively demonstrating that you have respect for yourself tends to have an inward effect.
However, confidence isn’t the only benefit that I’ve encountered with assertive communication. Here are some other reasons it’s such a useful tool:
- Minimise conflict – Assertive communication is diplomatic in nature. It’s about hearing both sides, and getting to the root of an issue without anger or deflection clouding the process. In the end, you want each party to walk out of the interaction feeling heard and respected, and any results achieved reflecting this.
- More effective communication – Talking around a point gets you no where. Conversely, pushing a point without listening to others input or explaining your reasoning can result in resentment and misunderstanding. Assertiveness allows both parties to put forward their thoughts and ensures each understands the other.
- Reduces stress – I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found that feeling as if I’m not heard makes me feel stressed. Communicating assertively takes a lot of worry and anxiety away, as you’re ensuring that your point of view is acknowledged without stepping on anyone’s toes.
- Builds trust – Have you ever noticed how much more comfortable you are when you know where you stand with someone? Honesty is a strong basis of assertive communication. If people know you’ll speak truthfully and openly in a respectful manner with them, it’ll grow their trust. Passive or aggressive communication, on the other hand, undermines their ability to count on you.
- Ensures your needs are better met – I know someone who always used to complain that his team leader never gave him enough information to complete tasks. Eventually it came out that she didn’t know he needed any extra material. Instead of expressing his needs, he’d resorted to passive aggressive communication that had clouded the problem. However, once he started speaking assertively, their relationship smoothed out and she began ensuring that he had the info needed for the tasks.
4 ways to become better at assertive communication
1. Think before you speak
To achieve assertive communication, you need to control how you are expressing yourself. When you have a point to make and there’s a gap in the conversation, it’s all too tempting to jump in.
However, I’ve discovered that I’m more satisfied with my contribution if I take the time to consider what I’m saying before I do so. The reasons for this include:
- Communicating my point more effectively and powerfully.
- Avoiding potentially embarrassing mishaps.
- Thinking about how others might react to my comments.
A great way to quickly assess what you’re saying is to run through these four questions:
- Is it honest?
- Is what you’re saying necessary?
- Do you think now is the best time to vocalise it?
- Are you communicating it respectfully?
Each one helps ensure you’re communicating assertively, as well as adding meaningful content to a conversation.
2. Understand the power of ‘I’
Framing statements from your perspective helps minimise the risk of it coming across accusatory. It also allows you to present your perspective without judging them for their behaviour. For example, how would you feel if someone said the following statements to you?
- ‘You don’t listen to my ideas in meetings.’
- ‘I feel like my ideas aren’t heard in meetings.’
One immediately puts the listener on the defensive as they’re being accused. The other clearly states how you’re feeling without being aggressive.
Another reason this communication style is so useful is that it removes assumptions. The first statement rests on the premise that the other party ignores you or doesn’t respect your opinion. There’s a chance that they are in fact listening, they just don’t acknowledge your opinions in a way that makes this clear. If this is the case, your accusation could backfire.
3. Make use of nonverbal communication
As mentioned above, your language and delivery need to align with each other. Make sure your body language helps with this. Maintain appropriate eye contact with the people you’re interacting with, and practice adopting a confident, relaxed stance. Don’t encroach into people’s personal space – this can come across aggressive or threatening.
Body language is a large part of assertive behaviour and one of the easiest things to change. Make it a regular habit during the day to consider your stance. Even adjusting it so you’re standing with your shoulders back will help in the long run.
4. Pitch, volume and pace
As with nonverbal communication, pitch, volume and pace also affect your delivery. For example, if you speak too quickly and quietly, it can come across as passive.
You don’t want to let your feelings colour your tone too much either. Negative emotions especially can get in the way of assertive communication. Remaining calm and even when approaching difficult topics is the best way to ensure a mutually respectful conversation is held around it.
If you’d like to learn more about different communication styles or want to invest in assertiveness training, reach out to ICML today.