Assertive Communication

What is Assertive Communication?

In simple terms assertive communication is effective communication - it is a communication style and way of behaving that will enable you to manage the interactions that you have on a daily basis, confidently and effectively.

To communicate assertively you need to use and develop effective communication skills and challenge your thinking.

Your beliefs and thoughts, expectations, attitudes to yourself and others all impact on the quality of the interaction. They play a key role in whether you are communicating assertively, submissively or aggressively.

Assertiveness is a way of behaving. Assertive communication communicates respect to others and to yourself; it demonstrates that you recognise others' needs and rights as well as your own needs and rights. Being assertive is to your benefit. However, it does not mean that you will always get what you want.

How to improve your communication skills

Assertive communication or assertive behaviours is stating your needs and wants, feelings, opinions and beliefs in direct, honest and appropriate ways. The assertive person does not seek to win at the cost of the other person (aggressive behaviours) and does not give in to the other person (submissive behaviours).

The following communication tips will help you improve your communication skills and communicate assertively. However, these are just starting points. Two very good reference books are Assertiveness at Work, Black and People Skills, Bolton.

  • Use "I" statements rather then "you" statements. However, the tone of voice and body language will also impact on how this comes across. An over emphasis on "I" could come across as aggressive.
  • Keep statements brief and to the point.
  • State your opinion, making the difference between fact and opinion. "My opinion is...." Versus "That won't work" (aggressive); "That approach is useless" (Aggressive).
  • Give suggestions e.g. "How about...." versus giving solutions "I'll tell you what to do" or phrasing in such a way that cause others to not notice what you are saying "This probably won't work, but...."
  • Ask open questions.

Again, I have to emphasise the importance of non verbal communication here i.e. your body langauge, facial expressions and tone of voice.

How to improve communication skills by becoming more self-aware

Many people focus on what other people are doing or not doing and the role that that plays in effective assertive communication or interactions. Communication is a dynamic exchange between two or more people. Everyone plays a part. Become more aware of the part that you play and how you may contribute to negative experiences.

A good place to start is to manage your mindset before any communication - particularly thosesituations that may be more challenging or stressful. The following diagram shows how are initial beliefs and thoughts impact overall results or outcomes of interactions.

If your thoughts are negative about the situation, yourself or the other person, your emotions will be impacted negatively. For example you may start to get angry, annoyed, nervous, uptight etc. These feelings or emotions do impact on your behaviours which come across in your communication skills - how you articulate your points (assertively, aggressively or submissively), your ability to listen actively, how you ask questions and your non verbal communication i.e. your voice tone, body langauge and facial experessions. This then influences the overall outcome. Your thoughts then could be something like "I knew that would happen/I would do that/they would be like that." And this is the self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Tip: Become more aware of what you are thinking before any interaction. Make your thoughts work for you rather than against you. Focus on the outcome that you want, determine how you need to come across to achieve the outcome i.e. your behaviours.  An outcome could be that "you will be respected/that your point of view will be listened to". To demonstrate the behaviours focus on how you need to feel e.g. confident, at ease, relaxed. To create these feelings what should you be thinking? e.g. "I am prepared/I will be strong/I know my subject/I have the relevant experience." This all takes practice.

After each interaction review or reflect on what you did well and the improvements that you have made. This will help to build your confidence and develop these new communication skills for you. Interactions will not always go well for you, you cannot control everything in the interaction. However, you can control your behaviours. Manage your thoughts before and during each interaction. Keep them positive always thinking of the behaviours your need to show to help achieve your desired outcomes.

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