Over the years I’ve heard many people express their frustration at not being able to communicate assertively. They say they want to speak up for themselves, want to say what they really mean, express their viewpoint or feelings, stand up for their rights, etc., but don’t know how to do so in a way that is respectful and sensitive and won’t cause conflict.
Assertive communication is the ability to express positive and negative ideas and feelings in an open, honest and direct way. It allows us to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions without judging or blaming other people. It also allows us to constructively confront and find a mutually satisfying solution where conflict exists.
Assertive behaviour is founded on the beliefs that we each have rights and responsibilities and if we stand up to these we shall achieve more of what’s important to us, be more respected and build better relationships.
It’s important to assert one’s opinions, feelings and needs in a timely, reasonable and responsible way, with respect for others, in order to avoid responding aggressively. When we communicate assertively we express ourselves in a clear, honest and appropriate way, honouring our own needs as well as considering the best interests and feelings of others.
Often people confuse assertive behaviour with being aggressive. The difference is that aggressive behaviour can be demanding, hostile, sarcastic and blaming. There is no regard for other peoples’ needs, concerns or rights.
Give yourself permission. Allow yourself to express your opinions, needs and feelings. Develop the belief that it’s OK to ask for what you want, to think for yourself, to feel angry or disappointed, to say no, or take control of your best interests. Know that you don’t have to apologize when you speak up.
Think about the situations in which you want to be, and be seen as, more assertive.
Here are five proven techniques that might help:
• Questioning — Use open and probing questions to clarify an issue, check your understanding or gather more information (e.g. about another’s viewpoint or reasoning). It will encourage two-way communication and can be especially helpful if someone is criticizing you. Actively listen to the response.
• Broken Record — Repeating yourself clearly and respectfully can help you stand your ground, especially if others are trying to manipulate you or if you are unable to fulfil a request.
• Three-part sentence —
Empathize (acknowledge the other person’s situation or feelings);
Express your feelings/needs;
State what you want or feel (use “I” statements).
Combine all parts smoothly in your sentence and avoid use of the word “but.”
• Pointing out a consequence — Explain what will happen if… what the next steps will be if the situation continues. This can encourage others to take responsibility for their actions.
• Pointing out a discrepancy — For example, briefly describe what was agreed and what actually happened. Be factual. This will enable you to confront a situation or raise a sensitive issue non-judgmentally.
Your non-verbal communication can easily change the way these techniques come across to others. To maintain rapport, use a neutral tone of voice, open and relaxed body language and hold appropriate eye contact. Make sure your facial expression fits with your message.
Be mindful of any negative inner dialogue that can stop you from being assertive. It’s easy to mind read (assume what people think) or imagine the worst outcome.
Each time you assert yourself, whether you get the desired result or not, congratulate yourself for speaking up. You will find you feel better about yourself.
And remember…..it’s okay to make the choice to be non-assertive as long as you accept the consequences with good grace and don’t moan, blame others, or criticize yourself when the outcome is not what you hoped for.
Hazel Morley is principal of Think Smart: Training and Coaching with Change in Mind. She can be contacted at email@example.com.