Assertive Communication

Sometimes there is a blur between what we mean between being assertive and being aggressive as well as a misconception that shy people are not assertive.  When it comes down to it, being assertive is all about clarity of message without fear.  Looking at it a bit more in-depth, in emotional intelligence terms when we talk about assertive communication, we refer to three basic elements: 1) the ability to express feelings, 2) the ability to express thoughts and beliefs openly, even if emotionally difficult, 3) the ability to stand up for your personal rights.

During times of stress or distress, being reminded on how to clearly put our thoughts and feelings across can be a timely reminder.

Here are 10 top tips on how to communicate more assertively with others:

  1. Breathe!
    – Taking a few deep breaths in will help you feel calmer and by being calmer you will automatically sound more assertive.
    – Remember when communicating 38% of your message comes from tone of voice.
  2. Think and talk about yourself POSITIVELY
    – Keep your inner chat positive with positive encouragement such as “you can do it” rather than admitting to yourself that “I’m afraid” or “I can’t do it”.
    – Eliminate adding qualifying statements to your opinions or requests (e.g., “you’ll probably think this is crazy, but…”, “…I guess”, “but that’s just my opinion”).
    – Reduce tag questions (e.g., “does that make sense?”, “is that okay?”).
  3. What is your body saying?
    – Your body is communicating 55% of your message and if you are displaying an aggressive reaction (clenched fists, pointed fingers, staring and making yourself taller / larger than the other person) they will see you as aggressive even if your words are not.
  4. Consciously take responsibility for yourself and avoid taking responsibility for others.
    – Eliminate “should”, “ought to”, and “have to”.
    – Practice using the phrase “I choose to”. 
  5. Giving and getting information
    – Recognise closed or yes/no questions.  When you are asked a yes/no question respond with a yes/no answer. You do not need to elaborate upon or justify any response you give.
    – Recognise open or seeking information questions. Give as much information as you feel comfortable in response to the question but don’t feel you have to justify your answer.
  6. “I” statements
    – Avoid using “you” statements that distance you from your feelings. Instead, use statements that begin with “I feel ______”.
    – Avoid using “you” statements that accuse.  Many people interpret statements that begin with “you” as blaming and often become defensive in response.
  7. Giving and receiving constructive criticism
    – Talk about the behaviour, not about the person. Be as specific as possible.
    – Learn to discriminate between something that is your problem from something that is their problem.
  8. Feeling talk
    – Specify feelings (e.g., “I see”,”I hear“).
    – Practice “I feel…” statements rather than using “I think…” statements.
    – Recognise that no one can tell you how to feel. There are no right or wrong feelings, feelings just are.
  9. Statements without explanations
    – You have a right to your opinions and decisions.
    – A simple “no” is enough, without excuses.
  10. Persistence
    – Use the broken record technique: repetition of a simple statement of fact (e.g., “I am not available at 2:00, our original time is better for me”).
    – Use reflection: repeat what they’ve just said to you word for word to let them know they have been heard, and then say ‘however’ before giving your reasons.