Have you ever had a conversation with someone who talked over you? When you left that conversation, did you feel like you adequately explained what you were trying to say, or do you wish you had been a little more assertive?
Assertiveness in Communication
Assertive communication is truly an art form. When both speakers have the opportunity to convey their ideas cohesively and respectfully, assertive communication is most likely at play.
It’s advantageous to everyone, as no detail is lost, and no one feels frustrated or confused. But what is assertive communication, and how can each of us refine our conversation method to be more assertive?
What Is “Assertive Communication?”
Before you can practice assertive communication, it’s helpful to have a definition of what this style is and is not.
Assertive communication is direct, but also respectful to all parties.
When you communicate assertively, you allow others to present their points of view and beliefs, without reacting emotionally.
You’ve probably had a conversation with someone who was very aggressive in their communication style. This could mean that they interrupted or talked over you while you tried to get a word in edgewise.
They may have repeatedly told you that your ideas were wrong or corrected you repeatedly, even though what they said might have been exactly what you were trying to say… or completely wrong.
How did It Feel?
Think about how you felt during this conversation. You may have felt intimidated by this individual and decided to stop speaking in hopes they would calm down.
You may have felt embarrassed, and felt that staying quiet while they took charge of the conversation was the least humiliating approach.
Worst of all, you probably walked away from that situation feeling like your ideas had no value, and your self esteem was crushed.
Alternately, passive communication styles can lead to a lot of internal conflict.
Though you might not want to be perceived as pushy or overbearing, your inability to speak up and defend your position can make you feel resentful, stressed out, and just as embarrassed as being called out by a conversational bully.
Assertive communication styles create an even playing field where all thoughts and points of view can be shared equally, without parties feeling attacked or overwhelmed.
The Benefits of Assertive Communication
In any conversation, every party wants to be heard, and every party wants the chance to speak and respond equally.
Assertive communication allows for each participant to share their thoughts clearly, which has several advantages.
First, when communications become emotionally-charged, participants often stop actively listening, and start looking for points to argue.
Rather than listening to each other’s well-considered thoughts and opinions, they simply wait for their turn to talk, growing more and more frustrated or emotional as time passes.
This is obviously not a great way to share thoughts. If no one is listening, then surely no one is learning. Assertive Communication does the opposite.
Being assertive, rather than aggressive or passive, will create an environment of mutual respect.
Furthermore, without detouring into negativity or nastiness, you’ll get to the point faster, and have greater opportunity for sharing information, learning, and growing.
Everyone will leave the conversation with a clear understanding of the purpose and ideas, and find themselves inspired or educated. This is what makes assertive communication particularly effective in a business situation.
If plans and ideas can be communicated succinctly, workers have more time to brainstorm and solve problems.
Furthermore, communicating assertively will help build relationships based on honesty and mutual respect.
You may not agree with your coworkers on every point, but as long as you approach all of your conversations from a neutral place, without aggression or a passive need to surrender, you’ll be able to work through issues without getting emotional or frustrated.
Read also: Key aspects to High-Performing Teams
How Do I Become More Assertive in My Communication Style?
Some people are born with an intuitive ability to communicate well. They ask all the right questions, clarify the most important points, and share feedback without ruffling a single feather.
The rest of us, on the other hand, have a full flock of ruffled feathers to our name.
Heard of the 3Cs?
Many communication experts tout the “Three Cs” of communication: Confidence, Clarity, and Control.
In order to gain a firm foothold in conversation, you must speak with an even, confident tone. You should speak clearly, and avoid over-explaining or being too brief in your details. You’ll also want to remain calm and in control of your tone at all times.
All of this is easier said than done, of course. You will want to practice speaking up, especially if you tend to stay silent during meetings or group presentations.
Confidence to say “No”
You’ll also want to practice saying No. This can be one of the hardest lessons to learn, especially in a fast-paced work environment.
While no one will disagree that “No is a complete sentence”, some experts recommend using “No, because” statements to prevent argument or emotional rebuttal.
The sentence: “No, I won’t be able to work on your report, because I have three reports of my own to analyze by tomorrow” provides fact-based information to your audience, without allowing them to form an opinion that might be based on their own feelings.
Another thing to keep in mind is clarity. Many conversations take an emotional turn over a misunderstanding or someone mis-speaking.
Practice what you’re going to say before you say it. Consider using “I” statements, such as “I disagree”, rather than “you’re wrong”.
It doesn’t hurt to clarify points in this manner, either. “As I understand it, the Smith account requires…” or “I believe our research indicates that this method might create these challenges”. Statements such as these show ownership for your point of view, while still inviting others to share their own beliefs or findings.
Be a Listener
Lastly, remember that listening is 50% of communication. Your ability to respond is directly related to your ability to listen to and understand what the other individuals in your conversation are sharing.
When people feel that they are not being heard, the conversation can quickly turn from respectful and diplomatic to emotional and aggressive. All participants are equally responsible for maintaining a clear dialogue.
Are You Assertive?
Assertive communication may come naturally, or it may require practice. Remaining firm, direct, and respectful throughout conversation can become challenging, especially when discussing topics with great emotional or personal reach.
However, remaining diplomatic through assertive communication can ensure all participants are on the same page, and even hasten understanding and results.