When it comes to communication, especially in the workplace, assertiveness is crucial. For a business to succeed, both internally and externally, it’s important that all employees and team members know how to be assertive. Fortunately, it is something we can train ourselves to be.
“To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.”
– Edith Eva Eger
Assertiveness treads a thin line between aggressive and passive behaviour, but when you hit the optimum middle ground, you become an assertive communicator. Thus, to understand exactly what is meant by assertive behaviour, we must consider what constitutes passive and aggressive styles of communication.
Passive communication may mean being indecisive and failing to take action when necessary. Most passive communicators are friendly and easy to get along with, which is not a flaw, but when your keenness to be constantly well-received stops you from standing up for your ideas, it will only hold you back. Fear of offending others can be a barrier to success. Likewise, a discomfort for expressing anger. This results in the suppression of negative emotions such as dissatisfaction or anger. Assertive communicators can express their unhappiness in a productive way. Failing to speak up is destined to create resentment under the surface which produces tension, stress, and further dissatisfaction.
Contrastingly, an aggressive communicator may be intrusive and unable to respect boundaries. Aggressive communicators are often suspicious or dismissive of others, which results in an inability to form close, trusting, and productive interpersonal relationships. You may think that being aggressive gets you what you want, but it comes at a cost. Anger and dominion in a work setting will alienate others and will create stress for all parties, undercutting trust and mutual respect. This can result in others coming to resent you, leading them to actively avoid or oppose you.
It’s very easy for us to fall into one of these categories, you’re not wrong for wanting to be polite and respectful, nor are you wrong for believing in your ideas. However, both of these behaviours hinder progress and have a negative effect on you, those around you, and the wider organisation you work for.
How can you be more assertive? Whether you find yourself being a passive communicator, an aggressive one or perhaps you fall victim to both depending on the situation, consider these 10 tips and practice these behaviours:
- Acknowledge and be honest to yourself about your own feelings.
- Adopt a new positive inner dialogue. Self-confidence is key for assertiveness. Repeat
- Be Direct. Try to be clear, specific, and direct in what you say. It can be useful to practice what you’re going to say beforehand. Whether that may be presenting ideas or asking for a pay rise.
- Repeat your key message. If it is appropriate, it can be helpful to reiterate your key points using different ways and examples, especially if you encounter objections. However, be careful to keep your voice down and your emotions in check.
- Ask for clarification if you are uncertain about something. This does not show weakness!
- Assertive body language. Assertiveness is as much in the physical sense as it is in what you say. Stand or sit straight, stay steady, and directly face the people to whom you are speaking. Eye contact is important!
- Keep Calm. If you practice the earlier tips such as being direct and practicing your presentations, you’ll find it easier to remain calm.
- Respect the rights of others. Remember that being assertive in your own ideas does not mean making decisions for other people.
- Take time out if you feel weakened or threatened by the situation.
Whether you’re an individual hoping to become more assertive or a manager looking to educate your whole team or organisation on the power of assertive communication, the above tips are a great starting point. However, putting them into practice is the only way for them to become second nature.
For managers or leaders who may be seeking to educate their organisation further, we offer a comprehensive range of training resources on the topic of effective communication. From speaking clearly, to writing with concision, from building rapport, to listening well, we cover the fundamental areas your employees need to consider if you want teams with effective communication skills. Learn more here.
If you’re interested in a specific element of communication, such as body language training or business networking, you can explore our extensive range of communication learning materials here.