Assertive Communication: 9 Tips to Manage, not Control

In every aspect of life, professional and personal, assertive communication is important to success and happiness. Communication is a major concern for us all and it is in our best interest to master this skill, in order to be more effective, productive, and constructive, to avoid stress and to improve our relationships. Being assertive is a core communication skill and is an effective and diplomatic communication style.

We have all been in the situation where we are given instructions and have no idea what to do next. It’s not uncommon. According to an Interact survey, conducted by Harris Polls, shows that 57% of employees report not being given clear directions and 69% of managers are not comfortable communicating with employees in general. From these statistics, it is clear that there is a need to improve communication in the workplace. But first things first – what is assertive communication? The Oxford Dictionary definition is “the result of expressing opinions or desires strongly and with confidence, so that people take notice”. Being assertive is communicating your perspective and opinions, while being respectful of others. Assertive people communicate their opinions without apology and in turn allow others to express their opinion, even if it collides.

Communication in the workplace is no different. It is a sign of a high-performance culture. In this sense, communication is an exchange of information, however assertive communication occurs when a message is sent and received accurately. Effective communication in the workplace is central to all business goals. Communication defines organizational goals and helps co-workers collaborate. This is a step towards a fundamental business practice for a committed and productive workforce. Workplace communication is important to your growth and success. It allows everyone to share their inputs and feel that their ideas are being recognised and valued.

There are a number of simple but effective communication techniques that you can use to become more assertive. Boost your assertive communication by:

1- Assessing your style: Your voice and opinions remain silent? Do you say yes to additional work even when your plate is full? Are you quick to judge or blame? Do people seem to dread or fear talking to you? Understand your (leadership) style before you begin making changes.

2- Using ‘I’ statements:  Use “I” statements allows others to know what you’re thinking or feeling without sounding accusatory. Practice using “I want”, “I need” or “I feel” to address basic assertions and get your point across firmly. For example, say, “I disagree,” rather than, “You’re wrong”

3- Practising saying no. If you have a hard time turning down requests, try saying, “No, I can’t do that now.” Don’t hesitate — be direct. If an explanation is appropriate, keep it brief and simple.

4– Rehearsing what you want to say. If you find it challenging to sometimes say what you want or think, practice the general scenarios you encounter. Say what you want to say out loud, write it out first, so you can practice from a script. Consider role-playing with a friend and ask for clear feedback.

5- Using body language: Communication isn’t just verbal, it manifests in different non-verbal manners too. Act confident even if you aren’t feeling it. Keep an upright posture. Make regular eye contact, it shows interest and symmetry.

6- Keeping emotions in check: Conflict is hard for most people. Maybe you get upset,  angry or frustrated. Although these feelings are normal, they can get in the way of resolving conflict. If you feel too emotional going into a situation, wait a bit if possible. Work on remaining calm: breathe slowly, keep your voice even and firm.

7- Starting small: At first, practice your new skills in situations that are low risk. For instance, try out your assertiveness on a friend before tackling a difficult situation at work. Evaluate yourself afterward and tweak your approach as necessary.

8- Being Empathetic: Try to always recognize and understand how the other person views the situation. After taking their point of view into consideration, express what you need from them. For example, “I understand that you’re having trouble working with Pete, but this project needs to be completed by Thursday. Let’s all sit down and come up with a plan together. How does that sound?

9- Changing Your Verbs: Try using verbs that are more definite and emphatic when you communicate. This helps to send a clear message and avoid “sugar-coating” your message so much that people are left confused by what it is that you are trying to say. To do this, use verbs like “will” instead of “could” or “should,”. Use “want” and “choose to” instead of “need” and “have to.”

The importance of strong communication runs deep within a business. Here are five key reasons why you should be paying attention to the communication process within your company:

  • Team building – Building effective teams is really all about how those team members communicate and collaborate together. By implementing effective strategies, such as those listed above to boost communication, you will go a long way toward building effective teams. In turn, you will improve morale and employee satisfaction.
  • Give everyone a voice – As mentioned above, employee satisfaction can rely a lot on having a voice and being listened to, whether it be regarding an idea or about a complaint they have. Well established lines of communication should afford everyone, no matter their level, the ability to freely communicate with their peers, colleagues and superiors.
  • It allows Innovation – Where employees are enabled to openly communicate ideas without fear of rejection or retribution they are far more likely to bring their ideas to the table, when participation is embraced. Innovation depends strongly on this and an organisation which encourages assertive communication is far more likely to be an innovative one.
  • Invites Growth – Communication can be viewed both internally and externally. By being joined up internally and having strong lines of communication you are ensuring that the message you are delivering externally is consistent. Any growth project is heavily based on communication and on all stakeholders, whether internal or external, being on the same wavelength.
  • Strong management – When managers are strong communicators, they are better able to manage their teams. The delegation of tasks, conflict management, motivation and relationship building (all key responsibilities of any manager) are all much easier when communicating assertively. Strong communication is not just the ability to speak to people but to empower them to speak to each other – facilitating strong communication channels is key.

Good communication is an essential tool in achieving productivity and maintaining strong working relationships at all levels of an organisation. Employers who invest time and energy into delivering clear lines of communication rapidly build trust among employees, leading to increases in productivity and output. In the workplace, creating and maintaining a positive work environment is what assertive communication fosters. Show them how it’s done: implement these best practices among your peers and start encouraging assertive communication.

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