Do you sometimes feel that your communication could have more impact? That your views and preferences aren’t taken as seriously as they could be?

Through years of facilitating conversations and learning, I’ve come to believe that respect, for yourself and others, is the foundation of assertive communication.

What is assertive communication?

Communicating assertively means expressing yourself clearly, so that you can be heard and understood.

“Someone who is assertive behaves confidently and is not frightened to say what they want or believe.” Cambridge Dictionary definition.

To be clear, assertive behaviour in this context is not the same as aggressive behaviour. 

Thinking that you’re always right is not assertiveness. Forcing your views on others is aggressive behaviour. Having the courage to say what you really think and feel is assertive.

Aggressive behaviour is also dominating a conversation. Talking too much. My heart sinks sometimes when I hear the same person talking yet again at a meeting, not showing interest in anyone else’s views.

I’m not going to pretend that I always get my communication right. In my role as a facilitator and trainer, I’m pretty assertive in ensuring that everyone has time to speak and be heard. But in other parts of my life I sometimes hold back. Writing this article has clarified a couple of areas where I plan to speak up a little more! Read on for five ideas to help you communicating more effectively, whether at work or in your personal life.

1. Be clear about what you think and feel, and know that your perspective is valid

Assertive communication starts with clarity about what you want to communicate. It’s about being clear about what you want and need. It’s also about communicating in a way that respects other people, and their perspectives, wants and needs.

Respecting others is important. And equally important is self-respect. If you don’t feel that your views are valid or that you have anything worth saying or sharing, this can lead to a passive style of communication. If you find you’re always the one who gives in, to let other people have their own way, then this can lead to resentment and a further loss of self-esteem. It can also result in passive aggressive behaviours such as gossiping about people behind their backs, when you haven’t had the courage to speak to them directly.

Your assertiveness rights

You have a right to express what you think and feel. Your feelings are always valid. But to be assertive, we need to understand the importance of owning our perspective.

This means sharing what we think, feel, would like, using “I” statements, such as “I think…” “I feel…”. “I would like…”.

If you disagree with someone, it helps to acknowledge you’ve heard and understood their point of view. You might then introduce your views with a phrase like: “I have a different perspective…”

If the other person doesn’t seem to have heard or understood, repeat your message. You might choose to vary the wording slightly. But keep the core message unchanged until you’re sure you’ve been heard.

2. Be respectful of other views

Everyone sees the world differently — it couldn’t be otherwise. Everything we see and hear reaches us through our sensory and nervous system and is recreated internally in the physical structure of our brain. Realising this may help us to listen with more compassion, and the willingness to put ourselves in someone else’s position.

The foundation of good communication is to listen carefully to other perspectives. Listen to understand. Not listening either to agree or to disagree, but instead to discover what the other person thinks. Stay curious about their point of view. Keep an open mind, is there something they’ve said that might shift your viewpoint too?

And demonstrate that you understand the other person’s perspective. You may wish to reflect back some of their key words, or summarise what they have said in your own words, to check that you’ve understood. Ask questions that encourage the other person to tell you more about what they think. If your attention wanders when someone is speaking, be honest about this. Ask them to repeat what you’ve missed.

3. Notice when you’re projecting your thoughts and feelings onto others

Accusations are not assertive. When you project your negative feelings or thoughts onto other people, this tends to come over as aggressive. Contrast saying: “you’re rude” versus: “I would like to have time to finish my point, before you come in with your perspective.”

How often have you noticed yourself or others thinking or saying something like: “he made me angry…”. If you notice yourself doing this, take a step back, and consider what’s really going on?

Someone’s behaviour may have triggered a negative response in you. This response may be fully justified, or it may be more about an area where you have personal insecurities or sensitivities. We all have our personal trigger points, where we react emotionally rather than rationally.

You may feel that the other person’s behaviour was disrespectful in some way and needs to be challenged. If so, then challenge assertively, for example by saying: “When you told me to shut up, I felt disrespected.” You are linking the other person’s behaviour with your reaction, but are owning your reaction.

It can be helpful to realise that someone else might have reacted differently, for example: “When you told me shut up, I was wondering if you were feeling criticised or overwhelmed?” The listener in this example may not have been triggered into a negative response, even though the other person’s behaviour was the same.

Your power to respond

You always have the power to choose how you respond to others. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I don’t in any way condone bullying or aggressive behaviour. This is not acceptable and when it takes place, we need to call it out. But there are many instances where we may jump to conclusions about someone’s intention. An assertive response may lead to a more honest and deeper relationship, whether that’s in a personal or professional context.

4. Explore your own barriers to being assertive

Assertive communication techniques can be helpful in growing your confidence and skills. But there is also value in digger a little deeper, and examining the reasons why you sometimes struggle to be assertive.

Is this because at some level you don’t believe you’re as good as other people? This often underlies passive behaviour. And sometimes this belief results in aggressive behaviour. Maybe you feel at some level that you have to be forceful to be heard?

Or do you judge some people as not truly worthy of respect. Maybe because of their education level, or even their race or gender. Some of these judgements can be hard to recognise. The term “unconscious bias” describes judgements that exist below our level of conscious awareness. If you become aware that you feel more anxious going into conversations with some people than others, it’s worth taking time to reflect honestly on this. Are there any patterns that could reflect fears below your level of awareness? Once you become aware of an assumption or bias, it’s much easier to consciously make a decision to overcome it.

Communicating boundaries

Assertiveness is also related to your personal boundaries. What is ok and not ok for you? There are many areas where you might like to reflect on your boundaries, such as: your time; physical contact; the way you like to be spoken to; your ethical no-go areas.

How can you communicate these boundaries in a way that is clear and respectful? This comes around again to the importance of becoming clear on the answers yourself, so that you can then communicate them to others.

5. Think about your posture and voice

As well as the words you use, assertiveness is about the way that you say things. Your body language and tone of voice are valuable aspects of your communication.

Look at your posture. Ideally you will be upright but not rigid. Allow your head to float gently upwards as if a golden thread were connecting the crown of your head with the heavens. Relax your shoulders. Feel your feet firmly connected to the floor.

Employ a steady tone of voice. Practice key phrases so they feel natural to say. It can be helpful to record yourself speaking, and listen back. Remember your voice will sound richer in real life, so if you can get to the point of sounding ok via a recording, you’ll be well placed when it comes to face to face. Check that when you’re stating something, it doesn’t come over as a question. Allow your voice to deepen slightly at the end of a sentence. This covers a sense of gravitas and my help you to be taken more seriously.

Ask yourself: If I were communicating assertively, how would I stand, and how would my voice sound? Then, allow yourself to assume those body postures, and practice speaking in that voice.

What do you think?

I’ll be diving deeper into this topic in my forthcoming book, Crafting Connection: Transform how you communicate with yourself and others.

What are your thoughts about assertive communication?

[This article was originally published on Medium]

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

About the Author

Felicity is a writer, facilitator and thinking partner. She is interested in ways to develop ourselves, and deepen our connection with others. Our self-awareness, personal resilience and communication skills provide the foundation for effective leadership and living in our complex and ever-changing world.

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