Communicating assertively is communicating in a clear manner that expresses your opinions and needs, while respecting the opinions and needs of the other person. Assertive communication is the midway mark between aggressive and passive communication. We would like to use here the metaphor of passive communication being a doormat, and aggressive communication being a sledgehammer. If those two ring true to you, see assertive communication as a gentle lean in the door that opens opportunities to a productive dialog.
To dialogue is to Dance:
A delicate sharing of opinions between two people where respect takes center stage. Dialoguers are eager to hear what the other person has to say while staying true to their own opinion. In contrast to dialog, there’s debate. If dialog is a dance, the debate is a boxing match. And when someone is in boxing mode, they don’t pay too close attention to what the other person is thinking or is feeling.
We’d like to take you through a list of assertive thoughts and behaviors that may cross a person’s mind. After you have a sense of that, we will share a formula for you to consider when you want to communicate assertively, and a few real world examples played out.
First, Assertive Thoughts. In a conversation with a person from a different political party, or opposing viewpoint to yours on a social issue, you may be thinking “Hmm, I know what I’m hearing her say is different,” but we both have equal rights to express our opinion.
“I will summarize what I hear “and then share what I think”. Or you may be saying “Wow, he sounds so passionate about this. “At least I know my stance on the issue; “he can have his”.
If you want to assertively take part in a conversation, you have to pay attention to your body language first. Stand tall, avoid closing your arms in front of you for too long, or standing with your legs crossed. When you speak, clearly state your opinion in an even, calm tone of voice.
Avoid verbal fillers, such as um, so, you like, and hedges. Use “I” phrases to show ownership of your opinions. Maintain strong and respectful eye contact and keep your brain from forming an opinion when you listen. Openly listen to the other person while communicating assertively.
Communicating Assertively using Assertiveness Formula:
Finally, the Assertiveness Formula.The standard Assertiveness Formula follows three steps. Validate the other person and show empathy. The way you confront a person is key to the success of the outcome. State the problem from your viewpoint. Own it and use the words perception, or from my viewpoint. Finally, state your needs. This is the best time to use persuasive “I” language and get agreement for a mutual and agreeable solution. This process depends on the given situation. If someone cuts you in traffic, you probably will not take the time to state your needs.
The same when someone tries to put foil in the microwave of your workplace kitchen. You’ll jump and stop them before you think of expressing any empathy. Here are a couple of examples of an Assertiveness Formula in action. Your colleague left the printer you share without any paper in the tray again. She tends to do that a lot lately, and not only is it frustrating, but it’s a major delay on your day. Here’s how you should approach it. “Javeria, I know you’ve had a lot of printing to do “at the end of the quarter.
Related: Tactful Bragging
“And I’ve run into the printer being left empty of paper “several times in the last few days “when I have to print after you. “I waste time because I realized it “after I’ve sent several page documents that way. “Can you please make sure the tray is full, “or at least loaded, “when the job is done “or when you’ve done a large print job? “I would really very much appreciate it,“and I’m sure so everyone else would in the office. “What do you think?” Or here’s another example. You’re at the movies with the kids, and the lady behind you is having an ongoing conversation with her date.
Here’s what you could say communicating assertively: “Excuse me, I don’t mean to ruin the mood, “and I know the movie is interesting, “but I cannot hear half of what is being said “when you are talking to your friend.“Can you please quiet down and not talk during the movie? “I’m sure others around us would appreciate it too”. Notice that the movie theater scenario is more direct than the office copier one. You can get by with being more direct with someone you don’t know, but still you can open with empathy. Practice the assertiveness formula on a daily basis, and it will become a standard part of your vocabulary.
As we’ve all experienced, it’s easy to be aggressive, and possibly frustrating to be passive. Communicating with assertiveness is a skill that will help you be understood while nurturing working relationships.