The ability to be assertive is a fundamental communication skill which can help you to express yourself more efficiently. Assertiveness respects the rights and beliefs of others whilst simultaneously allowing you to stand up for your own beliefs, values and views. Not everyone is naturally assertive and it takes time and conscious effort and control to become more assertive. It is important to note however that assertiveness only works if both parties understand and respect the concept. There will always be times in life where you will meet that one person that no matter how hard you try, it is next to impossible to communicate effectively with them.
Since assertiveness is based on mutual respect, it is a highly effective way of communicating. Assertiveness displays respect for yourself because you are willing to stand up for your interests and express your thoughts and feelings without invalidating or dismissing the thoughts and feelings of others. Assertive communication is direct and respectful. Assertiveness is often viewed as the ‘healthy’ communication style. Assertiveness reduces your vulnerability and the ability for others to take advantage of you and can also prevent you from acting like a bully to others. Other benefits of assertive communication can include:
Here are some tips which can help you become more assertive:
Gain insight and awareness about your current communication style.
Are you the type of person who vocalizes their opinions loudly, impulsively and without regard for who may already be talking? Do you remain silent and passive even when asked if you have any questions or are asked to provide input or feedback? Are you quick to form judgements or shift the blame (i.e., “their crazy what would they know” or “it wasn’t my fault because such and such didn’t arrive at work on time and then my cat got stuck on the roof and then my phone battery died”? Do people dislike talking to you or walk away in a huff?
Learn the power of “I” statements.
“I” statements immediately puts the focus on you and allows others to know what you are thinking and feeling without putting people on the defensive by using “you” statements. For example, “I don’t agree with you about that” rather than “your wrong. How could you say that”? And no, it is not an I statement if you start off with “I think you are wrong”. Or maybe “I wonder if we could do something this way”? rather than “you need to do it this way”.
Learn to say no.
This may be one of the hardest points to learn. Everyone struggles with saying no and the slightest bit of hesitation on your behalf and WHAM... you’re cornered into saying yes even though you wanted to say no. Being direct, not hesitating and being decisive with your words and intentions will increase your ability to say no effectively.
Rehearse what you want to say or engage in role-plays with friends or loved ones.
Rehearsing the assertive words and statements you want to use helps to reinforce the validity of those words in your mind and makes them easier to roll of your tongue when the time comes to use them.
Body language is critical.
Body language can be even more important that words when it comes to assertive communication. The effectiveness of assertiveness will be reduced if you are using assertive words and statements but you are communicating defensive body language. For example, if you were standing with your arms crossed, have a haughty or angry look on your face and fail to maintain eye contact, the other person will be confused as to why you appear to be hostile but your words are asking for solidarity. To help deliver your assertiveness, act confidently and make regular eye contact. Keep your body posture relaxed and open (hands by your side).
Become more mindful of your emotions.
Conflict is difficult for most people and naturally conjures up negative emotions and feelings. It is normal to feel scared, angry, sad or upset however if you go into any situation with your emotions prevailing, chances are you will not be communicating at your best. Keep a level head and remain calm by breathing slowly and controlling your voice and tone so that you are not yelling or constantly stuttering.
Be realistic and practice, practice, practice.
You are unlikely to become assertive overnight. Assertiveness takes time and the best way is to practice as much as possible. Every conversation is an opportunity to practice. Also, it is important to not be too hard on yourself. So, you messed up one conversation. So what? There is another opportunity lurking just around the corner. Stay positive and remain confident and soon you can add assertiveness to repertoire.
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Campagna, R. L., Mislin, A. A., Kong, D. T., & Bottom, W. P. (2016). Strategic consequences of emotional misrepresentation in negotiation: The blowback effect. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(5), 605.
Ward, A., Disston, L. G., Brenner, L., & Ross, L. (2008). Acknowledging the other side in negotiation. Negotiation Journal, 24(3), 269–285.