Communication is something we use on a daily basis, yet most of us were never actually taught how to use our voice. It’s hard because we’re fed so many mixed messages: you have to step on others to get what you want, ask but make sure you don’t sound needy, be loud, just stay quiet, don’t accept no for an answer, don’t ruffle any feathers, you have to look out for yourself, don’t make a scene, and the list goes on. Many of us have heard of the 3 main communication styles: aggressive, passive, and passive-aggressive, but there’s a 4th one that doesn’t get enough attention: assertive communication.
Aggressive communicators are usually seeking control and looking to win, no matter the cost. They tend to be direct, forceful and demanding, while leaving others to feel hurt, resentful and afraid.
Passive communication on the other hand is quiet and avoidant. These communicators shy away from confrontation and don’t like expressing themselves directly, if at all. They are usually worried about hurting other people’s feelings.
Passive-aggressive communication is a combination of aggression and passivity. These communicators often shy away from confrontation and don’t like expressing themselves directly like passive communicators. On the other hand, they also have demanding and forceful tendencies, like aggressive communicators. Their goal is to get their way but by using more subtle, manipulative, or sarcastic means.
And then there’s assertive communication. Assertive communicators express their ideas and feelings in an open, honest, and direct way. It’s hard to do, but easier with practice. It requires walking the line between aggression and passivity. It means showing consideration for the rights of each conversation participant, including yourself. Assertive communication can lead to increased self-confidence, respect from others, improved decision-making skills, less conflict, healthier relationships, win-win situations, and a better understanding of your own feelings, wants, and needs. And most notably, assertive communication usually gets you what you want.
Assertive communication is all about the delivery- your words, your tone, and your conduct. Here are some tips for delivering your message assertively:
- Walk into the conversation prepared so your requests are clearly articulated—spend time identifying what you want, what you need, and why it’s important to you
- Voice your request confidently and believe in what you’re asking for
- Maintain eye contact, relax your face, stand tall, and offer an open & approachable stance
- Use “I” statements—you leave less room for defensiveness if you speak from the perspective of how you feel and what you need; your feelings and your needs are indisputable to the other party
- Approach the conversation with empathy and understanding—recognize that the other party may be operating from a completely different narrative, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share yours
- Remember that you can’t control other people’s behavior—the only thing you can control is how you respond and react
- Ensure the level of your voice is reasonable and your tone is neutral—shouting, whispering, sarcasm, and/or passive-aggressiveness is unhelpful
- Be open to criticism and compliments
- Learn to say “no”
- Avoid absolutes like always and never
- Utilize honesty, even when it’s uncomfortable
- Use facts over judgement
- Verbalize consequences if your needs are not met—you can describe the positive impact that respecting your request will have for the other person/the relationship, or you can describe the negative impact dismissing your request will have for the other person/the relationship
Most importantly, recognize that assertiveness is a practice as much as it takes practice. Being assertive means continuing to converse calmy, respectfully, and honestly until whatever you are working toward is resolved or your need is met. This may require active listening, asking more questions, employing compromise, or getting creative with more solitons.