Assertive communication can be confusing. Does it mean being selfish? Can you be over assertive? At times people can avoid learning how to be assertive because they fear the consequences.
The definition of assertive communication is valuing your own needs and opinions as being equal to that of others, to stand up for your own and other’s rights in a calm and open manner.
Fear comes from the assumptions we make about others reaction to our assertive communication. It could cause conflict, we will be rejected, not liked anymore, others will think we are selfish or bossy. These may happen but done in an assertive manner being clear and calm, respectful of yourself and the others, will lessen the possible impact of our assumptions.
However, when I used to run assertion workshops I did say it came with a warning! When we start to change our behaviour and responses to one of standing up for ourselves, saying what we need or want, saying no, then there may be others who don’t like that. They don’t want to see you change, it takes away their power. This is their problem and is not a reason for you to stay where you are – perhaps passive and wanting to please all the time.
So what are the key features to assertive communication?
One of the easiest ways to be assertive is to use the word “I”, not “we or you”. You are speaking about yourself not about others. Own what you say, be responsible for your thoughts and opinions. Using “I” statements also makes it very clear to others what you are saying.
Match your body language to your verbal message. Don’t give out mixed messages as your body language will be believed more than what you are saying. Open posture, good eye contact, clear voice and calm tone will all emphasise and give respect to what you wish to say.
Listen to your gut response when being asked to do something. Does your heart sink or do you feel uplifted? Be honest with yourself and say no if you don’t wish to do something. It is only a request and you have every right to say no just as everyone else does. Say no clearly without waffle and excuses. You may wish to compromise which is fine.
Give yourself time to consider a request or criticism. You don’t have to respond straight away. By giving yourself some breathing space you can consider your response. This stops automatic habits of saying yes or agreeing – it gives you the opportunity to consider your own thoughts and needs.
The great thing about assertive communication is that the more you do it the more you respect yourself and the more others respect you. They know that when you say no you mean know and equally when you say yes it is because you want to do something. Assertive communication is not easy, it’s a skill that can be learnt but with it comes higher self-esteem and self worth.