Assertiveness is a communication style that allows you to express your feelings, beliefs and opinions in an open manner that doesn't violate the rights of others while having respect for yourself. It also demonstrates awareness of the rights of others and a willingness to work on resolving conflicts.
Of course, it's not just what you say but also how you say it that's important. Assertive communication is direct and respectful. Being assertive gives you the best chance of successfully delivering your message. If you communicate in a way that's too passive or too aggressive, your message may get lost because people are too busy reacting to your delivery. Aggressive behavior violates the rights of others while passive behavior leaves you violating your own rights.
We are all born assertive, but as we grow we learn different patterns of communication that can be unhelpful. We have beliefs and assumptions about ourselves, other people and the world that can make it difficult for us to be assertive. There can also be strong cultural and generational influences on your behavior that may outweigh the pros of being assertive.
Here are some tips to help you maintain an assertive style of communication:
1. Assess your style. Understand your style before you begin making changes. Do you voice your opinions or remain silent? Are you quick to judge or blame?
2. Use ‘I’ statements. Lets others know what you're thinking without sounding accusatory and shows that you are taking responsibility for your feelings. For instance, say, "I disagree," rather than, "You’re wrong."
3. Practice saying no. If you have a hard time turning down requests, try saying, "No, it is not possible for me to do that." Don’t beat around the bush — be direct. If an explanation is appropriate, keep it brief.
4. Rehearse what you want to say. Sometimes it can feel challenging to say what you want or think. You should practice typical scenarios you encounter in low stress situations or by yourself. Say what you want to say out loud or write it out first. Also, consider role playing with a friend or colleague and ask for blunt feedback.
5. Use body language. Communication isn't just verbal but largely body language too. Act confident even if you aren't feeling it, keep an upright posture, and make regular eye contact. Maintain a neutral or positive facial expression. Don't wring your hands or use dramatic gestures. Practice assertive body language in front of a mirror or with a friend or colleague.
6. Keep emotions in check. Conflict can be difficult for most people especially if you surprisingly feel like crying and you get angry or frustrated quickly. Although these feelings are normal, they can get in the way of resolving conflict. If you feel that you can not control your emotions going into a situation, wait a bit if possible and work on remaining calm. Breathe slowly and keep your voice even, firm and watch your tone. Know your emotional self.
If you need more assistance with being assertive please contact a professional in your community or visit your Employee Assistance Program through your place of employment.
You can make it work!
Seaward BL. Managing Stress. 6th ed. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. 2009.
Beagrie S. How to be more assertive. Occupational Health. 2006;58:24.
Bourne EJ. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. 4th ed. Oakland, Calif.: New Harbinger Publications Inc., 2005;252.
Lin YR, et al. Evaluation of an assertiveness training program on nursing and medical students’ assertiveness, self-esteem and interpersonal communication satisfaction. Nurse Education Today. 2004;24:656.
Creagan ET (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 30, 2011.
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