Most professionals that I have worked with have shared with me that they want to sound more confident, yet not all expressed that they are capable of being assertive.

Assertiveness is a fine balancing act that falls somewhere between being passive and aggressive. If you are passive in voicing your point of view, you will come across as meek. If, on the other hand, your communication style verges towards aggression, you may be considered a bully. Yet, when one learns to be assertive, they stand a better chance of achieving their objective. Being assertive means being able to speak and interact in a manner that is respectful towards others whilst standing up for yourself as well.

Adopting an assertive communication style is beneficial for multiple reasons. On an interpersonal level, it builds greater self-confidence and generates a positive self-image whilst also exhibiting greater self-control. On a social level, it fosters more respect for others’ viewpoints, increases the likelihood of finding positive solutions and ultimately leads to stronger relationships. 

As professionals, we come across numerous situations where we are in disagreement and we need to communicate in an effective and non-confrontational way. I was recently working with the HR team of an organisation on a communication skills related project, which they would like to implement across the organisation. As we went through the objectives of the project, the HR leader repeatedly emphasised the valid point of enabling the HR team members to become stronger communicators. His goal is to empower them to feel as confident as can be, in putting their arguments forward to other senior leaders in the organisation, without feeling hesitant at all.

Assertive communication involves a combination of various verbal and nonverbal qualities. It is critical to pay attention to both your body language as well as the actual words that you say. You need to ensure that you are congruent in your deliberate choice of words, tone of voice and body language.

Here are eight characteristics of an assertive communication style:

  1. Engage in direct eye contact and keep a neutral facial expression. This shows interest and sincerity and displays that you are not intimidated in making your case or in stating your perspective. Expressions that are neither angry nor anxious are essential for sending the right message.

  2. Adopt an assertive stance or posture with the right balance of strength and casualness. Standing too rigidly may come across as aggressive, whereas slouching may be perceived as weak. Stand up straight in a relaxed manner.

  3. Monitor your tone of voice. A strong voice conveys assertiveness, but raising one’s voice shows aggression and is likely to be met with anger. Avoid sounding high pitched – instead aim for a deeper voice as this is associated with more credibility (we vote for politicians with deeper voices).

  4. Be mindful of timing. Assertive communication needs to be executed at the right time.  Wrong timing in putting your point forward can ruin your attempt in building your case strongly. Use good judgement to maximise receptivity and impact.

  5. Go with clarity. Be simple, direct, and concise by stating your point succinctly. When asserting yourself, remember, less is more. Keep your statements free of long-winded explanations.

  6. Exercise the power of ‘I’.  To be assertive without coming across as hostile, use ‘I’ statements. Make it a habit to say things like “I think… ” or “I feel… “.  Speak in a non-threatening approach.  Avoid aggressive phrases like “You never… ” or “You always… “.  When the language of blame kicks in, the communication can only go downhill. These statements trigger other people, leaving them frustrated, and they shut down conversation. ‘I’ statements allow you to be confident and assertive without distancing other people.

  1. Stay calm. Being assertive might make you feel excited, but excitement can sometimes come across as aggression. Learn to stay cool and calm when expressing yourself; it will make you more confident and allow the other person to relax. Remember to breathe normally. Calm mind, calm speech, calm action — it not only gives you confidence, but allows the other person to remain composed as well.

  1. Set boundaries. Boundaries are the rules and limits you create for yourself that help you decide what you will and won’t allow. You don’t want people to walk all over you, but you don’t want people to think you are a bully, either. Setting boundaries will empower you to know when you need to say yes and when you want to say no.

Being assertive and stating what you believe in is not the same as being arrogant or aggressive. You simply need to know how to say it with confidence. Assertive communication at work is associated with a more satisfying career. By practicing this valuable communication skill, you will gain more respect and build better relationships too. Speaking up for yourself, or for others, leads to positive outcomes.  After all, assertiveness is not only about ourselves; it is about creating a voice in support of justice for all of us.

You can reach Michelle Fenech Seguna on michelle@speaktomove.com.mt  or access www.speaktomove.com.mt for more information.

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