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Assertive communication - what is it and why use it?

By Lee Hopkins

What IS assertive communication?
Assertive communication is the ability to express positive and
negative ideas and feelings in an open, honest and direct way. It
recognises our rights whilst still respecting the rights of
others. It allows us to take responsibility for ourselves and our
actions without judging or blaming other people. And it allows us
to constructively confront and find a mutually satisfying
solution where conflict exists.

So why use assertive communication?
All of us use assertive behaviour at times... quite often when we
feel vulnerable or unsure of ourselves we may resort to
submissive, manipulative or aggressive behaviour.

Yet being trained in assertive communication actually increases
the appropriate use of this sort of behaviour. It enables us to
swap old behaviour patterns for a more positive approach to life.
I've found that changing my response to others (be they work
colleagues, clients or even my own family) can be exciting and

The advantages of assertive communication
There are many advantages of assertive communication, most
notably these:

* It helps us feel good about ourselves and others
* It leads to the development of mutual respect with others
* It increases our self-esteem
* It helps us achieve our goals
* It minimises hurting and alienating other people
* It reduces anxiety
* It protects us from being taken advantage of by others
* It enables us to make decisions and free choices in life
* It enables us to express, both verbally and non-verbally, a
wide range of feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative

There are, of course, disadvantages...

Disadvantages of assertive communication
Others may not approve of this style of communication, or may not
approve of the views you express. Also, having a healthy regard
for another person's rights means that you won't always get what
YOU want. You may also find out that you were wrong about a
viewpoint that you held. But most importantly, as mentioned
earlier, it involves the risk that others may not understand and
therefore not accept this style of communication.

What assertive communication is not...
Assertive communication is definately NOT a lifestyle! It's NOT a
guarantee that you will get what you want. It's definately NOT an
acceptable style of communication with everyone, but at least
it's NOT being aggressive.

But it IS about choice

Four behavioural choices
There are, as I see it, four choices you can make about which
style of communication you can employ. These types are:

direct aggression: bossy, arrogant, bulldozing, intolerant,
opinionated, and overbearing

indirect aggression: sarcastic, deceiving, ambiguous,
insinuating, manipulative, and guilt-inducing

submissive: wailing, moaning, helpless, passive, indecisive, and

assertive: direct, honest, accepting, responsible, and

Characteristics of assertive communication
There are six main characteristics of assertive communication.
These are:

1. eye contact: demonstrates interest, shows sincerity

2. body posture: congruent body language will improve the
significance of the message

3. gestures: appropriate gestures help to add emphasis

4. voice: a level, well modulated tone is more convincing and
acceptable, and is not intimidating

5. timing: use your judgement to maximise receptivity and impact

6. content: how, where and when you choose to comment is probably
more important than WHAT you say

The importance of "I" statements
Part of being assertive involves the ability to appropriately
express your needs and feelings. You can accomplish this by using
"I" statements. These indicate ownership, do not attribute blame,
focuses on behaviour, identifies the effect of behaviour, is
direcdt and honest, and contributes to the growth of your
relationship with each other.

Strong "I" statements have three specific elements:

1. Behaviour
2. Feeling
3. Tangible effect (consequence to you)

Example: "I feel frustrated when you are late for meetings. I
don't like having to repeat information."

Six techniques for assertive communication
There are six assertive techniques - let's look at each of them
in turn.

1. Behaviour Rehearsal: which is literally practising how you
want to look and sound. It is a very useful technique when you
first want to use "I" statements, as it helps dissipate any
emotion associated with an experience and allows you to
accurately identify the behaviour you wish to confront.

2. Repeated Assertion (the 'broken record'): this technique
allows you to feel comfortable by ignoring manipulative verbal
side traps, argumentative baiting and irrelevant logic while
sticking to your point. To most effectively use this technique
use calm repetition, and say what you want and stay focused on
the issue. You'll find that there is no need to rehearse this
technique, and no need to 'hype yourself up' to deal with others.


"I would like to show you some of our products" "No thank you,
I'm not interested" "I really have a great range to offer you"
"That may be true, but I'm not interested at the moment" "Is
there someone else here who would be interested?" "I don't want
any of these products" "Okay, would you take this brochure and
think about it?" "Yes, I will take a brochure" "Thank you"
"You're welcome"

3. Fogging: this technique allows you to receive criticism
comfortably, without getting anxious or defensive, and without
rewarding manipulative criticism. To do this you need to
acknowledge the criticism, agree that there may be some truth to
what they say, but remain the judge of your choice of action. An
example of this could be, "I agree that there are probably times
when I don't give you answers to your questions.

4. Negative enquiry: this technique seeks out criticism about
yourself in close relationships by prompting the expression of
honest, negative feelings to improve communication. To use if
effectively you need to listen for critical comments, clarify
your understanding of those criticisms, use the information if it
will be helpful or ignore the information if it is manipulative.
An example of this technique would be, "So you think/believe that
I am not interested?"

5. Negative assertion: this technique lets you look more
comfortably at negatives in your own behaviour or personality
without feeling defensive or anxious, this also reduces your
critics' hostility. You should accept your errors or faults, but
not apologise. Instead, tentatively and sympathetically agree
with hostile criticism of your negative qualities. An example
would be, "Yes, you're right. I don't always listen closely to
what you have to say."

6. Workable compromise: when you feel that your self-respect is
not in question, consider a workable compromise with the other
person. You can always bargain for your material goals unless the
compromise affects your personal feelings of self-respect.
However, if the end goal involves a matter of your self-worth and
self-respect, THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE. An example of this
technique would be, "I understand that you have a need to talk
and I need to finish what I'm doing. So what about meeting in
half an hour?"

Assertiveness is a useful communication tool. It's application is
contextual and it's not appropriate to be assertive in all
situations. Remember, your sudden use of assertiveness may be
perceived as an act of aggression by others.

There's also no guarantee of success, even when you use assertive
communication styles appropriately.

"Nothing on earth can stop the individual with the right mental attitude from achieving their goal; nothing on earth can help the individual with the wrong mental attitude" W.W. Ziege

About the Author

When you match consumer psychology with effective communication
styles you get a powerful combination. At Hopkins-Business- you can find the secrets to
communication success. At Hopkins we show you how to communicate
better for better business results.


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