How often have you been in a situation at work where you have instinctively said ‘yes’ to a request to help a manager or colleague, when in fact, you knew you didn’t have time and/or it was out of your scope to help out? This is a common occurrence for many people, however, it can ultimately have far reaching consequences.
Passive and agressive communication
Being assertive is about communicating effectively, directly, openly, and honestly with others without violating their rights. However, dependent on circumstances, we often fall into communicating ‘passively’ and ‘aggressively’. The former relates to putting the rights and priorities of others above that of our own. The latter can be defined as violating the rights of others in an attempt to get one’s own way. Aggression is focussed on achieving what one wants and does not take into account the views of others.
Unlike passive and aggressive communication, assertive communication attempts to negotiate an outcome. The message that is delivered is ‘this is what I would like to happen, however I’d be interested in your thoughts, and I am willing to discuss/negotiate a mutually agreeable solution’. Individuals who communicate in an assertive way believe that they are on equal plane to that of others, and work towards a win-win situation.
How to be assertive
Although assertiveness may not come naturally to some, it can be learnt. Body language, how we frame messages, and how we approach situations, can all have a significant impact upon communicating effectively, which can be especially important in work related environments , (e.g. when negotiating shifts or overtime with line manager; or effectively resolving a difference of opinion with a work colleague). Below are some skills to help develop your assertiveness skills:
Six effective assertiveness skills:
1. When speaking to others be specific and brief
Keep your message brief, succinct, and specific. Direct your message to the person or person(s) for whom it is intended, this should facilitate a ‘clear’ message
2. Be prepared to comprimise
This involves negotiating skills. Assertive communicators look to achieve a mutually agreeable position and recognise that there will be differences between their own wishes and that of others. Being able to reach a compromise where both sides benefit in some way is the ideal aim
3. Use 'I' statements
When we use ‘I’ statements, it allows us to say how we feel and how we see things (e.g. ‘I feel I would be better suited to this task’). Using 'I' statements allows us to be clearer in our communication to others and helps to avoid making others feel worse, such as ‘You won’t be any good at doing that’.
4. Tone of voice
Be mindful of your voice. Speak steadily and firmly, but with sincerity and warmth; remember, tone is very important to emphasis your point appropriately. If you are too soft, the other person will think you are trying to hide yourself and may ignore you. If you are too loud, the other person may become scared or annoyed by your voice
5. Body language
Communicating assertively involves adopting an open body posture, suggestive of inviting negotiation. Make non verbal gestures that give a sense of warmth and openness on your behalf, such as arms uncrossed, open palms, smiling, maintaining eye contact and sitting/ standing straight
Listening to the views of others sends a clear message that you are willing to consider another party’s position and puts you in a place to respond more appropriately whether in agreement with those views or not. Doing this will more likely mean others treating you the same and allowing you the opportunity to express your thoughts, feelings and opinions.
Learning to communicate in an assertive way at work can maximise the chances of getting what we want. It can allow us to take control of situations, rather than situations taking control of us. People who become assertive can develop a stronger sense of identity, confidence, and self-esteem; and it can reduce their susceptibility to experience stress.
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