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Fundamentals of Personal and Professional Success: Assertive Communication Style

by Harwant Khush, Ph.D., Research Consultant, Tero International

Assertive communication style is fundamental to personal and professional success in the 21st century as compared to the passive and aggressive styles of the previous centuries. It is the most effective tool to adapt to the changing norms, values and customs of this century, particularly for those who are keenly aware of their needs, views and rights, but also value the needs, rights and opinions of others.

The philosophy and theories of this communication style are derived from the philosophy and literature of assertiveness. According to Researchers (Psychological Thought):

A very important personal quality is to be able to advocate for yourself - your own positions, your objectives..., but without harming the rights of others. The concept, which expresses these personal characteristics, is called "assertiveness". Assertiveness is a part of the personal potential. It is a prerequisite for self-actualization.

Other significant factors contributing to the popularity of assertiveness have been the progress in the clinical psychology, the civil rights movement in the USA, protection of civil and individual rights, emphasis on personal fulfillment, and the importance of self-actualization. A Harvard scholar states that, "If I had to pick one skill for the majority of leaders I work with to improve, it would be assertiveness (Harvard Business Review)."

These views are validated by social scientists. Joseph Folkman, a contributor to Forbes magazine, has observed that leaders who ranked high in assertiveness and good judgment had a 71% chance of being rated as one of the best leaders. Leaders who were rated high (in the 75th percentile) as having good judgment but lower on assertiveness had only a 4.2% chance of being highly rated as effective leaders. (Forbes)

To understand the vital characteristics of assertive communication style, it is best to understand how it is different from the aggressive and passive communication styles.

Vital Differences Between Assertive, Aggressive and Passive Communication Styles

If we plot these three communication styles on a scale of 1-10, then passive and aggressive styles would be on the opposite ends of the scale and assertive would be in the center of the scale. This position is best defined in the Cognitive Behavior Therapy book as "assertive communication ...the behavioral middle ground, lying between ineffective passive and aggressive responses."

The varied characteristics of these styles are:

Aggressive Communication: This style is often confused with assertive communication. People using the aggressive style pay little attention to the needs, views and rights of others. They want to impose their beliefs and values on others.

Passive Communication: These communicators are afraid to express their needs, views and demands. They do not express their opinions, do not question, and are happy to follow others' suggestions and instructions.

The best choice is to take assertive communication, the middle approach between passive and aggressive communications.

Assertive Communication is best defined as,

"... a communication & interpersonal skill in which you stand up for yourself while respecting the rights of others (The Art of Being Assertive)."

It also signifies "...respect for the boundaries of oneself and others... fulfillment of needs and wants through cooperation" (Wikipedia).

Assertive communication is also known as diplomatic communication, used to show respect, not to threaten, bully and intimidate others. It is a win-win situation for all the concerned parties. Assertive communicators:

How to Enhance Assertive Communication Skills

Practice and repetition will enhance these skills. According to Michaela Fitzpatrick, "It is a set of skills that anyone can master offering huge benefits for individuals, and the organizations for which they work." (Assertive Communicator)

Popular techniques on how to manage stress through assertive communication, some of these are listed on the Mayo Clinic site (Benefits of Being Assertive):

Assertive communication skills can be mastered with practice, repetition and paying attention to its fundamental techniques. These skills provide multiple advantages to our daily lives. They help us express our needs, views and rights while honoring the same of others. Self-confidence and self-esteem in everyday dealings are enhanced, making us feel good about ourselves while still respecting diverse viewpoints.

In addition, assertive communication skills help us to gain "win-win" situations, build relationships, collaborate and become effective team players. If properly applied, assertive communication skills are fundamental to success in our personal and professional lives as we learn to speak for ourselves without being aggressive or passive.

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