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.
They believe that they are always right. They use expressions such as, "This is what we are going to do and if you do not like it, tough luck." It is, "my way or the highway."
Body language also states the same. They make their bodies bigger, take more space, hands on hips, feet apart and may point with fingers.
They are not team players, and do not build relationships. Their verbal and non-verbal attacks do more harm than good.
People on the receiving end of this communication style become defensive and distrustful, as there is no free exchange of ideas. Eventually, it has detrimental consequences on the professional and personal lives of all concerned. Receivers may fight back, or they just shut up and become passive.
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.
Communicators are compliant, yielding, and submissive.
Body language speaks the same. They may sit or walk with stooped shoulders, avoid eye contact, and have hands folded against the chest or in the lap.
They do not stand up for themselves, easily give in to others, feel frustrated, angry and as a result project negative behavior.
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:
Express needs, views, feelings and rights while keeping in view the rights, believes and feelings of others. Do not make others defensive.
Believe and act on the premises that all individuals are equal and deserve respect.
Body language is friendly with good eye contact, a smile, and appropriate but not threatening gestures.
Emphasis is on building good relations, becoming effective team members and learning to compromise and collaborate.
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):
Use "I" Statements. It is best to use "I" statements rather than "you" statements. "I" statements convey confidence, self-assurance, and poise.
"I think...," "I feel...", "I disagree", or "in my views", instead of saying, "you should", "your fault", or "you screwed up", etc. "I" statements convey confidence, self-assurance, and poise. "You" statements come out much harsher, express negativity, and are mostly used to put down the other person.
Set Boundaries: Establish mutually agreeable rules, regulations and procedures that are beneficial to all the concerned parties. Boundaries help to form healthy relationships rather than conflicts.
Practice Saying No: Assertive communication is to be able to say "no" to ill-timed, unjustified and unreasonable demands. It is perfectly all right to say, "Sorry, I cannot work tomorrow as it is my day off and I have to take care of my family." Just saying no takes the stress out of the situation.
Keep Emotions Under Control: Assertive communicators tend to be polite, conciliatory, show empathy and respect for themselves and to others in any situation. They do not use harsh tones, threats or impose their will on others.
Repeat Assertion (Broken Record technique): This technique shows how to stay on point and ignore manipulative behavior. It means to repeat your message, feelings and needs in multiple statements. Focus on your message and do not be swayed by other persons' emotional pitch and tone. For example, if a person has to return ill-fitting shoes and does not want to buy any other pair of shoes, an assertive communicator would say, "I want to return these shoes". The sales person may say, "Sure, but let me show you our latest designs, latest colors at marked down prices." An assertive communicator would just stick to the message, "I want to return the shoes," and repeat it gently multiple times until the request is met (Assertive Communication).
Fogging: This technique is used to receive legitimate criticism comfortably without getting defensive, agitated or showing aggressiveness. "It is to slow down a potentially damaging situation, give both parties space and prevent the situation from escalating further."(Team Fogging)
Listen to your opponent, ask for further explanation, and admit your mistake if you made any. For example is someone says, "You screwed up this project." Rather than confronting and accusing back, just say, "Yes, I made a mistake, I was careless, and I agree with you that I was careless." The word "yes," or accepting the fact helps to diffuse a potentially argumentative situation.
Enhance Non-Verbal Communication Skills: Pay attention to the body language, gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions of a speaker. It is not what that is being said, but how that is vital to understand communication.
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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