Communication is fundamental in our lives. We communicate our thoughts and our feelings to family, friends, co-workers and strangers every day. Effective communication allows us to build healthy relationships in our private lives and healthy partnerships in our business lives. Ineffective interaction leads to frustration, dysfunctional personal relationships, stagnant organizations, and even war between countries.
Assertive communication requires the effective use of all aspects of communication from body language and symbols to persuasion and listening. Assertiveness is being able to state your viewpoint without provoking another person.
Think about assertive communication as a two-way flow, an exchange of information. It is open, honest, direct, shows mutual respect, values the thoughts, ideas, opinions and feelings of the other person(s) and strives for a winning outcome for everyone involved.
When you communicate assertively, you are expressing both positive and negative feelings – honestly and directly. You are acknowledging that you have the right to be listened to and taken seriously, to say no without feeling guilty, to ask for what you want, and to make mistakes. You also recognize and acknowledge that the other person has identical rights. The result is that your relationships will become much more genuine, because you are communicating honestly and openly.
What holds many people back from communicating assertively is the fear of displeasing others and of not being liked. By not speaking up for yourself, you may avoid some immediate unpleasantness, however, you could also jeopardize the relationship in the long run if you refuse to assert yourself and then feel taken advantage of over and over again. When this happens you become frustrated and unhappy with yourself, which reinforces a poor self-image and makes it difficult to command respect from others.
Awareness of yourself is a key part of learning to be assertive. You can start by asking yourself questions such as: “What do I want to change?” and “How do I tell the other person without blaming or attacking him or her?”
Assertive communication uses a special technique known as “I-message”s to say how it is for you. When you use an “I-message”, you state what you need clearly, directly and specifically. You let others know what you feel and think while being polite and firm.
For example, “I would like to discuss the options in detail” instead of “Maybe there should be some discussion about the options.” Or “I understand the Tuesday deadline is really important. However, as a result of the computer problems we’ve had today, I won’t have it completed on schedule unless I have some help. Which other staff would be able to work on it with me?” It is helpful if you can plan what you want to say before you say it. That way, you can avoid saying something you might regret later.
Tips for Positive Communication
The key to communicating assertively is to express yourself clearly, without blaming or judging the other person. One of the ways to learn how to do this is to sign up with a local Toastmasters Club. As a club member you will learn how to make your messages clear, complete and specific. You will learn how to plan what you want to say before you say it. You will learn how to ask the questions that will gain you the answers you need to make effective decisions. You will learn how to listen so that you can become genuinely interested in discussions and give listeners or speakers your full attention without interrupting them. You will learn how to give effective evaluations to demonstrate your comprehension of what has been said.
You will learn how to give feedback, by being tactful, firm, and sensitive. You will learn to focus on the behaviour or the specific task rather than on the person. You will point out what worked well, suggest alternatives, and give any additional feedback in private.
You will learn to invite feedback about your own work and regard it as an opportunity to improve the quality of your work and not as a personal attack. You will learn to believe in yourself and value what you have to say. Your insights could benefit others.
Respect yourself, communicate assertively with those around you, and they will respect you too!
To your communication success
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