Assertiveness can be a particularly challenging communication skill to master for those who have been socially conditioned to be a pushover or be pushy.
A pattern of imbalance in power around you, your relationships, workplace culture, childhood experiences, your personality type and multiple other factors can lead to you finding yourself at different points on the communication spectrum.
You might be someone who is given to being more passive: you tend to not respect your own feelings and are geared towards complying with what those around you are asking for. Or, you could be aggressive. You feel that you have to constantly be forceful and threatening to make sure you get work done and get your point across. You could also be passive aggressive, veering between appearing as if you are alright and being resentful and rude in other ways.
Healthy assertiveness is a quality that could be cultivated to work as a balance between these different extremes. At its core, assertiveness is a communication skill where you are able to treat both yourself and the other person with respect. Communication is a vital and large part of your daily life. Speaking, writing, non verbal cues like body language are some examples of what forms a part of this.
Learning to be assertive is a quality that is useful both in your everyday work life as well as in a challenging situation faced occasionally. What are some of the ways in which you can learn to practice healthy assertiveness?
In your everyday life:
1. You might be using filter words and justifications to present your ideas in a group meeting. ‘Just’, ‘only’, ‘this might sound crazy but (...)’ are ways in which you are discounting the weight of your contribution from the very beginning.
2. Some examples of assertive sentences at the workplace are,‘no, I cannot do that’, ‘thanks for the advice. I will consider that option’, ‘this is not a priority for me, I will reach out to you when I have time’, ‘I need to get back to you about that’, ‘I appreciate your perspective but I do not agree’.
3. Constantly apologising to your colleagues while asking for a follow-up that your work requires, will not help in creating an atmosphere where others respect you as an individual with her/his own goals and professional needs. As long as this communication happens in a respectful manner, it is okay to be forthright in what you are asking for.
In a challenging work situation:
1. Ask yourself, am I respecting myself in this situation? Am I being accountable to myself? Am I disrespecting the other person by how I am treating them?
2. Irrespective of whether you have a passive, aggressive or passive-aggressive communication style, being calm and professional helps to set the tone when engaging in assertive communication.
3. Learning to truly listen, not ridiculing the other person, are important. Particularly in case of workplace conflicts.
4. Use the five finger communication technique:
a) Name the overall issue by stating what you want to discuss and ask if this is a good time to talk
b) Point to the facts, avoid judgments and interpretations. Stick to what is verifiable
c) Name your feelings
d) Mention your underlying needs
e) State your clear request
While cultivating an assertive communication style is important to practise in your work life, it is also relevant to be aware of when to pick your battles. Sometimes it is better to exercise caution while recognising that assertive communication may result in an adverse reaction at the time.