Assertive Communication in the Workplace
The late Jim Rohn, business philosopher and master of personal development, once said “the only healthy communication style is assertive communication.” According to Bupa Health Insurance, lack of assertiveness affects relationships. The inability to communicate needs or challenge other people’s ideas can cause tension in relationships. You may sense that people aren’t listening to you, and become resentful, even angry. These feeling can lead to stress, anxiety or even depression.
Assertive communication, on the other hand, reduces this type of stress and contributes to a healthy workforce. Further benefits include improved productivity and less stress related absenteeism.
Assertive Communication – Beyond Your Words
Assertive communication involves expressing yourself in a clear, calm, confident and compassionate manner, while respecting the other person. You take responsibility for your actions. You don’t play the victim. Assertive communication also includes direct eye contact, calm voice, and congruent facial expressions.
I learned these distinctions from observations in the workplace and personal experience. Very early in my career, I had a role that involved working in a male dominated team, whose members were more experienced than myself. Whilst, my friends regarded me as assertive; at work I was clearly losing my voice. My appearance that everything was ‘fine’, were not always congruent with the reality. It took a little time to recognise the problem, before I was then able to turn it around. Before discussing how I resolved the problem, the benefits of assertive communication needs to be explored further.
Benefits of Assertive Communication
Assertive communication is likely to involve fewer conflicts and arguments. Why? In assertive communication the focus is on win/win scenarios, where both parties feel heard and respected. In contrast, an aggressive communication style often comes out of a need to get your way. Behaviours involve fighting, blaming, accusing, threatening and general disregard for other people’s feelings. Clearly this has neither a favourable impact on the aggressive individual’s well-being nor does it lead to healthy, positive relationships. However, in corporate cultures that favour and reward individuals over teams, aggressive communicators may get results.
Passive communication sits at the opposite end of the specturm. Passive communicators avoid conflict. They keep their opinions to themselves, and thus don’t express themselves effectively. This may be exhibited when an individual says, “I’m fine” with the situation, when the reality is somewhat different. The risk of bottling up feelings is an eventual explosion, which is not good for the individual or those involved.
Learning How to Communicate Assertively
Thankfully, assertive communication is a skill that can be learnt. It also takes continuous practice. You can being by identifying where you are not being assertive.
Is it across the board, or only:
- At work?
- With people in certain roles?
- With specific individuals?
- In specific situations?
- Only in group settings?
Next, get clear about the specifics of the situation at hand. What do you want? What don’t you want? Notice how you feel. Think about what you want to the other person know and how you will tell them? Arrange a right time and place to discuss. Acknowledge your feelings, express what you want to have happen. Aim to listen and to understand what the other person is saying. A commonly used approach is the broken record technique. Each party makes a concise sentence clearly and calmly whilst also briefly acknowledging the other person’s point of view. For example, “I understand you’d prefer to continue the meeting over lunch. My preference is to get some fresh air and clear my thoughts during the lunch hour.”
How can you learn?
You might access courses online or through your local college. Depending on your learning style, you may find an interactive day course to be engaging – this method suited me and my schedule at the time. For more long-standing deep-seated issues, it may be more appropriate to consult with a counsellor. This will help you identify the root cause of a non-assertive communication style and correct the problem. It is important to note, no one gets perfect after training and education. It is an on-going journey in which growth occurs as you are presented with and respond to different situations over time.