Last time we talked about the 4 primary communication styles, and how the assertive style is the most beneficial for you and the people you’re communicating with. You might be wondering how you can implement assertiveness in your communication? That’s a great question, let’s dive into it!
To start off I just want to quickly clarify a misconception that we tend to have about becoming more assertive. Many people have the wrong impression that it’s easy to become assertive. But in reality, it’s not something that you can develop overnight.
It requires practice and patience for sure, but it’s more than that, it also implies a big shift in your mindset and behavior. Remember that assertive people approach communication from a collaborative perspective rather than a competitive one.
Before speaking up and asking for what you want, it’s important to analyze why it feels uncomfortable. Often, these are subconscious thoughts—habits, even—that form from a lifetime of not asking for what you want.
That’s why ideally you should try to pinpoint the exact sources of your discomfort. So this means you will have to do some inner work, but trust me it will be totally worth it.
Always keep in mind that people respond well to assertive communicators because they feel respected and listened to. They want to be heard and know that their opinion matters.
Good communicators are careful with their words because they know the importance of getting their point across correctly the first time.
Becoming assertive is definitely a process that requires practice and patience. But as with any skill, the more you use it the better you will get at it.
Here are some initial tips to help you in your journey towards assertive behavior and communication.
1. Mindset: Assertiveness is your new mantra
The first main step is to work on your mindset and to fully embrace assertiveness as a new way of behaving and communicating without hesitation.
Remember all the times you were frustrated because you didn’t assert yourself in the past and have your “draw a line in the sand” aka “that’s enough” moment.
You have to be willing to fully practice assertiveness, which translates into taking action even if it means putting yourself in what you would initially consider uncomfortable situations such as speaking up in a meeting, saying no to an unreasonable request from a colleague, or asking someone a favor.
Also, make sure that you know what to expect. Remember that the discomfort only comes from the fact that you are practicing a new behavior, hence unknown territory for your brain which can be interpreted as danger.
The defense mechanism that kicks in, can come in many forms such as resistance or self-doubt. But if you know that this will probably happen, then you will be less surprised and this will make things easier.
If you have a history of being a people-pleaser, expect some resistance from others because people are used to the fact that you haven’t asserted yourself in the past and they rely on having full access to you whenever it suits them.
But despite that, the more you practice assertiveness, the more people will get used to your new behavior and eventually the “awkward” transition period of resistance will be over.
And even if in some rare occasions you are met by a negative response like being ignored, you will have the liberating realization that the positive feeling you get from asserting yourself outweighs by far any negativity thrown at you.
When you push through the initial discomfort, you will enter into a positive upward spiral because you will have more and more positive reactions and benefits which will motivate you to continue practicing an assertive communication style.
And if you think about it, when you are meeting new people and you already practice an assertive communication style from the beginning, these new people probably won’t show resistance.
Why? Because they don’t know the “passive” or “passive-aggressive” you from the past, so it will be even easier.
2. Active Listening: Probably one of the most effective assertiveness tools
As Stephen Covey, author of the famous book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” points out, the biggest communication problem is that when it comes to listening to others most people just listen to reply but not to understand.
You have to incorporate active listening into your communication, it’s really useful to become more assertive. I could write an entire article just about active listening (and maybe I will) so let’s try to keep it simple.
Apply the fundamental principles of effective listening into your communication:
- Pay attention:
Give your full attention to the speaker and look at her directly. Also, avoid any distractions.
- Show the speaker that you are listening:
Use your body language to communicate that you are fully engaged in the conversation. Nodding, looking in the eyes, etc are very clear gestures.
- Paraphrase and summarize:
Reflect on what is being said by paraphrasing the other person. “If I understood correctly, what you are saying is that…..”
Ask for clarification and summarize. “What do you mean when you say…” And then summarize their key points.
- Defer judgment:
This means you should resist any temptation to interrupt or immediately give your counterarguments. Let the other person fully explain their ideas and reasoning.
- Respond adequately:
Once you have gathered enough information and perspective through listening it’s time to respond. Be honest and open in your answer. And also don’t forget to assert yourself respectfully, always treating the other person the way you would like to be treated.
3. Practice using “I” statements to unlock your assertiveness.
If you come from a passive or passive-aggressive communication style, chances are that you rarely use “I” statements and speak your mind out.
A good first step towards assertiveness is to practice using “I” statements.
“I think the idea…. Is good, I would just maybe add….”
“I observed that ……. So I think we can change that to get better results”
“I understand your perspective…. But on the other side, I would consider….”
Sure it may feel uncomfortable at the beginning, and maybe one of your subconscious limiting beliefs will tell you that it’s rude or arrogant to say “I”.
But guess what? Your opinions and ideas matter, and expressing yourself using “I” statements doesn’t make you a bad person. You have to train this “muscle” because you are not used to doing it.
By saying this, I don’t mean to do it every second even when you legitimately have nothing to say or no particular opinion about a subject. Just be socially calibrated (aware of the circumstances and your audience) and choose the best moments to speak up.
Also, remember that assertive communication promotes a collaborative approach, you sharing what’s on your mind is good for the conversation and the creative flow.
You can directly or indirectly help the group to reach a breakthrough moment. (Click HERE to read my blog post that talks all about the art of speaking up).
4. Ask for something: The “ultimate” assertiveness challenge
Most of us struggle to ask something such as a favor or a question because we feel we might bother the person we are asking to.
Normally if we come from the passive communication style approach, we are the ones always receiving the requests and favors.
But the reality is that there are no dumb questions. Particularly, if you are learning or you’re not sure of something, asking a question to get something explained or clarified to us can be a HUGE time saver (much better than figuring out ourselves just for the fear of “bothering others”).
To apply assertiveness to your questions and requests, always use empathy and active listening to enhance your communication.
For example, when asking for something, it is essential to consider the person we are asking to.
- Are their needs being considered?
- How can this request benefit them?
- Is this a good time to make such a request?
- If the tables were turned, how would I view this request?
With this quick checklist, you are able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and make sure the request is appropriate. Showing empathy will make it easier for you to do a request without feeling guilty.
Saying things like: “I understand that you are busy… / that it’s last-minute / that it has been a rough week… etc. But I would like to ask you the following…. / I would really appreciate it if you could…“
You get the drill 😉
Again you have to practice asking, it’s probably a muscle you have not used often, so it will become easier with time.
5. Body language: One of the best assertiveness weapons
You might have heard that over 70% of your communication is actually non-verbal communication (some studies say up to 93%). Taking this into account it should not come as a surprise that we should also focus on developing assertive body language.
This is key especially considering that if you use assertive language but your body language is off, people will subconsciously pay more attention to your body language and determine you’re not as assertive as it seems.
So what does assertive body language look like?
Let’s break down some aspects of it:Eyes:
You should aim for a natural open posture with your arms to the side, your shoulders back, your chest open and your head held high. Don’t forget about your hands also, try to position your palms open and up.
You should aim to have a relaxed but direct eye contact. Looking someone in the eye when they’re talking will show them that you’re listening, and will help show that you’re confident.
This quick little tip really helped me. Try to finish your sentences with a tone that goes lower, really trying to sound as calm but firm as possible. It’s the opposite of the high sound you make when you ask a question, that sounds like you’re not sure about what you’re saying or that you are asking for validation.
Imagine the difference between “Right?” And “Right”.
- Speak Up:
Practice speaking out loud about what you want or need as much as you can, even if it’s just something small like ordering a special order in a restaurant. You’ll find yourself feeling more comfortable about asking for things.
Bonus: Power Pose
This is a controversial technique, for some period of time power posing has been widely spread due to a famous TED Talk from social psychologist Amy Cuddy (highly recommended).
The technique states that if people stand in a posture that they mentally associate with being powerful (open and expansive stance for example), they will feel and behave more assertively.
Nevertheless there is an ongoing debate about it’s utility, so my advice is that you give it a try if you want and see if it works for you or not. It’s not an exact science.
These are just a few tips that I wanted to share with you, but remember there are so many more out there that can help you practice your assertiveness.
The important thing is that you practice consistently until it becomes more natural and consequently your communication will become more effective.
What tactic or technique have you tried or would you like to try?