By Jen Oleniczak Brown
Assertive isn’t a bad word. Too often I talk to female clients who feel that they can’t be assertive at work because it’s going to be seen as being abrasive. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Assertive communication is confident and when done unapologetically, can be incredibly effective.
Before you work on being assertive, it’s important to understand the other three communication styles: passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive. Passive communication takes the backseat. A passive communicator will rarely have and share their personal opinion and will often go along with the loudest voice. Usually, passive communicators neglect to make eye contact, and will often be so soft-spoken that even if they did have something to add, you couldn’t hear it.
Aggressive communicators will often use influence tactics like bullying and pressuring for people to “see it their way.” They will often raise their voices and use proximity to pressure the people they are talking to by standing uncomfortably close – and will often display emotions like anger and frustration to the people they are talking to. Passive-aggressive communicators do a bit of both: they won’t directly confront the person they are talking to with any cries of outrage, but they might mutter their displeasure or talk about it behind someone’s back, or in a hypothetical.
Now that you understand what not to do in assertive communication at work, how about what to do:
Use “I Statements”
One of the hallmarks of assertive communication is the “I statement.” By using I, you’re not being selfish: you’re owning your thoughts and feelings. If you’re in a disagreement with someone about doing a task, you can say, “I’m confused, I thought I was going to be completing this. Can you help me understand?” That “I statement” owns your feelings, sets the stage with your confusion and then allows the other person to help out.
By taking responsibility and ownership of our feelings and actions instead of blaming or using a lot of you statements, you’re being assertive. Try it now: think of a situation in your professional life, and make an “I statement” about it. Maybe you write it down first, and then say it out loud. How did that feel?
Make Eye Contact
Not creepy eye contact! You’re not having a staring contest – that does nothing but intimidate the person you’re talking to. Making eye contact is can make you extremely vulnerable because you’re connecting with another person! It’s also showing confidence: you’re allowing that other person to connect with you, and in turn, trust you.
Creepy eye contact comes in when you aren’t blinking, aren’t looking away, and using eye contact with a loud voice or a close proximity. Remember, the purpose of eye contact when you speak is trust, not intimidation or demonstrating authority.
Try it with the next conversation you have, and look into that person’s eyes, not at their eyebrows or forehead. You don’t have to gaze, just make eye contact, even if it’s only when you first greet them at the beginning of a conversation.
One Mouth, Two Ears
One of the most assertive things you can do in the workplace to listen more than you talk. That might sound passive, and I assure you it isn’t. If you’re listening more than you talk, you’re assessing the situation before you speak or jump to conclusions. By listening and paying attention, thinking about what you’re going to say before you say it, you’re responding to a situation and conversation before reacting to it. Aggressive communication is hallmarked by a reaction versus a response, and passive communication draws little to no response in the moment.
Try these three ideas for assertive communication and be sure to reflect on how different – or similar – they might be from how you normally communicate.