Do you feel that you are being neglected by others and don’t get what you want?
Perhaps you find it difficult to voice your thoughts or ideas when you’re in a meeting?
One of the big questions I constantly get asked on my travels is ‘How can I use more assertive communication?’
I remember one of my clients Jenny telling me that she had great difficulty when trying to voice her thoughts in a meeting. With a little extra investigation we were able to identify that she was generally using assertiveness skills, but her communication struggles surfaced whilst in meetings with senior management. She explained to me that when she spoke to her own colleagues or subordinates she was quite assertive but noticed that she changed when she was in a senior relational context. This is quite common, although Jenny’s experience may not reflect yours, the fact is everyone has issues with assertiveness somewhere in their communication life. When we find ourselves around certain personality styles or authority figures it may have an affect on our ability to perform in an assertive manner.
As this is such a key area for many people, mainly because it can be inhibiting career advancement, getting ideas and messages across effectively, as well being more influential in gaining results and outcomes, I have decided to address this topic in 3 parts as following.
In Part 1 we are going to define:
- What assertive communication is,
- Why we find it difficult,
- Ways we can start to identify where we need assertiveness training and improvement.
1. Defining Assertiveness:
Firstly we need to understand the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. When you want to be assertive your tone and the use of language will be different. In Aggressiveness there is no place for the other person’s opinion. In your mind what you are saying is the only right option, it is the be all and end all, this is the attitude of an aggressive person. But when you are being assertive there is room for the other person’s opinion. You can arrive at a solution together, which is mutually acceptable to both.
When we are being assertiveness skills it simply means we feel free to communicate in a calm, honest and open manner, regardless of the situation. You do not have to threaten the other person to get what you want. You can use firm but gentle tone to put forth your thought or opinion. One thought is to start your sentences with ‘I’ instead of ‘You’ and the focus will shift immediately. The other person will also be in better frame of mind to listen to you when he does not perceive you using accusative or an attacking style of communication.
2. Why Do We Find it Difficult?
One of the reasons we can find it difficult is that it confronts our basic need to feel safe and secure when conversing with other individuals. The context of the relationship may place underlying pressure on that basic need at times. Jenny for example found it more difficult when she was with senior management – we can easily identify what was happening here. Jenny had different perceived expectations with senior relationships than those she had with colleagues and subordinates. One reason for this may have been that Jenny may have felt the pressure to perform from her superiors and that she was being monitored more closely. This would have a direct effect on her ability to communicate freely and be relaxed. This may not be your experience but gives us an example of what can cause an inability to be assertive.
Being Assertive is not just using a certain set of communication skills or behaviours. Assertiveness is, first and foremost an attitude of mind with an accompanying set of beliefs about yourself and the world around you.
3. Ways we can start to identify where we need assertiveness training and improvement
As I come to the end of this first part on ‘Assertiveness’, what can we do practically?
Here are some things to focus on until next week:
- Start becoming more aware of where you find it difficult to be assertive.
- Find some personal reflection time to try and identify the root causes of the difficulties and write them down to externalise.
Some examples of the questions you might ask yourself:
- Is it only around certain personality styles?
- What is the nature of the relational position to the people I struggle to be assertive with?
- What are some of the key feelings I experience that tend to hold me back… Fear, anxiety, lack of recognition or respect?
One thing you may find useful is the Assertiveness Assessment below, which will give you an indication of your current level of assertiveness.
Click this link to download it now! Assertiveness Assessment
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will address ‘How to get your ideas across without being pushy.’
P.S. Please leave your comments and feedback or even requests for future topics of communication you would like me to address. Just enter your feedback in the comments section below any post.