Assertive communication - what is it and why use it?

Nov 14 22:00 2004 Lee Hopkins Print This Article

What IS assertive communication?
Assertive communication is the ability to express positive andnegative ideas and feelings in an open, honest and direct way. Itrecognises our rights whilst still respecting the rights ofothers. It allows us to take responsibility for ourselves and ouractions without judging or blaming other people. And it allows usto constructively confront and find a mutually satisfyingsolution where conflict exists.

So why use assertive communication?

All of us use assertive behaviour at times... quite often when wefeel vulnerable or unsure of ourselves we may resort tosubmissive,Guest Posting manipulative or aggressive behaviour.

Yet being trained in assertive communication actually increasesthe appropriate use of this sort of behaviour. It enables us toswap old behaviour patterns for a more positive approach to life.I've found that changing my response to others (be they workcolleagues, clients or even my own family) can be exciting andstimulating.

The advantages of assertive communication

There are many advantages of assertive communication, mostnotably these:

* It helps us feel good about ourselves and others* It leads to the development of mutual respect with others* It increases our self-esteem* It helps us achieve our goals* It minimises hurting and alienating other people* It reduces anxiety* It protects us from being taken advantage of by others* It enables us to make decisions and free choices in life* It enables us to express, both verbally and non-verbally, a wide range of feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative

There are, of course, disadvantages...

Disadvantages of assertive communication

Others may not approve of this style of communication, or may notapprove of the views you express. Also, having a healthy regardfor another person's rights means that you won't always get whatYOU want. You may also find out that you were wrong about aviewpoint that you held. But most importantly, as mentionedearlier, it involves the risk that others may not understand andtherefore not accept this style of communication.

What assertive communication is not...

Assertive communication is definately NOT a lifestyle! It's NOT aguarantee that you will get what you want. It's definately NOT anacceptable style of communication with everyone, but at leastit's NOT being aggressive.

But it IS about choice

Four behavioural choices

There are, as I see it, four choices you can make about whichstyle of communication you can employ. These types are:

direct aggression: bossy, arrogant, bulldozing, intolerant,opinionated, and overbearing

indirect aggression: sarcastic, deceiving, ambiguous,insinuating, manipulative, and guilt-inducing

submissive: wailing, moaning, helpless, passive, indecisive, andapologetic

assertive: direct, honest, accepting, responsible, andspontaneous

Characteristics of assertive communication

There are six main characteristics of assertive communication.These are:

1. eye contact: demonstrates interest, shows sincerity

2. body posture: congruent body language will improve the significance of the message

3. gestures: appropriate gestures help to add emphasis

4. voice: a level, well modulated tone is more convincing and acceptable, and is not intimidating

5. timing: use your judgement to maximise receptivity and impact

6. content: how, where and when you choose to comment is probably more important than WHAT you say

The importance of "I" statements

Part of being assertive involves the ability to appropriatelyexpress your needs and feelings. You can accomplish this by using"I" statements. These indicate ownership, do not attribute blame,focuses on behaviour, identifies the effect of behaviour, isdirecdt and honest, and contributes to the growth of yourrelationship with each other.

Strong "I" statements have three specific elements:

1. Behaviour2. Feeling3. Tangible effect (consequence to you)

Example: "I feel frustrated when you are late for meetings. Idon't like having to repeat information."

Six techniques for assertive communication

There are six assertive techniques - let's look at each of themin turn.

1. Behaviour Rehearsal: which is literally practising how youwant to look and sound. It is a very useful technique when youfirst want to use "I" statements, as it helps dissipate anyemotion associated with an experience and allows you toaccurately identify the behaviour you wish to confront.

2. Repeated Assertion (the 'broken record'): this techniqueallows you to feel comfortable by ignoring manipulative verbalside traps, argumentative baiting and irrelevant logic whilesticking to your point. To most effectively use this techniqueuse calm repetition, and say what you want and stay focused onthe issue. You'll find that there is no need to rehearse thistechnique, and no need to 'hype yourself up' to deal with others.


"I would like to show you some of our products" "No thank you,I'm not interested" "I really have a great range to offer you""That may be true, but I'm not interested at the moment" "Isthere someone else here who would be interested?" "I don't wantany of these products" "Okay, would you take this brochure andthink about it?" "Yes, I will take a brochure" "Thank you""You're welcome"

3. Fogging: this technique allows you to receive criticismcomfortably, without getting anxious or defensive, and withoutrewarding manipulative criticism. To do this you need toacknowledge the criticism, agree that there may be some truth towhat they say, but remain the judge of your choice of action. Anexample of this could be, "I agree that there are probably timeswhen I don't give you answers to your questions.

4. Negative enquiry: this technique seeks out criticism aboutyourself in close relationships by prompting the expression ofhonest, negative feelings to improve communication. To use ifeffectively you need to listen for critical comments, clarifyyour understanding of those criticisms, use the information if itwill be helpful or ignore the information if it is manipulative.An example of this technique would be, "So you think/believe thatI am not interested?"

5. Negative assertion: this technique lets you look morecomfortably at negatives in your own behaviour or personalitywithout feeling defensive or anxious, this also reduces yourcritics' hostility. You should accept your errors or faults, butnot apologise. Instead, tentatively and sympathetically agreewith hostile criticism of your negative qualities. An examplewould be, "Yes, you're right. I don't always listen closely towhat you have to say."

6. Workable compromise: when you feel that your self-respect isnot in question, consider a workable compromise with the otherperson. You can always bargain for your material goals unless thecompromise affects your personal feelings of self-respect.However, if the end goal involves a matter of your self-worth andself-respect, THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE. An example of thistechnique would be, "I understand that you have a need to talkand I need to finish what I'm doing. So what about meeting inhalf an hour?"


Assertiveness is a useful communication tool. It's application iscontextual and it's not appropriate to be assertive in allsituations. Remember, your sudden use of assertiveness may beperceived as an act of aggression by others.

There's also no guarantee of success, even when you use assertivecommunication styles appropriately.

"Nothing on earth can stop the individual with the right mental attitude from achieving their goal; nothing on earth can help the individual with the wrong mental attitude" W.W. Ziege

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Lee Hopkins
Lee Hopkins

When you match consumer psychology with effective communication styles you get a powerful combination. At Hopkins-Business- you can find the secrets to communication success. At Hopkins we show you how to communicate better for better business results.

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