Effective Communication Skills: Assertive Communication
Effective Communication Opens Doors
Effective communication can open doors for you, both in the business world and in your personal life. Knowing how best to get your message across to someone else is an invaluable tool. Deliver your message in the wrong tone of voice or the wrong type of statement and your listener may only really "hear" the delivery of the message, not the message itself.
Four Basic Communication Styles
There are four basic communication styles: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. The use of the first three styles often results in unintended outcomes -- especially for the speaker.
Passive Communication Style: The passive communication style is one where the speaker's true thoughts and feelings are negated. The passive communicator doesn't believe he is worthy of being important and usually has low self-esteem. These type of communicators are often apologetic. They avoid eye contact and may have a slumped posture.
Aggressive Communication Style: The aggressive communication style features a speaker who is fully able and willing to share his thoughts and feelings, but does so regardless of the effect those messages have on his listener. This style of communication is forthright to the point of being tactless and direct. In aggressive communication, the speaker may try to manipulate the listener with guilt or intimidation. Many of this speaker's sentences feature "you" statements, often placing blame.
Passive-Aggressive Communication Style: The passive-aggressive communication style is a combination of the first two styles. The speaker avoids confrontation by speaking in vague terms or saying what the other person wants to hear. This communication style features someone who tries to manipulate to get what he wants rather than saying what he wants or feels. Sarcasm is a tool in passive-aggressive communication.
Assertive Communication Style: The assertive communication style employs direct, honest statements. These statements are said in a tactful manner, being sensitive to the feelings of the listener. The assertive communicator is self-confident and willing to compromise. Because an assertive communicator stands up for himself in a non-confrontational manner, he is not easily manipulated by others.
How to Become an Assertive Communicator
Like so many things in life, first you have to recognize that the manner in which you communicate presently isn't as effective as you'd like it to be. You may have recognized your communication style or styles in the explanation of ineffective communication styles. If so, you're not alone.
There are many avenues available for assertiveness training.
Check your local colleges or universities for assertiveness training or courses in interpersonal communication techniques. Some employers provide assertiveness training; if so, be sure to avail yourself of this available avenue. There are many self-help books available on the topic -- and likely a number of e-books too.
If you are a person who is passive by nature and find yourself unable to use even the most basic of assertive communication techniques, you may consider obtaining counseling to help boost your self-esteem. As you develop a better self-image, your ability to speak out for your thoughts and beliefs will become easier -- and that's assertive communication.
Basic Assertive Communication Techniques
If you've not been an assertive communicator up until now, chances are you will be a little self-conscious initially until this new communication style becomes familiar to you. That's to be expected. My best advice to you: Fake it 'til you make it. It works.
* Sit and stand straight, shoulders back and head erect. You can practice doing this when no one is around. The more you practice the more natural these mannerisms will become. You are not going for a stiff look, you want to portray a look of self-confidence.
* Make eye contact during conversation. Don't stare, but don't avoid looking at the other person or people to whom you are talking.
* Become an active listener. Assertive communication is about mutual respect for all parties in the conversation. Let the speaker know you are paying attention to what is being said by nodding your head slightly now and then.
* Speak in an average conversational volume. Enunciate your words. Mumbling or speaking too softly send the wrong message to your listener.
* Take ownership of what you're saying by using "I" statements: "I think" or "I feel"
* Seek a win-win completion to a conversation. An assertive communicator is willing to compromise when applicable.
* It's not only okay to say "no" to a request, it is necessary for your self-esteem to protect your time and energy. If you're asked to do something you don't want to do, simply say "no." You don't need to provide an explanation for your decision.
* Say what's on your mind, but do so in a diplomatic way. You want to protect the feelings of others just as you want them to do in return.
Assertive Communicators Are Active Listeners
Being an effective communicator is as much about listening as it is about speaking. You have to be able to understand what the other person is saying -- and perhaps, leaving unsaid -- before you can respond appropriately. The way to be a good listener is to be an active listener.
Active listening requires you to focus on both the speaker and the spoken words. The speaker's body language will provide some important clues to the intent and meaning of the spoken word.
Being an active listener means that you aren't already thinking about how you're going to respond to the person talking. You can't concentrate fully on the conversation when you are planning ahead. This may take some practiced effort on your part because many of us are ready to respond before the person talking has even finished his/her sentence.
Make eye contact at intervals with the speaker; neither stare or become involved in any other activity while the person talks. Eye contact demonstrates interest; sitting or standing quietly while the other person talks demonstrates both respect and interest in the message.
Don't change the subject before acknowledging what the other person has just said. Doing this shows that you didn't give the conversation any importance -- and by association -- you didn't give the speaker any importance.
To ensure you've understood the message of the other person, you might say something such as, "It sounds to me like you are saying..." or "Did I understand you correctly when you said..." Repeating back to the speaker shows that you were listening and gives both of you the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings of the message.
Showing respect for the speaker is likely to result in the speaker having respect for you and your message. This is a win-win situation.
Become a Better Listener
You can use what you've just learned about the various types of communication styles to aid your understanding of the people with whom you talk. You now know that assertive communication is the most favorable type to promote understanding of the message, but those you speak with may utilize other communication styles.
Now you should be able to determine if the speaker is a passive communicator. If so, you will know that determining exactly what that person thinks or feels about the subject at hand may be difficult. In order to draw them out, you can ask them specifically what his/take is on the matter. Knowing that you value their opinion may draw the passive speaker out -- or it may not -- but you have shown them that you care about what they have to say.
You should also be readily able to recognize an aggressive communicator. You know you will have to keep yourself from reacting emotionally to their manner of speaking and listen for the message. As an assertive communicator, you can respond with "I" statements to let the speaker know how they are making you feel if the situation is appropriate for that. If not, you will at least have opened yourself up to receive the message by understanding the person's communication style.
If you are engaged in a conversation with a passive-aggressive communicator, you'll know to look for sarcasm and other manipulation tools in this person's speaking style. As with the passive communicator, you can show you value the message the speaker is trying to deliver and may be able to draw them out by asking questions designed to show your intent.
One thing is certain, you can't change the way other people communicate, but you can train yourself to be a better listener based on your knowledge of communication styles.