How to Communicate Assertively: Use This Repeatable Formula
July 29, 2019
Tatiana Kolovou – who has spent her career researching business communication – believes the absolute best way to communicate at work is to do so assertively. Why?
“Assertive communication is the midway mark between aggressive and passive communication,” Kolovou said. “In my communications seminars I use the metaphor of passive communication being a doormat and aggressive communication being a sledgehammer. If those two ring true to you, see assertive communication as a gentle lean in the door that opens opportunities to a productive dialog.”
Kolovou added assertive communication leads to dialogues, where opposing ideas are encouraged and people are committed to getting the best outcome. Conversely, aggressive communication lead to debates, where opposing thoughts are shot down and people are focused on getting things their way.
Clearly, the former will lead to better outcomes than the latter, making assertive communication an aspiration for many professionals. But here’s the real question – how do you consistently communicate assertively?
In a video from her course Communication Tips Weekly, Kolovou explained how.
It Starts With Thinking Assertively
How you communicate is a result of how you think. Hence, communicating assertively starts with thinking assertively.
We tend to fall on two sides of the pendulum here. Either, we are too passive, and don’t think our voice matters. Or, we think a bit too much of ourselves, and don’t think other voices matter.
And a person isn't always in the same bucket. It can swing back and forth, from too passive to too aggressive, based on the situation we are in.
If you tend to be too passive, I have a message for you – your voice matters. You have the position you have because people want to hear from you. Never think that your opinion doesn’t count.
If you are too aggressive, remember that yes, your voice matters and you should share it. Never lose that. But also remember that other people’s voices matter too, and instead of always focusing on your opinion, take a minute to actively listen to understand what they have to say.
Assertive Body Language is Key
Next, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. So, to communicate assertively, you also need to have assertive body language. These cues signal to people that you believe in what you have to say, but are open to their opinions as well.
According to Kolovou, that means you:
- Stand tall, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Avoid crossing your arms.
- Avoid verbal fillers like "um" and "err" (here’s how).
- Make eye contact toward whomever is speaking.
Finally, Use This Repeatable Formula to Communicate Assertively
Okay, you are thinking assertively and standing assertively. Now it’s time for action – how do you speak assertively?
Kolovou laid out a simple three-step formula you can use again and again, particularly when you disagree with someone or you want to share a new opinion. It goes:
- Validate the other person’s point of view. Do this by repeating it back the other person's opinion back to them so they know you understand it. This shows you are empathetic to their view or plight.
- State the problem in your view. Here’s where you define the problem in your view.
- Finally, state your opinion or needs. Here’s where you share your view or share what you need. A key here – use “I” language, to take ownership over your view.
That’s it. Here are two examples Kolovou gave, to add some color.
If a colleague consistently doesn’t refill the printer with paper, say:
“Jane, I know you've had a lot of printing to do at the end of the quarter. And I've run into the printer being left empty of paper several times in the last few days when I have to print after you. I waste time because I realized it after I've sent several page documents that way. Can you please make sure the tray is full or at least loaded when the job is done or when you've done a large print job? I would really very much appreciate it and I'm sure so everyone else would in the office. What do you think?”
Or, a personal example. Imagine you are at the movies and the two people in front of you are talking. Say:
"Excuse me, I don't mean to ruin the mood and I know the movie is interesting, but I cannot hear half of what is being said when you are talking to your friend. Can you please quiet down and not talk during the movie? I'm sure others around us would appreciate it too.”
That’s it. Use that formula again and again when you make the point, and you’ll soon build a reputation for speaking assertively.
“Practice the assertiveness formula on a daily basis, and it will become a standard part of your vocabulary,” Kolovou said. “As we've all experienced, it's easy to be aggressive, and possibly frustrating to be passive. Communicating with assertiveness is a skill that will help you be understood while nurturing working relationships.”
Looking to learn more? Watch Kolovou’s LinkedIn Learning course, Communication Tips Weekly.
Videos within the course cover how to:
- Understand introversion and extroversion
- Build rapport
- Persuade people
- Tactfully brag at work – and why it’s important
- Improve your storytelling