How to Communicate Assertively, Without Being a Jerk

April 20, 2017

Being assertive is tough. This formula should make it easier.

There’s somebody you work with who does something you really don’t like. And you know in your heart you are right, and they should stop doing that thing.

This can be anything as small as listening to the radio too loudly to as big as regularly marginalizing your opinions. What do you do?

Here are two bad outcomes, which are entirely too common:

  • Say nothing, and continue to have to deal with whatever that person is doing. This often leads to animosity, passive aggressive comments and general unhappiness.
  • Come across as too strong, which rarely changes their mind and damages your relationship with that person. Often, when you do this, you regret it later.

Well, there’s a better way. In her LinkedIn Learning course Communication Tips, Instructor Tatiana Kolovou gave a formula for communicating assertively in a way that causes the person to change their behavior, but with you staying professional and keeping your relationship intact.

How to effectively make your point, without being unprofessional

In her course, Kolovou said when you want to communicate assertively to someone, it starts with having strong body language. And that means:

  • Standing tall, with your arms at your side and your legs uncrossed.
  • Maintain strong but respectful eye contact throughout the conversation.
  • Avoid verbal fillers like “um” and “err” (here’s how to do that).

That’s critical. But how do you go about actually making your point?

Kolovou said there are three steps:

  • Step 1: Validate the other person and show empathy. If you immediately criticize someone, they are going to go into “boxing mode” and just start fighting back. To avoid that, start with telling them you understand their position and empathize with them.
  • Step 2: State the problem from your viewpoint. Here’s where the assertiveness comes in. After you empathize with the person, it’s time to state your issue and why it’s bothering you.
  • Step 3: State your needs. Here’s where it’s critical to use “I” language, as in “I would appreciate you do this.” It’s also the call-to-action – what exactly do you want the person to do? This is the time to tell them.

A few examples that illustrate the point

That’s the formula. But what does it look like in real life?

In her lesson, Kolovou gave a few examples of what her formula looks like in conversation. Take a smaller example of a colleague named Jane always leaving a printer without any paper. Here’s what you can say:

 “Jane, I know you've had a lot of printing to do at the end of the quarter (step 1). 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 (step 2). 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 would everyone else in the office (step 3).”

Okay, how about a bigger example? Say, you believe your boss, a man named Jim, is consistently marginalizing your opinions. Here’s what you can say:

“Jim, I understand you are busy and often have to make decisions quickly (step 1). Although several times I’ve offered solutions to you that you’ve either not considered or immediately rejected (step 2). I’d really appreciate it if we could figure out a way to have a more collaborative working relationship. Is there something I can do differently (step 3)?”

This doesn’t apply solely to the office either. Let’s say you are at the movies and the people behind you are talking through the entire thing. Kolovou suggests saying this:

"Excuse me, I don't mean to ruin the mood and I know the movie is interesting (step 1). But I cannot hear half of what is being said when you are talking to your friend (step 2). Can you please quiet down and not talk during the movie? I'm sure others around us would appreciate it too (step 3).”

The point

Communicating assertively is not easy to do. In fact, many of us intentionally avoid confrontation at all costs, even if the problem continues to persist.

That’s not a good outcome. Because usually that strategy just leads to passive aggressiveness and potentially a blow up, and the situation never improves.

Rather than endure that, use the system Kolovou outlined. It’ll inspire change without damaging your relationship with that person.

Want to get better at communication? Check out all of our communication courses at LinkedIn Learning