Communication Master Key: Assertiveness

Assertiveness is not just a skill to develop if you find it hard to say no. It can
help you get what you need if your direct approach is rubbing people the
wrong way. An aggressive approach can cause people to not want to hear
what you have to say. Assertiveness is a middle ground between being
pushy and letting people walk all over you, and it’s a highly effective
communication tool. Assertive communication has three key elements.
Empathy, statement of the problem, and statement of what you want.
Empathy is important, because it shows the other person that you have
considered their feelings and needs regarding the issue. Many people who
struggle with assertiveness stop at this step, having been taught to see
things from the perspective of others at the cost of their own needs. Your
needs are also important, and it’s okay to express them.
Statement of the problem informs the other person what issue is
causing you difficulty or dissatisfaction. It gives them a better understanding
of how a situation affects you. Before starting the conversation, take a
moment to evaluate your reasons so that you can provide helpful information
rather than demanding something changes because you “don’t like it.” Why?
Statement of what you want tells the other person what your ideal
outcome will be. You may not get exactly that, but it is a good place to begin
negotiating a positive solution for both parties. In some instances, the other
party may not be able to physically or legally meet your original request, so
give them a chance to explain their side and truly listen. All or nothing
statements usually end poorly, and make communication harder in the
future. Here are some other things to watch:

  • Body Language: A closed posture tells the other person that you aren’t
    prepared to listen, and they aren’t likely to waste their time working on a
  • Your Tone: You’ve heard, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” For
    effective communication, be serious but calm. Do not raise your voice or
    whine. Whining is a play to pity that shuts down successful negotiations.
  • Own it: Own your feelings and actions. Avoid using “you” when
    explaining the issue. “You need to…” is usually met with “I don’t need to
    do anything!”
  • Step Away: If either party is unable to calmly express their needs,
    it’s okay to step away. It’s fine to ask that the conversation be picked up
    when everyone has had a chance to cool down.

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