Assertive Communications: The Language of Leadership
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by Nancy Schnoebelen Imbs
published in ASAP

We’ve all experienced a conversation we’ve had with a co-worker, a boss, or client that simply didn’t go well. We knew the message we wanted to convey and hopefully the outcome, but because we didn’t communicate it effectively, we sent a mixed message that ultimately led to confusion, frustration or conflict. Our communication style lacked assertiveness. Chances are if we communicated in a more assertive manner, the result would be likely different.

Our self-esteem can impact the way we send and receive messages. Individuals with low self-esteem tend to communicate in a passive way. Others might think they are superior to everyone else, resulting in an aggressive communications style.

“The only healthy communication style is assertive communication.”

~ John Rohn

Communicating assertively conveys confidence and allows you to convey your message in a calm, respectful, positive way without upsetting others or becoming upset. When communicating assertively, you’re expressing your thoughts, opinions, feelings, attitudes, and rights in an open, honest way.

Communication Style – Example

Passive “I’ll take on four more projects, even though I have too much work on my plate and am feeling quite stressed.”
Aggressive“No way I’m taking on all these projects. Can’t you see I’m already overloaded with work? Do it yourself!”
Assertive “I’ve evaluated that my workload is close to full. Can we split these projects up or change their due dates?”

Assertive communication is not passive and it’s not aggressive. Rather, communicating assertively is the language of leadership. It helps build trust and respect, solve differences, promote problem solving and strengthen workplace relationships.

Follow these essentials to assertive communication:

Use Positive Body Language

Your body language should sync and reinforce your verbal communications.

  • Make eye contact
  • Speak clearly and calmly
  • Keep your tone of voice even
  • Keep your physical stance open; avoid crossing arms and legs
  • Respect personal space and keep a comfortable distance apart, which is approximately three feet

Use “I” Statements
We are most likely to retain the goodwill of the person with whom we’re communicating if we keep to our own thoughts and beliefs so that it focuses on your need. One way to do this is to use “I” statements expressed in a specific and direct way. For example, “I will need more time to finish this project. Can you approve my request?”

Be Clear, Specific, and Direct
When communicating a request, ensure your ask is direct and to the point. For example, “Please have that letter finished by today. If that’s not possible, please let me know when I will receive it.” rather than “Do you think it will be complete some time today?”

Avoid No-no Words

When speaking clearly and assertively, avoid the following words:

  • I’ll try
  • Ought to
  • Should have
  • Must
  • Always
  • Never

For example, rather than saying, “I’ll try to get back to you later.” Say, “I’ll call you back by 4 p.m. (Of course, make sure you return the call by 4 p.m.) This allows you to be clear and direct and avoid any misunderstanding.

Speaking assertively takes practice and self-control. When opting for this style of communication, you’ll be recognized as a confident professional who not only manages stress well but one who acknowledges his or own needs and feelings while showing respect to his/her co-workers, too. You’re communicating the language of leadership!