How to Be an Assertive Communicator

Interpersonal communication is complicated and essential, and assertive communication is seen as the ‘best’ way to communicate. A few refreshers before we dive in:

Interpersonal communication is the exchange of information, feelings, and meaning. It could be face to face, and it could be over email. It is NOT talking at another person – it’s that exchange.

Assertive communication is one of four communication styles: passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive and assertive. Passive communicators generally avoid expressing their feelings and opinions and usually do not emphasize their needs. Aggressive communicators don’t care about others and seek to meet their needs first. Passive-aggressive communicators are passive on the surface, but often act out in anger. Assertive communicators hit the positive and negative, express feelings and also respect others. Sounds like it is the best way to communicate.

So how can you start being more assertive?

  1. First, figure out how you usually communicate. Do you find yourself identifying immediately with one of the previously listed styles? Do you get upset with yourself after conversations and interactions? Or do you find folks get upset with you? You might not be one type all the time: figure out what you are most of the time.

    Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re not an assertive communicator all the time.

  2. Second, work on your listening. I often feel like a broken record, going back to listening skills. And it’s true! So many of us aren’t the best listener we can be – and active listening solves a lot of problems. Keep eye contact, show that you’re listening by asking questions, nodding and not changing the subject.
  3. Third, look for moments of Yes, And when it comes to collaboration. One of the traits of assertive communicators is the ability to find the middle ground where both people are satisfied. Yes, And is all about affirming and elevating, so think about what that might look like in a conversation. Are you nudging a passive communicator to talk about their opinions, or maybe just negotiating a compromise with an aggressive communicator?
  4. Fourth, use Yes, And again to affirm emotions. Assertive communicators are aware of the emotions of the people they are in conversation with. If someone is upset, use Yes, And. If someone is upset, you can say, “Yes, I hear that you’re upset, and I would like to help.” You’re affirming how they feel and using an “I” statement to offer assistance.
  5. Finally, when you’re asking for something, be clear, concise and specific, and lead with the previously mentioned “I” statement. In improv, there is a game called “X-Word” where every sentence has to be X words long – and X is determined by the audience. The fewer words, the easier it gets, in my opinion, especially if you think of words as currency. Don’t waste your money! Be concise, use only the words you need and remember to use “I” when you can to own your feelings and opinions.

Any tips on assertive communication or questions? Let us know!