Assertive Communication

“To know oneself, one should assert oneself.” This is an interesting quote from 20th Century French philosopher and novelist Albert Camus, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. Camus reportedly would not call himself an existentialist, but his followers labelled him as one, mostly because of ambiguous and deeply abstruse statements and quotes such as that one. Let’s take a closer look at Assertiveness and the concept of assertive communication: what does it mean for professionals, and what do other experts have to say about it?

Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines assertiveness as a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a top U.S. hospital located in Rochester Minnesota, Assertiveness can help you control stress and anger, and can also contribute to improved coping skills. An informative article on the Mayo Clinic website makes two sets of important contrasts concerning behaviors: Assertive/Passive Behavior, and Assertive/Aggressive Behavior.

Assertive vs. passive behavior
If your style is passive, you may seem to be shy or overly easygoing. You may routinely say things such as, “I’ll just go with whatever the group decides.” You tend to avoid conflict. Why is that a problem? Because the message you’re sending is that your thoughts and feelings aren’t as important as those of other people. In essence, when you’re too passive, you give others the license to disregard your wants and needs.

Assertive vs. aggressive behavior
Now consider the flip side. If your style is aggressive, you may come across as a bully who disregards the needs, feelings and opinions of others. You may appear self-righteous or superior. Very aggressive people humiliate and intimidate others and may even be physically threatening.

More of this information can be found here, on the Mayo Clinic website.

An assertive personality is something that many people are born with, therefore it is natural for them. However, the good news is that assertiveness is a behavior which can be learned. Naturally assertive people and their approaches can and should be studied, thus enabling those who are naturally aggressive, passive, or some combination of these factors, to learn. When naturally assertive people are modelling the way, here’s what we will find:

• They have a healthy level of self-esteem.
• Assertive people feel empowered.
• They feel free to express their feelings, thoughts, and desires.
• They are also able to initiate and maintain relaxed relationships with others.
• They understand their rights, and the rights of others.
• They have control over their anger, and other strong emotions. This does not mean that they do not experience these emotions, but it means that they are able to effectively manage them, and talk about them in a productive manner.
• Assertive people have been found to be comfortably and reasonably accommodating, and willing to compromise with others.
• They are proactive rather than reactive.
• Are able to resist non-assertive forms of communication that are meant to intimidate or manipulate.

Now let’s talk about Assertive Communication. Currie Management Consultants, Inc. is a fan of Dr. Jon Warner and his work entitled Assertiveness Style Profile. Once again Warner gives us an interesting analysis, and remarkable labels for four very specific communication styles:

1. Firmly Asserting
2. Passively Observing
3. Warmly Proposing
4. Aggressively Controlling

By utilizing Dr. Warner’s Profile, we learn about a great variety of degrees of assertiveness. The four categories described above are detailed, and also combined with other factors such as level of energy and level of empathy. Assessment results can now be plotted and analyzed according to all of the factors mentioned. And Dr. Warner also provides strategies to move toward enhanced assertive communication. Below is the chart that Warner has created to assess and analyze individual assertiveness styles.

Assertive Comminucation grid

An added bonus that Warner gives us is information about body language, and how it relates to each individual assertiveness style. It’s important to note that Dr. Warner’s Assertiveness Style Profile has no right or wrong answers—it simply analyzes and describes each person’s own unique style based upon their honest responses to a series of statements. Finally, Warner describes assertiveness as “getting what you want from others without infringing upon their rights”. Sounds like a win-win!
Looking at some other viewpoints, we find that assertiveness in business is a critical skill. John Folkman, a contributor for Forbes, lets us know just how important effective assertiveness is for a leader. In his article The 6 Secrets of Successfully Assertive Leaders, Mr. Folkman describes the outcome of a survey where assertiveness was ranked against good judgement. Here are the surprising results:

“Leaders who were rated high (in the 75th percentile) as having good judgment but lower on assertiveness had only a 4.2% chance of being highly rated as an effective leader.

On the other hand, leaders who ranked high on assertiveness but lower on good judgment had a 12.5% chance. However, leaders who ranked high in both characteristics had an actual 71% change of being rated as one of the best leaders.”

The article then takes us through “The 6 Secrets”, which are provided, in brief, below:

1. Connect and Communicate with everyone.
2. Give honest feedback in a helpful way.
3. Use good judgement to make decisions.
4. Walk your talk.
5. Maintain excellent relationships.
6. Look for opportunities to collaborate.

Read the full article for further details about John Folkman’s take on assertiveness and its importance to managers, CEOs and other influential people.

Finally, for further development, Currie Management Consultants, Inc. recommends the book,Managing Assertively, by Madelyn Burley-Allen. Burley-Allen’s work delves into assertiveness and assertive communication, and also helps the reader to vastly improve his or her “people skills” using her eight building blocks method to become a more effective manager.

There is a plethora of information available on assertiveness, developing assertive communication, and enhancing communication skills. These are invaluable tools for all people, whether in business, family life, volunteering, coaching, teaching, or parenting.

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