Last week I gave readers the opportunity to take a communication style quiz that helped them identify whether their primary communication style was passive, passive aggressive, aggressive, or assertive. Many of those who took the assessment have sent me emails and messages lamenting their styles and asking how to “fix” them. First off, with the exception of passive aggression, which we should all work to eliminate from our communication toolbox, the other three skills have their place in our repertoire. The challenge is knowing WHEN each of the approaches is most appropriate when trying to achieve a specific goal. That being said, choosing positive assertiveness first, before trying other communication methods is often the best way to get your needs met while still meeting the needs of others.
That being said, assertiveness, or positive assertiveness, is usually a great first choice for communicating in just about every situation. The seven tips below will help you find the balance between communicating your needs clearly and also being respectful of the needs of others.
- Learn to say NO, but say it nicely. “Thanks for asking, but I’m not interested in going to a movie,” is a positive, assertive response when someone asks you to see a movie you don’t want to see. You shouldn’t go along and see something you don’t care for, but at the same time, you don’t have to tell your friend you don’t want to see “that stupid movie.”
- Be honest, but maintain others’ self esteem. Saying, “the second version of your resume is great,” when you don’t think so is not only passive, but dishonest. Saying, “you sound like an arrogant jerk in this version” is aggressive and unnecessary. If you like the first version of the resume best, you should simply say so. Alternatively, you can point out specific changes you believe would improve the second resume.
- Share what you need, without telling others what they have to do. Many times passive people have a problem telling others what to do. If that’s you, then just turn that pointing finger around and say, “I need to know at least two days in advance,” rather than feeling like you have to be aggressive and say, “You need to let me know two days in advance,” which can cause defensiveness.
- Express how you feel, without blaming others for your feelings. For those who are passive and afraid to share their feelings, you’ve got to get to the point where you can share how you feel with those around you. However, don’t take the aggressive approach of blaming others for your feelings, such as saying, “You frustrate me when you’re late.” Doing so has a similar result to #3 above. Instead, say, “I get frustrated when you’re late because…”
- Question the idea, without questioning the person. It’s okay to express your concerns about others’ thoughts, plans, or suggestions. It’s okay to say, “I have some concerns about the cost for this new software you’re recommending.” It’s not productive to say, “You’re crazy! We can’t afford to implement a whole new software system.”
- Share objective facts, rather than subjective judgments. If there’s a problem you need to share with someone else, sharing objective facts, such as, “The pages in this report are out of order,” which another person can easily see, is more likely to be feedback that will be heard and accepted. Saying, “Your work is sloppy. You never pay attention to what you’re doing,” is likely to cause defensiveness. The other person will only hear your attack on him or her.
- Don’t just accept unclear feedback, but don’t respond defensively either. Often when others bring us feedback we’re unsure about what the real problem is. A manager says, “You’re not being a team player.” A passive person will likely accept this feedback with, “I’m sorry, I’ll do better.” However, what are you going to do differently? You have no idea what specific behavior needs to be improved. On the other hand, aggressive people get defensive and respond without even knowing what the feedback means, “I work just as hard as anyone else around here! You’ve never liked me from the day I started here.” A positive assertive approach would be to ASK what the feedback means before deciding how to respond. “I’m sorry you feel that way. Can you tell me specifically what I’ve done that makes you feel I’m not being a team player?”
Although it may look simple on paper, choosing positive assertiveness more often is not going to be easy. It takes practice and a willingness to be open, honest, and caring when communicating with others. Set a goal to try positive assertiveness before you resort to a communication style that won’t help you find the balance between your needs and the needs of others.
If you’d like to learn more about being a more assertive communicator with Conversation Dominators and others, check out my book, Practical Communication- 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.