“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” — Elizabeth Warren
“To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself.” — Edith Eva Eger
Tony Robbins has it. Margaret Thatcher had it. Barrack Obama has it.
What about you?
Do you have it?
Its been described as the only healthy communication style.
When I first started off in HR many years ago now, there was always one area I was told I needed to work on, to improve in — almost every annual performance appraisal for five years straight — my direct report (CEO) would bring up the same constructive criticism— that I needed to learn to become more assertive.
I was told that it’s great to have a collaborative management style. That it’s great to have interpersonal and diplomacy skills. But I was also told that there are many personalities we encounter on a daily basis, and some need to be directed and managed. And that it’s not only healthy, but essential, to communicate my opinions, wants and needs in an honest and direct manner, without fear of criticism.
Since then, I chose to learn a lot about assertiveness, and applied many techniques to overhauling my communication style — both in my professional life, and my personal life. Interestingly, I learned that we’re not obliged to be anyone’s door mat — that you can still be a decent human being, treat others with the dignity that they’re entitled to, and still be assertive.
What about you?
Could you do with a little primer or crash course in assertiveness training?
Do you need to change your communication style to one of “I Win-You Win?”
If so, then I encourage you to read on.
There are four primary types of communication styles — assertive, passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive.
Each style has its own advantages and disadvantages.
An assertive style of communication, however,
is considered to be the most effective.
Being assertive is good for you and those around you.
The way you communicate with others inﬂuences the way they view and treat you.
Your communication style can impact how much people respect you and your opinion.
By communicating effectively, your wants and needs are more likely to be met. You’ll also feel more control over your life and have more enjoyable relationships.
While changing a habit as ingrained as your communication tendency is certainly challenging,
it can be accomplished.
“There’s boldness in being assertive, and there’s strength and conﬁdence.” — Bryan Cranston
Which Type Are You?
Determining your starting point can help to determine the obstacles you’re likely to face and the strategies that will be most effective to improve your communication style.
Keep in mind though,
that you may exhibit multiple communication styles,
depending on the situation or your state of mind.
Find your type:
Those that are passive don’t freely share their opinions, wants, or needs. This is done to avoid any conﬂict, regardless of the cost.
You’ll often ﬁnd that passive people frequently avoid eye contact and are exceptionally reserved.
They also tend to act in a subservient manner.
- Passive people often give in to unreasonable demands.
- They tend to mimic the opinions of others.
- They loathe providing criticism to anyone.
People who are passive avoid standing out in any way.
- They avoid doing or saying anything that might attract attention or disapproval.
Being passive ultimately means giving much of the control of your life over to others.
It can be a frustrating way to interact with the world.
An aggressive person seeks to fulﬁll their wants and needs without regard for the wants and needs of others.
In many ways, the aggressive person is the opposite of the passive.
They want to make the other person submit, rather than submitting themselves.
- They have a need to control the situation.
- They lack awareness that their behavior is further contributing to the problem.
There are several advantages to aggressive behavior. Acting in an aggressive manner can be an effective way to get others to do what you want. Those that are dominated tend to make fewer demands.
But there are also some disadvantages to being aggressive. Gaining and keeping loyalty from others can be a huge challenge. You can ﬁnd yourself alone and unsupported.
People don’t like being treated in an aggressive manner.
The passive-aggressive person seeks to have their wants and needs met, but does so indirectly.
- Passive-aggressiveness can be a mental disorder and has been described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disaorders as a “pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations.”
- The most common behaviors seen in those with passive-aggressive tendencies are procrastination, learned helplessness, stubbornness, and failure to complete tasks for which they are primarily responsible.
Passive-aggressiveness is an attempt to get what you want (or avoid what you don’t want) by subversive means.
There’s a lack of responsibility and openness.
If you’re assertive, you’re able to express yourself freely and make requests from others,
but you also consider their wants, needs, and opinions.
An assertive person can act in their best interest and express their opinions openly and free of anxiety. The rights of the other person aren’t denied in any way.
- Assertive people have control over their emotions.
- They have the ability to compromise.
- They know their rights for the current situation and uphold them.
They are able to maintain healthy relationships with others.
Which of the 4 styles are you?
It’s not unusual for someone to be one type in certain situations and another type of communicator in other situations.
A practical example of the 4 types:
If asked to go to a movie you don’t want to see, depending on your type, you might say:
- Passive: “Sure. That sounds great.”
- Aggressive: “I don’t like movies like that. Why do you? We’re going to go see this other movie that I want to see.”
- Passive-aggressive: “Okay.” But then you’d feign an illness as a way to not attend the movie. You ﬁnd a way to avoid seeing the movie without directly expressing your desire to not see it.
- Assertive: “I’d like to see a movie, but that one doesn’t interest me. What else would you like to see? Maybe we can ﬁnd something that works for both of us.”
It’s easy to see how different styles of communicating have unique advantages.
Understanding where you fall on the spectrum can be helpful when attempting to enhance your life and become more assertive in a healthy way.
Did you happen to find which of the 4 communication styles you fall under?
“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.” — Jim Rohn
Becoming More Assertive
Enhancing your level of assertiveness is the goal here.
There are many components to assertive behavior. A few of these components might even surprise you.
Take your time and progress slowly.
Your communication with those around you goes beyond your words.
A lot of it is non-verbal.
Optimizing your posture, body movements, and tone of voice will show the world that you’re relevant and deserve respect.
Try these positive body language strategies:
(1) Maintain good eye contact.
People that are passive tend to look up, down, and all around. But they rarely look the other person directly in the eye. Aggressive people can have too much eye contact. Take note — it’s not a staring contest!
- Displaying an effective amount of eye contact will take some practice. If you know someone that communicates especially well, notice how much eye contact they maintain when speaking.
Aim for 50% of the time while speaking and 75% while listening.
Every situation is different.
(2) Stand and sit tall.
If you want to be assertive, it’s important to stand and sit up straight. Those that are passive try to appear smaller than they really are. Be honest with your size and presence.
(3) Uncross your arms and legs.
You’re assertive so you have nothing to hide. Stand or sit relaxed with your arms and legs uncrossed. Otherwise, you’ll look closed off and unapproachable.
We draw a lot of conclusions from the non-verbal behavior we witness in others.
If you ﬁnd that people tend to ignore you, your non-verbal communication could possibly use a little work.
Give Your Opinion
Giving an opinion isn’t easy for everyone.
Let others know what you think and you open yourself up to judgment and criticism.
However, giving opinions is a great way to start growing assertive, more effective communication skills.
Start sharing your opinion today.
Make a rule that you’ll always give your opinion when asked.
Having an opinion means you’re present in the moment and in the conversation.
No more saying, “I don’t know. It’s up to you.”
Use these techniques to start giving your opinion freely:
It’s hard to become good at anything without practice. Speak up whenever you get a chance.
(2) Avoid apologizing for an opinion.
When you’ve crossed a line, apologizing is appropriate.
But you have the right to an opinion.
And there’s no reason to start an opinion with,
“I’m sorry for saying this, but…….”
(3) Start giving your opinion whenever asked.
They asked for it, so let them have it.
Be polite, but tell the world what you think.
Giving an opinion is an important part of communication.
You’ll ﬁnd most conversations fall apart quickly if no one is willing to share an opinion.
Enhanced non-verbal communication and giving your opinion are great ways to start.
Ask for what you want.
Be reasonable and completely honest.
The people that matter will likely do whatever they can to accommodate you.
Those that don’t try to accommodate you don’t matter anyway.
The key point is to ask without being controlling.
How to make effective requests:
(1) Decide what you want.
If you didn’t have to worry about anyone’s feelings,
what would you ask for?
(2) Decide if your request is reasonable.
Avoid underestimating or overestimating your rights.
(3) Avoid apologizing in your request.
As soon as you say, “I’m sorry for asking, but…” you’re telling yourself that you think you’re overstepping your bounds.
And you’re broadcasting the same message to the object of your request.
(4) Ensure that it’s a request and not a demand.
There’s a difference between, “Would you please ﬁll up the car with gas?” and “Fill up the car before you come home.”
If you let others know what you need from them, you’re much more likely to receive it.
Plenty of people want to make you happy — so let them.
Learn To Say “No”
Most of us were brought up to be helpful and to avoid refusing requests.
But there’s only so much time in the day, and we all have a limited amount of energy.
If you’re accustomed to being passive, saying “no” can be a real challenge.
If you can’t say “no,” you’re a slave to those around you.
Using that little word at the appropriate time puts you in charge of your life.
As James Altucher aptly states,
“The world doesn’t need your explanation on saying ‘No’…I don’t give explanations anymore…I just say, ‘I can’t do it. I hope everything is well…Rule #1: Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Rule #2: Don’t forget Rule #1.”
(1) Believe you have the right to say no.
It’s not selﬁsh to manage your own time, life, and needs.
Everyone has the right to say “no”, including you.
Take care of yourself and you’ll be in a better position to care for others.
(2) Believe that you’ll still be loved and accepted if you say no.
You might be under the faulty assumption that the only reason anyone keeps you around is to do the undesirable tasks.
You’ll ﬁnd that the important people in your life will still be around.
They’ll even respect you more.
(3) Believe that they’ll accept being told no.
Some of us have created a situation where others won’t take our refusals seriously.
You have to show them that “no” means “no.”
It takes time.
Practice saying “no” in the places you receive the greatest number of unreasonable requests.
Is it at work or at home?
Who makes the greatest number of requests?
Mentally rehearse giving refusals in your spare time.
How to refuse an unreasonable request:
(1) Be aware of your non-verbal behavior.
Stand tall and maintain proper eye contact.
Be calm and say “no.”
If your non-verbal behavior doesn’t match your words, the other person might doubt your seriousness.
(2) Take your time.
Consider how you really feel about the request.
Avoid jumping to any response.
If you need time to think, say so.
(3) Avoid apologizing if it isn’t necessary.
It’s not necessary to create a debt that you’ll have to pay back at a later date.
When you apologize before saying “no” the other person will conclude that you have to make it up to them.
(4) Assume acceptance of your refusal.
Situations vary, but avoid explaining yourself unnecessarily.
Simply give your response and move on.
(5) Accept the result.
Just because you have the right to say “no” doesn’t mean others don’t have the right to get upset.
You can refuse a request, and the other person can respond negatively.
Accept the response.
Learning to say “no” is perhaps the most effective way a passive person can enhance their life.
It creates boundaries and teaches others to respect your time and wishes.
You have the right to say “No!”
Accepting Compliments And Positive Feedback
If you’re usually passive, it’s likely you ignore, deny, refute, or question compliments that others give to you.
Learning to accept compliments will allow you to feel better about yourself.
Accepting a compliment graciously allows the person delivering the compliment to feel good.
Do you ﬁnd it difﬁcult to accept compliments?
One of these barriers may be preventing you from accepting positive feedback:
(1) Low self-esteem.
When a compliment is in conﬂict with your self-image, you might be confused about how to handle it.
The other person might know something that you can’t see for yourself.
(2) A feeling of debt.
You don’t owe anyone anything for giving you a compliment other than “thank you.”
(3) Fear of conceit.
Do you feel conceited when accepting a compliment?
Receiving a compliment is actually emotionally healthy.
(4) Need for reciprocation.
Receiving a compliment doesn’t require that you give one too.
It also doesn’t mean you have to insult yourself to restore the balance of the universe.
Make an effort to receive positive feedback without feeling the need to provide anything in return.
Allow others to say nice things about you or the things that you’ve done.
You deserve it, so enjoy it.
Giving Positive Feedback
It’s important to be able to openly give compliments too.
If you can’t give positive feedback, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to give constructive criticism either.
Others are thankful when you express your appreciation for something nice they said or did.
If you’re passive, you might believe that others don’t value your opinion.
Why not let them decide if your opinion is relevant?
If you’re aggressive, you might feel like you’re giving the other person the upper hand if you say something nice to them.
If you’re passive-aggressive? Your inclination is to get what you want by making others feel bad. Giving a compliment might be a challenge.
Consider the beneﬁts of positive feedback:
(1) Giving and receiving compliments and support are one of the great beneﬁts of being human.
Why miss out on the good stuff?
If you can give sincere compliments, you’ll be better able to receive them.
(2) You strengthen existing relationships and create new relationships.
Providing positive feedback is an important part of healthy interactions and bonding.
(3) Giving compliments is an important teaching tool.
Feedback is an important part of learning new skills.
There are many reasons to give positive feedback.
It helps you, too. Others will have more positive feelings toward you.
You’ll also be able to enjoy being assertive and making someone feel good about themselves.
There can be obstacles to giving compliments to others, however.
It’s likely that at least one of the following applies to you.
Obstacles to providing positive feedback:
(1) You’re too focused on the negative to notice the positive.
Perhaps you only notice the things that bother you.
If that’s the case, you’re missing out on a lot of positives.
(2) Expecting too much.
Do people have to be perfect before you’re willing to acknowledge it?
Is that fair to either of you?
(3) Low self-esteem.
Do you fear that giving a compliment widens the gap between you and the other person?
It’s okay to raise people up.
If anything, it will make the other person feel appreciative toward you.
For the next week,
try to give one sincere compliment each day.
Look for things to compliment.
The subtle shift in your attention can do wonders for your mood too.
One compliment a day can add a lot to your ability to be assertive.
Accepting Negative Feedback
Accepting negative feedback is hard,
no matter what your natural communication style might be.
However, even negative feedback can be valuable.
You might learn something that you can apply to enhance your performance in an area of your life.
With practice, you can learn to accept criticism without losing your cool.
There are several reasons not to take criticism personally:
(1) The source of the criticism may be unrealistic.
There are those that have unrealistic expectations and anything less is unacceptable.
That doesn’t mean you didn’t do well.
It means you’re being judged unfairly.
(2) The source of the criticism may be in a bad mood.
We’ve all been terse with a friend or family member due to fatigue, illness, or experiencing a bad mood.
It happens to all of us.
Why take it personally?
(3) The source of the criticism may be jealous.
Jealousy is a common emotion.
The person providing negative feedback may be envious of how well you did something.
Or they may be jealous of some other aspect of your life.
(4) You’re demonstrating qualities that the critic dislikes in themselves.
It’s common to be annoyed when you see characteristics in others that you consider to be ﬂaws in yourself.
There are many other reasons why criticism may be at least partially invalid.
Keep that in mind when someone tells you something that initially feels critical.
How to deal with criticism:
Sometimes a critique starts out a little rough but works out in the end.
Avoid jumping to conclusions until you’ve heard everything the other person has to say.
Avoid making assumptions.
If anything is unclear, ask an appropriate question and get clariﬁcation.
(3) Avoid getting even.
It’s natural to want to level the playing ﬁeld by returning an insult or criticism.
Avoid putting the focus back on the other person too quickly.
(4) Be reasonable.
It’s entirely possible that the other person has the best of intentions.
It’s easy to become overly defensive.
(5) Agree with the part that you believe to be accurate.
If you’re in trouble for paying a bill late, agree that you made an error.
Apologize if the situation calls for it.
If appropriate, offer a solution.
Thank them for speaking up.
(6) Listen to the response.
At this point, both parties are often in a position to have a constructive conversation.
Receiving negative feedback can be challenging, but it’s often the most important feedback you can receive.
It’s nice to be told how well you did something, but you don’t learn anything.
Constructive criticism can be a gift.
“I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” — Johannes Kepler
Giving Constructive Negative Feedback
For those with passive tendencies, giving constructive feedback can be much more challenging than receiving it.
Negative feedback is crucial to everyone.
It’s very difﬁcult to improve in any part of life without receiving and utilizing negative feedback.
You may encounter these challenges when trying to provide criticism:
This is the ﬁrst obstacle that must be overcome in order to provide constructive feedback.
But understand that many situations become more enjoyable if you voice your concerns.
(2) Being too aggressive.
It’s common to wait too long to provide corrective feedback.
If you wait until you’re enraged to ﬁnally speak up, you might say something you’ll regret.
Saying, “It bothers me when you’re late and don’t call” is quite different from, “Why can’t you just call when you’re going to be late? What’s wrong with you? You’re so inconsiderate.”
If you’re feeling agitated, you might want to consider waiting for a more appropriate time to speak up.
It can be a real challenge to provide negative feedback to others, but it may be the ultimate way to show your assertiveness.
Make a list of the people and things in your life that are bothering you. Address one item each week. Plan what you’re going to say and jump right in.
You’ll be amazed how much your life is enhanced by letting others know your thoughts.
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” — Tony Robbins
Assertiveness is a signiﬁcant challenge for many of us,
but it’s the most effective form of communication.
While many people are naturally passive or aggressive, it’s possible to learn to communicate in an assertive manner.
Being assertive means communicating your opinions, wants, and needs in an appropriate and honest manner.
Ultimately, being assertive is about having the courage to reveal yourself to the world without fear of criticism.
Being assertive means you’re willing to be visible and not give away your rights.
Adopting a more assertive means of communication will enhance your life in numerous ways.
You’ll be more in control of your life and get the respect you deserve.
You’ll be able to live life on your terms.
Your relationships with your friends, family, and coworkers will be more enjoyable.
Start small and give your opinion when asked — then, give your opinion without being asked.
Finally, begin providing a few compliments and a few pieces of constructive criticism.
You’ll be hooked after you start to see the positive results that assertive communication provides!
“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” — Sydney J. Harris