Assertive Communication Skills: How To Improve & When To Avoid

a group of four people happily exchanging ideas and practicing assertiveness

Assertive communication can be a great tool to have in a variety of situations and can result in more positive communications and relationships. While workplaces and social situations can be tricky, there is always room for a little assertive communication at the very least, and you may find that the people you communicate with respond better to this style of communication.

What Is Assertive Communication?

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Assertive communication is a communication style that involves being straightforward with those who you communicate with. The goal is to meet the needs of both parties by effectively communicating what each party requires and finding a quick solution with minimal wasted effort.

Assertive communication is generally more encouraged than aggressive communication which focuses more on winning than on balance and collaboration. By being assertive you can still respect the wants, needs, and rights of others that you encounter.

When you are using assertive communication, it will generally involve you feeling self-assured while still effectively getting your point across. It is important that this process has a good balance of empathy and fairness while still explaining your point firmly.

If you are being pushy, or selfish with your power in the situation, you may be using aggressive communication. Aggressive communication frequently disregards the needs of others and can also come across as bullying.

It is possible to express negative opinions or difficult news while still using assertive communication. One of its characteristics is taking responsibility for your own actions and mistakes, and constructively confronting others about theirs when necessary and appropriate.

It may not always be appropriate to use assertive communication, but it can be a valuable tool in many situations in life. In certain situations, assertive communication can be a great way to deal with difficult people, work better as a team, and become more effective in different environments where you need to collaborate with a wide variety of individuals.

Others that you work with many not use assertive communication and this is ok. Their choice not to use this style does not mean that they cannot still use some of the valuable tools that it provides in order to complete their tasks.

Being forthright with others can have some unexpected benefits and assertive communication, when used properly, has very few downsides. If you are struggling in any situation where you work with others, consider using assertive communication to help improve how you communicate.

What Are Some Examples of How I Can Use Assertive Communication?

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Assertive communication techniques can be used in a variety of places and situations in your life. While you may want to start gradually at first, using this style of communication can have many benefits to your work, personal, and social life.

In the Workplace

A workplace is a great place for using assertive communication and reaping the benefits. When emailing or speaking with co-workers, try being direct while also using empathy and fairness.

Before sending emails, read them over to ensure that you are being direct with what you need from the person you are emailing. Include all relevant details in a concise manner and keep paragraphs to three sentences or less.

Use language that takes responsibility for what you are working on. "I" statements are a good way to be straightforward about what you need, however, avoid directly ordering the other person to hand over information.

Good examples include language such as “I’m working on project X; do you have the form required for task Y?” and “I have completed the documentation for X and I am looking for volunteers for Project Z. Would you be interested?”

Make sure to end your communications with the proper thanks and acknowledge the contributions of others frequently. Timing is important when using assertive communication, so be sure to consider the workload and stressors others may be facing.

You may also find yourself in meetings where you do not have the time to write out what you would like to say and revise it. In these situations, it is best to think about how you would like to state your needs and think about whether or not that is fair and empathetic to the other party.

It is also wise to consider the needs of the individuals or groups that you are working with and ask yourself how your needs align so that you can best work together. Part of assertive communication is allowing the other party to speak, and you should be careful that you are listening at least half of the time without interrupting.

In Your Personal and Social Life

When working out plans with groups of friends, it can be frustrating to find a date and time that works for everyone. While there are many ways to handle this and other conundrums, using assertive language can help you navigate tricky situations.

Phrases like “Are you free on the 29th?” or “What days of the week work best for your schedule?” acknowledge and respect the time of others while being precise about the information that you need.

Another important component when working in personal and social situations is being honest and clear with your communication style and to avoid being overly aggressive. These are your friends and social interactions after all and it is best to keep things positive.

Frustrations are common in social situations, but by being empathetic and fair in your communications you can avoid conflict and respect others while still getting things done.

What Are Some Tips for Improving My Assertive Communication Style?

woman facing the mirror and thinking how to improve her assertive communication style

The best tip for improving your communication style is to practice. You can get started by googling template emails or other communications to get ideas, or you can speak to someone you know that already uses assertive communication.

Borrow from Others

By looking at how others are successful at handling different situations, you should get a good idea of where you would like to start and where you feel you need the most practice. If you are planning to use assertive communication at work, start slowly and transition from email to speaking with others.

By starting out with an email you allow yourself time to revise what you would like to say and templates are available online that can help. If you plan to use a template, be sure to customize it so that it sounds like your own natural writing.

Be Patient

Don’t expect everyone to respond positively right away to your change in communication style. Some individuals will be resistant to your straightforward requests no matter how you phrase them. Aim to communicate better in general and gain a positive change in at least half of those that you regularly communicate with.

Make it a goal of yours to continue to work on your assertive communication skills. Although it will be relatively easy to make a few small changes to your communication style, larger and more thorough changes may take more time, and may require more work on your end.

Track your progress and try new tactics or phrases when possible. Your communication style should still reflect some of who you are but should be phrased in a clear and empathetic way. Some people make the mistake of suddenly writing very serious emails and this abrupt transition should be avoided.

When Should I Avoid Using Assertive Communication?

hand gesture suggesting assertiveness

Not all cultures or workplaces are accepting of assertive communication and they may even prefer passive communication. When you enter a workplace, do so gingerly and do not be overly forceful in your initial communications.

A good way to judge what kind of communication style is most accepted is to look at the emails that you commonly receive in your workplace and mimic the best part of what you see there. For example, if assertive communication is typically reserved for one sentence of an email, make sure to use that sentence to the fullest when you communicate.

Additionally, not everyone will appreciate assertive communication and some individuals may even find it to be aggressive. An easy way to deal with this is to scale back your assertive communication to the minimum and ask questions over email to inquire about what someone’s thoughts are.

This kind of roundabout communication can seem silly once you’ve been using assertive communication skills, but keep in mind that it is about acknowledging the needs and desires of others and respecting them.

By being respectful, you can still use assertive communication even in a place where it is not typically welcome. You’ll just need to be more mindful and empathetic about how you engage with others. Being less direct doesn't automatically mean you are using your skills poorly. It means you are making adjustments to communicate better.

Can I Use Assertive Communication with Friends and Family?

two women wearing office attire and are talking to each other

You can absolutely use assertive communication with friends and family and since they likely know you well they may be the first to notice. Whether you have a large or small family, using assertive communication can help bring you closer together by making your communications more clear, empathetic, and respectful of both parties.

Consider the needs of your family members and what their concerns may be when you communicate about different items. Remember that assertive communication also involves listening to assess their needs and responding in a thoughtful way.

Author: Amanda Knowles

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