Communication can be assertive, non-assertive, or aggressive.
Assertive communication is asking what you want and expressing yourself clearly, firmly, and honestly. When you communicate assertively, you take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings and state your position with confidence.
Assertive communication is respectful–even when you are expressing negative emotions, you don’t hurt others. When you communicate assertively, you express your needs, wants, thoughts, and feelings without guilt.
Figure 1: Being assertive does not mean being aggressive
Non-assertive communication is failing to stand up for yourself and express personal feelings, needs, ideas, or opinions in the workplace. Individuals who use this form of communication can easily be ignored or have their rights violated. Non-assertive communication is viewed as emotionally dishonest, indirect, and inhibiting. It can lead to hurt and anger on the part of the individual, and pity and irritation by others.
Aggressive communication is rude, hostile, and destructive. An individual who is acting aggressively has little respect for the rights and needs of others and achieves a goal at the expense of others. Aggressive communication may include shouting, threatening behaviour, and humiliating others. It is inappropriate for the workplace and can lead to negative consequences with both supervisors and colleagues.
One of the best tools for ensuring that you use assertive communication is to use “I” statements. “You” statements in general create defensiveness and emotional resistance and shut down communication. They can promote conflict. “I” statements, on the other hand, avoid destructive blaming, criticizing, ridiculing, and name-calling. The speaker just makes a statement expressing his or her feelings. “I” statements can help prevent conflict.
Figure 2 shows examples of assertive behaviour and aggressive or passive behaviour.
Figure 2: Examples of assertive and aggressive or passive behaviours
Remember that you can only accurately speak about your own intentions. In addition to offering accurate information, the use of “I” statements allows the other person to be receptive rather than defensive. Effective communication needs a sender of accurate information and a willing, open receiver.
Remember, too, that you communicate in ways other than words. For example, assertive communication includes the following non-verbal behaviours:
- making eye contact and looking directly at a person when you are speaking. This shows that you are sincere, interested in the conversation, and confident about what you are saying.
- standing or sitting in an erect posture and maintaining an appropriate personal distance
- leaving your hands by your sides and making appropriate non-threatening gestures
- keeping your voice pleasant, steady, and strong and accompanied by appropriate facial expressions
Now complete the Learning Task Self-Test.