Assertiveness Guidelines

By Mark Lamendola

Follow these guidelines for assertive communication and you will immediately find people responding to you more favorably and willingly cooperating with your requests and needs.

Remember that the goal is not 100% compliance and agreement from people. That’s quite unrealistic.

But you can come pretty close to it with some pre-planning and more carefully chosen words.

1. Know your goal ahead of time.
If you have time before you start a conversation, spend a little time thinking about your goal(s) for the conversation.

If you are not sure what you are trying to accomplish in your communication, you might be going on and on, only to leave the conversation frustrated.

Your goal should be about yourself, not the other person. We have no control over other people, so it makes little sense to have a goal about him!

Some appropriate goals might be:

· I want to tell this person how I feel about her being late for last week’s project deadline.

· I would like to provide some information to a co-worker that will help him to understand the pressure I am under this week.

· I am interested in becoming more involved in the team’s new advertising campaign. I want to let the others know about my ideas and how I can contribute.

You’ll notice that, in each case, you are really looking to accomplish something yourself. It just so happens that if you meet your goal successfully, you stand a pretty good chance of gaining cooperation and understanding from the other parties.

But, remember your personal goal is not about their listening to agreeing with you. (It’s your hope, not your goal. And, though it may seem like semantics, it is actually more than that.

You’ll avoid frustration and irritation if you set proper goals.)

2. Monitor your non-verbal behavior.
· Maintain eye contact with the person you are speaking with. It shows you are interested in him/her, you are personable, and you are comfortable speaking with him/her. It’s also courteous.

· Watch your facial expressions. Are you grimacing? Do you look stern when you speak, no matter how you sound? If you’re not sure about this, try talking in front of a mirror or ask some close confidantes if you seem to be angry or annoyed even when you think you’re not.

· Take stock of your body language. Don’t crowd people, watch for tight fists or other signs of strain.

· What is your tone of voice like? Are you keeping a reasonable volume level or do you tend to escalate in volume after the first sentence?

3. Speak in the first person.
This is quite key. As much as possible, speak in the first person. Talk about yourself—not the other person. The first person means using what are called, “I statements.”

“I feel frustrated when you do not come to the meetings on time.” This is quite a different statement from, “You are always late to meetings.” The first statement is about you and your reactions. It tells the person how their behavior affects you.

The second is about the other person and is simply a criticism.

The first statement will be listened to more readily. The second will increase defensiveness and combativeness.

The first version is assertive; the second is more on the border of aggressiveness.

A nice formula for talking about your feelings to other people, when your feeling has something to do with their behavior or comment is, “When you did (said) X, I felt Y.”

This way you are making reference to something about them, but you are really talking about your behavior, thoughts, or feelings.

By formatting your words this way, you are making it clear that you really want the other person to hear the information you are giving him and you are not just interested in blasting him.

Remember that your goal is really about being able to provide your co-worker with some information about you (i.e., your feelings, opinion, requests, or preferences) in a way that she can hear it.

So, tell it to her in a way that minimizes defensiveness and maximizes retention of what you are saying.

4. Stay in the “here-and-now.”
You’ve heard this phrase often enough. When you are communicating with others, don’t bring up similar incidents that occurred over the past 15 years.

You are not a prosecuting attorney accumulating a dossier of evidence to support your point of view. It’s not necessary. What you have to say today will stand on its own merit.

Furthermore, if there have been other incidents like this before, leave it to the other person to piece that together.

One thing is for sure. If he hears you well this time, you stand a pretty good chance that you’ll get a different response from him in the future. That’s your hope, right? Make it more likely to happen by staying current and avoiding piling on.

If you can remember these four concepts when a situation calls for assertiveness, you’ll find that situation more likely to be resolved amicably.

Don’t use assertiveness as a last resort. Make it your first response. The two most common choices made instead of assertiveness are silent suffering and passive aggressive behavior.

Silent suffering is where you hold it all in, hoping the problem will just go away. One problem with this approach is problems are not like wine and cheese. Instead of getting better with age, they fester.

Passive aggressive behavior is where you punish a person without saying why or in any way identifying what the problem is. You might punish by just holding a grudge. Or maybe you stare at the person (making you look like a creep), backbite, or do things to annoy that person. What you haven’t done is given this person a chance to fix the problem that’s bothering you.

Of these three responses, only assertiveness takes a positive approach and allows for the dignity and respect of the concerned parties. You don’t need to speak up about every perceived insult or slight. You should let some things just slide off because they really don’t matter. But if they do matter, even a little bit, you are going to respond in some way. Make that response an assertive one.

Author's Bio: 

Mark Lamendola worked extensively with Dr. Jay Prince to develop Mindconnection's Behavior Modification series of downloadable courses,

Mark has managed conflict resolution for a variety of organizations, basing his approach on assertiveness.