Before we dive into assertive communication, I want to start with a scene you may have encountered:
You’re at a dinner party and someone catches your eye from afar. With a touch of envy, you say to yourself: now that person has the situation under control. It’s almost like she’s the sun and the rest of you are planets revolving around her.
But what makes her that way? How is it that you can spot someone like that, even from a distance?
HOW CAN YOU BECOME THE SUN??? Okay, maybe that’s going too far...
But in all seriousness, what makes these people different?
Very often, it has to do with a mastery of assertive communication. It’s a powerful tool that can open a lot of doors for you.
Today we’re looking at assertive communication and how to become better at this style. What’s cool about this skill is that it packs a “double punch”. Not only does it lead to better outcomes in your professional life, it also helps strengthen your personal network and increases your ability to enjoy casual social settings.
And if you enjoy what we’re discussing today, you should also definitely check out our lesson about the six common communication styles. It will help you discover your own communication style and how to adopt a new style that enables you to be a better communicator.
Now, if you've been keeping up with our lessons, you know by now that communication isn’t just about what you say; it’s also very much about how you say it. So, in order to properly discuss assertive communication, we’re going to break it down into three distinct units: tone, lexis (words), and body language. That will ensure we get a fuller understanding of how you can deploy this on your own.
With that, let’s jump in!
(1) Watch your tone
And I don’t mean that in a “hey, watch your tone” like you’re being rude. Rather, what I want you to do is to pay attention to the tone of your voice. As in, if you recorded it, how would it sound to you?
Is it uneven and timid? Or is it steady and confident?
With assertive communication, you want to strive for the latter. You want your tone to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about. That if someone challenged you on what you’re saying, you’d be able to easily explain why your perspective is valid.
To do this, you need to employ an assertive tone. An assertive tone tends to be a bit deeper sounding than your standard voice. There should be no “uptalk”, where you end a statement with a question, like this is a version of uptalk? Because it sounds like a question even though it’s not a question? and it totally won’t sound assertive? so like, don’t do it?
Instead, make sure the last few words you say are actually deeper in tone than your first few words. By keeping your tone deeper at the end of your statement, you imply that there’s no doubt about what you’re saying. It establishes a sense of credibility. It says you mean business.
One way to work on this is to actually record your voice. Write down a few statements that you feel confident about, such as “Effective communication is a powerful skill and is definitely worth investing in”, or “Social skills are the key to a rich and fulfilling life".
Now practice saying those statements using your normal voice. Then try again where you say the last few words using a slightly deeper tone. Play them back and listen to the difference.
If your voice is shaking or too soft, try again using more of your diaphragm to push out the words.
You can do this as often as you need until it becomes automatic.
(2) Use declaratives
Aside from tone, you can project much more assertiveness by using decisive wording. That means framing your thoughts in declaratives rather than questions. It also means not including modifiers or “hedges” that undermine the validity of your declarative.
To illustrate this, let’s take a look at an example:
“Do you think you could take a quick look at this email? It’s really important but I totally get if you’re maybe too busy.”
First off, this is phrased as a question, which isn’t inherently wrong, but it does suggest the speaker lacks the authority to make the request. Additionally, the second part sets the request up for failure by implying the request was unreasonable and should be disregarded. Frankly, it’s downright confusing because of all the mixed messaging.
Needless to say, this is not a great way to be assertive.
Let’s try this again with declarative language:
Here’s the email I wanted to run by you. When you get a minute, please let me know your thoughts. The newsletter is going out at lunch, so we’ll need it reviewed by then.
Huge difference, right? This time, there aren’t any questions being asked. It’s a series of statements. It’s still polite, but it brokers no doubt as to what is needed.
This declarative version is much more likely to get the outcome you want.
Often people phrase things in questions and use hedges to not seem pushy, but as you can see from the examples above, there’s a way to be assertive while still being respectful.
And chances are, the assertive approach will also be more easily understood because it isn’t all muddled up with contradictory language.
(3) Strong body language
The final aspect of assertive communication we’re looking at is nonverbal communication. There’s so much we glean from a person’s gestures and stance. After all, before the invention of spoken language, we relied on body language as a means of communication.
Because of this, it’s important to use strong body language to establish your assertiveness. In particular, this means adopting an “open body” stance.
Postures such as crossing our arms and hunching over are protective postures that signal insecurity and a lack of confidence.
By contrast, open arms and standing up straight project confidence and strength, suggesting you are not afraid of being seen and speaking your mind.
What’s even cooler is that the open body stance will also send messages to your brain that you are confident, which will strengthen the tone of your voice and cause you to use more declarative language.
So there you have it: three powerful strategies for adopting an assertive communication style.
To recap, we have (1) adopt an authoritative tone, (2) use declaratives and decisive wording, and (3) maintain an open body stance so that you can use strong body language.
And once you familiarize yourself with these three aspects of assertive communication, challenge yourself with a little visualization.
Find a quite space to be still for a few minutes.
Close your eyes and imagine your ideal leader. This could be a real person who inspires you, or someone you’ve dreamed up in the depths of your imagination. What does their voice sound like? What kind of language are they using? What does their posture look like?
Now, think of those characteristics being transferred to you. Imagine yourself in a variety of social settings behaving the way this ideal leader behaves.
Do this often, and especially right before you enter challenging social situations, and you’ll find that over time, this will become your default communication style, enabling you to build your credibility, project your confidence, and be taken seriously.
Now that you know our strategies for how to communicate assertively, I’d love to hear what you think. What strategies do you use when you want to be taken seriously? What are some ways that you project confidence during social interaction?
Share whatever is on your mind with us in the comments below.
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With that, have an awesome week, Explearners.
Thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you next time for your next Explearning lesson.
Happy Explearning ⚡