At the root of confident behaviour and communication is the ability to be assertive. ‘Assertiveness’ is sometimes confused with being aggressive – being pushy and dominating – it’s neither of these!
- telling people what we want, need, or would prefer
- stating our preference clearly and confidently, without belittling ourselves or others, without being threatening or putting other people down
- being honest with ourselves and others
- being able to negotiate and reach workable compromises or solutions
- having confidence in ourselves, while at the same time understanding other peoples points of view
- initiate conversation
- compliment others and receive compliments gracefully
- cope with justified criticism – and can give it too
- take responsibility for their own feelings and opinions
- listen and try not to judge and blame
- encourage others to be assertive
Assertiveness is about being able to communicate with respect – respect for ourselves and our own feelings, views and opinions, as well as those of others. It’s not about pushing our own viewpoint at the expense of other people and always getting what we want. It is a positive way of behaving that doesn’t violate the rights of other people.
Above all assertive behaviour is appropriate behaviour. This means that it is appropriate on occasions to be angry, or to choose not to be assertive in a particular situation or with a particular person.
In summary, it is stating clearly what we would like to happen, but without a demand that it should.
Confident and assertive behaviour tends to be self-generating and encourages similar behaviour in others. It looks, sounds and feels comfortable and empowering. Lack of confidence and a sense of powerlessness, on the other hand, are likely to lead to tension and anxiety (fear) – this triggers a mixture of responses. Some people cope by reacting aggressively to their situation (the ‘fight’ response), and others may react passively (the ‘flight’ response).
Typical assertive statements: “I believe that… what do you think?” “I would like to…what about you? “What can we do to resolve this problem?”
Some practical tips and techniques to help you to be clear about what you want out of situations and ways of communicating with others with more confidence:
- Be prepared
- Anticipate other people’s responses and behaviour
- Think about how you might handle situations in advance
- Learn to be firm and repeat your messages
You may need to learn to give yourself time, and ask for it. Don’t be bulldozed into giving an instant response, say, for example
I need time to consider what you have said
I’m not sure about that
I need more time to make a decision
I don’t want to be rushed
OK let me think about that and I’ll get back to you
Learn to use body language and to control your reactions
- Maintain direct eye contact
- Keep your posture open and relaxed
- Be sure your facial expression agrees with the message
- Keep a level, well-modulated tone of voice
- Select an appropriate time to be assertive
You won’t learn how to become a more assertive person just by reading, you will need to practice. You can practice on your friends and family – choose someone understanding and it is best to tell them what you are doing first! Ask for feedback on how you’re doing.