Reflection: How Assertive Communications Can Make a Purposeful Impact

By 2nd January 2020 January 16th, 2020 Communication Skills Tips

Getting A Purposeful Impact Through Assertive Communications

When we encounter the word ‘assertive’, especially in western cultures, we often perceive it to have a level of aggression.  This viewpoint usually occurs in how we deliver assertive communications and where.  This can be out of kilter with your usual method or style of delivery.  We also often reserve assertiveness for times when immediate and necessary action is required.  This could be an urgent deadline for something more serious.  This reflection considers assertiveness as an everyday style used to aid in direction and influence.  It recognises when assertiveness is not only an appropriate style but necessary to achieve the right outcomes.  Assertive communication is a choice for the right situation, and when performed well, it can provide clear direction.  When people can view clarity, outputs are efficient and effective.  Assertiveness can appear, in the wrong situation, as overbearing and aggressive, so raising self-awareness is key.

Raising Self-awareness

Like conflict, it is rare to see individuals being permanently in the mode of assertiveness.  We adapt our styles to fit the situation at hand.  There are times when being assertive are entirely inappropriate. This is generally innate letting experience guide us.  Ever been at a social event where a toddler loudly proclaims they need a poo?  Most of us can temperature check situations and adapt appropriately.  Yet in management situations, this seems to leave us, much of the time through inexperience or fear.  We often know that being assertive is the right approach but hold back for fear of perception.  We covert leaders who can provide that clear direction and choose assertiveness at the right time.  If you feel the situation requires it, then you are probably right.  You experience, and self-awareness is probably spot on.

Assertive Communications

On occasion, we should view ourselves in a critical mirror.  Often, in coaching situations, I ask the coachee to consider themselves in a third-person perspective.  I ask them to consider advice would they provide to themselves.  This almost depersonalisation offers an outlet for them to use considerable judgement and give great advice.  Through this technique, you see a surge in assertiveness, a certain clarity of thought that comes from within.  The advice they provide to themselves is clear, the directive in a non-aggressive way and usually, time-bound.  When we then explore this clarity, they tell me that it is just good advice. And that it is appropriate for the person and the situation.

It is instances like these where assertiveness training is not necessarily required; just like confidence, it requires practice, raising self-awareness.  During this kind of reflection on ourselves, we can accordingly view when and where assertiveness is completely appropriate.

Situational Assertiveness

Being assertive all the time is unusual.  You wouldn’t use this behavioural style while reading a bedtime story or relaxing with friends.  As with many emotional intelligent situations, there is the right time and place for this to come through.  Here are a few:

  • With a new starter, the direction is key and purposeful as they need to know certain elements.
  • In an urgent situation when directed action is required.
  • During a presentation of a new idea, concept or project.
  • Just before conflict situations where it has the potential to get personal or out of control.
  • Delivering difficult messages – potentially a change management situation.

These are a few of the situations where assertive communications would be right to adopt.  What would the point of being passive be when you are moving friends or family along to catch a plane?

In discussions with people about assertive communications, there is a general fear of perception.  How do I seem to others? What will they think of me?  In the examples above, situational awareness would dictate that this is the right way to act behaviourally.  In this situation consider; the fear of being assertive comes from lack of practice.  Another potential reason is that others are meeting your needs.  This comes down to reflection and the opportunity to apply assertive communications.

Through reflection, we can consider real-life situations and unpick the transactions.  Rather than adopt the scenarios in ‘assertiveness training’ where the situations are usually role play, use your own experiences.  These are much more relevant, contextual and powerful.  Through these, you can stop, playback and reapply what you might have said.  It is especially useful if you can talk this through with someone.

Purposeful Communications

Purposeful communications begin with preparation on many fronts.  This is about the clarity of what you want to communicate, how and indeed to whom.  While it is true that not all assertive communications can be prepared for, most can.  Let us assume that in this instance, assertiveness means influencing an idea.  The assertive comes from the point of view that if you don’t do this, you will be in a worse position.  So by adopting your idea, benefits can be realised which can lead to a better place.  The assertiveness comes through the message rather than the tone or pitch of how you speak.  This is where ‘taught’ assertiveness and preparation differ.  I don’t need to act forcefully or adopt a fierce stance to deliver a message.  When we prepare well, we can practice the message over and over.

More than this, we can tailor the message to the audience who you will have also researched.  In light of this, assertiveness looks considerably different from the potentially aggressive approaches that can be portrayed.  Consider these points:

  • Where there is a chance to prepare, do so.  This will aid in the delivery and the meaning of the message you want to provide.
  • Know your audience and where possible tailor your messages so that this lands within their scope.
  • Meaning – the force of your message comes through your understanding of the situation and who you are delivering to.
  • Reflect on the way you are going to approach your communications and indeed, what happened.

Final Thoughts on Assertive Communications

Assertive communications can be about making urgent decisions in serious situations.  This could be directing people to safety, for example.  In everyday situations, these are rare, so a deeper understanding of assertiveness needs to be understood.  While assertive communications may still conjure up notions of aggressive presentations, it doesn’t have to be this way.  The clarity in the message, an understanding of our self-awareness and the situation is more relevant and meaningful.

When we can provide more in-depth meaning, there really isn’t any need to force how we communicate because if the message is directed to the audience from their point of view, it means so much more.  Assertive communications will always be a concern for those who need to consider it.  If you can attain clarity, purpose and an understanding of self, the message will land.

For further tips and information, you can take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Communication Skills and our Communication Skills YouTube Channel. Also, check out our award-winning blog to see more Communication Skills tips and articles.

Will Clement

About Will Clement

Will Clement is an organisational development manager in the NHS. Will’s main aim is to create contemporary learning that bring theory into practice. Will delivers with breath taking honesty and compassion - while having fun in the process. His work is centred on understanding individuals, helping them deploy their strengths. Like most things in Will’s life, his approach is powerful, simple and effective. He is a highly engaging and thought-provoking speaker. A no nonsense, back to basics approach, which draws on 20 years training and management experience. His work encourages individuals to seize the opportunity, enjoy relationships, succeed at work and learn how to respond to adverse situations with a positive approach. Will has worked in public, private and education sectors, including the Royal Mail, Leeds Met University, the AA plc and the NHS. Will holds a BA (Hons) in Education and Professional Development and a Masters In Business Administration (MBA) from York St John University.

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