Assertiveness is essential if you’re to get what you want – but you don’t want to come across as pushy or aggressive. Here are 10 practical tips from Speak First for how to be effective in a range of situations.
We all have to make requests of others – but some people feel uncomfortable, especially when they have to inconvenience others. Be direct and brief (eg ‘I’d like the report by the end of the week’). Don’t apologise (eg ‘I’m sorry to trouble you…’). Make requests in an open and straightforward way rather than trying to make it difficult for the other person to refuse. Give a reason for your request but don’t use flattery or play on their good nature (‘Your hair looks nice today’ or ‘You’re always so helpful!’). Respect their right to say no if they’ve got a good reason and don’t take a refusal personally.
Sometimes you have to refuse a request. Keep your reply brief, but not abrupt, and avoid giving a long rambling explanation. Acknowledge the person who has made the request and give the real reason for saying ‘no’ – not an excuse. Sometimes you’ll want to ask for more time or greater clarity about their request (eg ‘Do you need it by the end of the week?’, ‘Could someone else do this time?’). If they persist in their request, repeat your refusal, without being rude.
3. Disagreeing and stating your views
You have an assertive right to disagree with other people – so don’t be timid or meek in stating a contrary perspective. Feel confident in standing your ground, State the reasons why you disagree clearly and express any doubts you have in a constructive, professional way. Never say ‘You’re wrong!’. Recognise and acknowledge the other person’s view and state any parts you agree with – (‘I agree we need to make a decision this week’) – and add your opinion (‘and we need to make sure we review the budget first’).
Surprisingly, some people find giving praise a challenge, which is why it’s an assertive skill. Maintain eye contact and be upbeat, positive and enthusiastic in your tone and manner. Make it specific, clear and brief (eg ‘I like the way you handled the team meeting and managed to keep to time’). Don’t give praise just to flatter. Be sincere.
5.Giving negative feedback
Many, many people find giving negative feedback difficult. You don’t want to upset people or damage their self-esteem. But if you’re a manager it comes with the territory. Be honest, objective and sensitive. Make sure it’s about the behaviour, not about the person. As with giving praise, maintain eye contact and make it specific, clear and brief (eg “I think you will chair the team meeting more effectively if you keep to time”). Think of it as ‘feedback’ (‘here’s what I’d like you to do next time’) rather than feedback (‘you did that wrong’).
How do you feel when someone gives you praise? Do you feel uncomfortable? You need to be assertive in situations like this. Thank the praise giver briefly (eg ‘Thanks Amanda, I’m glad you liked it’). Don’t brush it off or be self-deprecating (eg ‘It was nothing’). If it’s appropriate, express satisfaction: ‘I worked hard on that project, and it’s great to be appreciated’.
7. Receiving negative feedback
No-one like to receive criticism – but if it’s justified it can be valuable to your personal development. Listen carefully to what the feedback giver has to say. Ask for more information if you’re unclear. Ask what specifically they were unhappy with. If the criticism is valid, agree and take it on board – and say ‘thanks’. If it’s not valid, or you disagree, state your view of the situation.
8.Delivering bad news
We all have to deliver bad news. You can’t meet a deadline. You won’t be able to promote one of your employees. You’re not going be able to hit your quota this month. Take the initiative and state what has happened clearly. Explain the actions, if any, you propose to take. Keep it brief and factual. Maintain eye contact and indicate any implications there are for the person. Apologise if the problem is your fault.
9.Using assertive language
Using assertive language makes a big difference to the impact when you’re feeling uncomfortable. Make statements instead of asking questions. Rather than “Can I offer an idea?”, say, in a confident tone with strong body language, “My idea is ….” Be specific, not vague.
10. Expressing empathy
How do you avoid coming across as aggressive in these situations listed? By expressing empathy: ‘I appreciate you’re busy, but I must have these figures by the end of today’. When giving negative feedback you might say ‘I appreciate you spent a lot of time on your report, and we need to make a few changes’. Empathy is the key to communicating assertively – if you want other people to take your communications on board.