Stephenson Coaching

How can you use assertiveness for more effective communication?

Nowadays, we often hear the word “assertiveness” being used. In fact, it’s become quite a buzzword in personal development. But do you know how you can use it for better communication?

From my experience, I’ve noticed that people often mix up assertiveness and aggressiveness. Yet, they’re certainly not the same. Communicating assertively means you get your message across with self-assurance and confidence while also respecting the person you’re talking to. Communicating aggressively means that you force your opinion on others and you have no respect for their thoughts or needs.

According to the situation (professional, personal) and the person you find yourself with, you may find that you react more or less assertively. For example, a person can be assertive in their professional life but very passive at home with their partner, or vice versa.

So, let’s take a closer look at what assertive behaviour consists in by comparing it to its opposites, i.e. passiveness and aggressiveness.


Passive v aggressive behaviour


Passiveness means going along with the beliefs and desires of others, without expressing your own rights and feelings. Passive people don’t respect their own personal boundaries and they let themselves be walked over, even manipulated, by aggressive people. They have little self-worth.

Often people adopt passive behaviour because it’s important for them to be liked. They end up doing things they don’t really want to do in order to please others. For example, a passive employee may find him/herself staying late each evening at work to please his/her boss, so as to be considered as conscientious and hard-working.

Let’s now take a look at the opposite extreme: aggressive behaviour. Aggressiveness means putting your opinion and needs first, without taking into consideration the other person. Aggressive people don’t respect the personal boundaries of others and they manipulate them into going along with what they want and need. For example, an aggressive manager may unfairly criticise his/her team members, saying they’re lazy because they don’t stay late in the evening and they take too long for lunch.

An assertive manager, on the other hand, will respect his/her team member’s personal boundaries, while inspiring them to do their best work and achieve positive results.


The characteristics of assertive people


Assertive people know their rights and have good self-esteem. They feel free to express their feelings, thoughts and needs, not letting themselves be walked over. They’re good communicators because they are willing to compromise when it’s appropriate to do so, while ensuring their own opinion and needs are respected.

Assertive people are true to themselves and are appreciated for their true value.


The key points for assertive communication


Following this formula will help you to communicate more effectively, by showing respect for both your own and the other person’s beliefs and opinions:


  1. Express your needs
  2. Show that you understand the position of the other person
  3. Say why you need what you’re asking for
  4. Explain what the positive outcome will be for both parties.


Let me now give you an example of how I help my clients to be more assertive by using this formula:


Alice needs to collaborate closely with Bernard on a new product launch. However, Bernard is used to working alone and taking all the credit for himself. As a result, he doesn’t keep Alice updated on the progress of the project and she’s unable to advance productively on her side.

If Alice adopted passive behaviour, she might let Bernard get away with it and potentially allow herself to be blamed for the failure of the launch. If she behaved aggressively, she might get angry with him, telling him he’s selfish and unprofessional. She might even create a scandal, refusing to continue working with him.

Alice could also talk directly to her boss to sort out the problem. However, before doing so, I’d advise her to explain her position assertively with Bernard by approaching the subject in this way:


  • Bernard, I really need us to collaborate closely on this product launch. At the moment, I’m finding it hard to advance on my side because you don’t keep me updated on your progress.
  • I understand that such close collaboration is new for you. Maybe you’re not used to having to check in with me regularly on the progress you’re making. I know you’ve always worked alone in the past.
  • However, for me to work efficiently on this product launch and make it a success, I need to have all the updated elements at my disposal. I can only offer coherent solutions if I know what work you’re doing with your team.
  • You’ve got great expertise in your domain and I’m an expert in my field, which is why we’ve been asked to work together. By uniting our skills, I’m sure we can come up with a cutting-edge product launch that will be talked about all over the market. I’d really like us to make this launch be a success together.


Learn how to become more assertive


An assertive approach isn’t a guarantee that you’ll persuade the other person to come round to your way of thinking. After all, they have the right to their opinion too! However, it brings personal satisfaction to know that you’ve allowed yourself to express your needs and beliefs, respecting both your own boundaries and those of others.


Would you like to discover how assertiveness can be beneficial to you in your professional and/or personal life? Please do get in touch. We’ll discuss a coaching programme totally adapted to your specific needs.

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