Assertive communication lies somewhere in between aggressive and passive communication. Aggressive communication is in-your-face, loud, and usually involves pointing or pounding. Passive communication is timid, soft, and never makes eye contact.
With both aggressive and passive, communication may actually never take place.
And that is not good.
Enter the assertive communication style. This is where you are:
- Confident – You believe in your ability to handle the situation and are composed
- Clear – The message is easy to understand and is not exaggerated
- Controlled – You are tracking the other person and modulate yourself if necessary
Doesn’t that sound like a better to place to be? It’s the place where the message is sent and the message is actually received. Imagine that – real communication!
The model I’m familiar with comes from the University of Pennsylvania and is called the IDEAL Model. I liked the tagline “have the right conversation rather than the wrong fight!”
This model is used to craft a conversation where an issue needs to be addressed and the relationship has to survive that conversation!
Assertive Communication: The I in IDEAL
IDEAL is the acronym and stands for:
- Identify and understand the problem
- Describe the problem objectively and accurately
- Express your concerns and how you feel
- Ask the other person for their perspective
- List the outcomes that will occur
The “I” is the most critical piece and is the homework before the conversation happens. In the Identify stage, we have to ask ourselves some really hard, thought-provoking questions.
- What are your first, gut-reaction thoughts?
- Do you have mindsets and habits around this issue?
- Dig deep, what is the REAL issue at hand here?
- What about your personality might help you? Any aspects that might hurt you?
- What (if any) values are being “pinged”?
Assertive Communication: The Rest of the DEAL
In the Describe stage, we want to deal with the facts of the issue, and they should be recent and specific. Saying “in the meeting yesterday morning you acted like a jerk” is evaluative. Leave it at “at yesterday morning’s meeting…” This helps ground both of you to something tangible.
In the Express stage, you should always express your concerns and, if appropriate, express how you feel. From our example above, you might say “I’m concerned that your tone in yesterday morning’s meeting could be construed as disrespectful.” This could be followed with “I know, I considered it that way.”
If ever there was a time to control your non-verbals – this is it! You might say one thing, but your non-verbals could tell a different story!
In the Ask stage, you want to first ask the other person their perspective. We, as humans, get a lot of exercise jumping to conclusions! You may think you know; ask anyway. The answer might surprise you! For tips on this, see my post on empathetic listening.
And the second ask is for their suggestions for a reasonable change. It’s important to ask them because “reasonable” is in the eye of the beholder. You may think it’s reasonable to ask someone to give up swearing at work. If the habit is ingrained, though, they may think that’s completely unreasonable. The Win-Win here can be that they don’t swear around you anymore.
Finally, in the List stage, we talk about outcomes, both positive and negative. Behavior science says that we respond better to rewards rather than punishments, so focus on the positive outcomes more than the negative. And be sure, if you do “threaten” a negative outcome, you follow through. Nothing will cut you off at the knees faster than people learning that you lack follow-through.
Assertive Communication: Tips
Assertive communication can be partially driven by your personality. As in, it’s easier for an extrovert who gets energy from people to have conversations. But, assertive communication requires a set of skills that can become the habit with practice. Yes, you might literally have to pull out a piece of paper and work through the elements of the conversation at first. But after a few tries, you may be able to have the conversation “off-the-cuff”. As they say in the Army: Practice Makes Permanent.
All communication requires some flexibility. You have to track the receiver and adjust your messaging as appropriate for them to hear the message. I love the quote from Teague, Jr. “Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood.” Pay attention to what they say, what they don’t say, and what their non-verbals are telling you. It all matters in the end.
And, last but not least, recognize when it’s time to cut the conversation, relax and rethink. Re-engage at another time, when you have a chance to work through the IDEAL model again. Chances are, if your buttons are still being pushed, it’s because you need more work in the identify stage.
If you feel this is an area that you need to really work on, there is a workbook available on Amazon called The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships.
Leaving You With This From the Lighter Side: If we can’t solve it via email, text, fax or telephone, let’s resort to meeting in person.