How to Improve Your Business Communication Skills: Learn to Speak Assertively

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Has this ever happened to you?

The print shop owner delivers an important printing job that is just not up to your standards. It seems the paper is the wrong weight and the colors are a bit off. When you ask a question about it, he’s insistent it looks just fine. Despite misgivings, you back down, bite your tongue, and pay your bill.

After the materials sit in a corner in your office for a week you decide it just won’t do. You put the materials in the recycling bin and look for another printer.

If you find yourself meekly giving in to the wishes of others while your own needs and concerns remain unspoken, you’re communicating in a passive way.

Characteristics of passive behavior/communication include:

* Apologetic when it’s not necessarily appropriate
* Timid
* Easily intimidated
* ‘Yes’ man or woman
* Lets others decide
* Doesn’t speak up about what they want or what they’re thinking or feeling.

People who habitually act in ways to appease and accommodate others often avoid conflict or criticism.

But there is a price to be paid. Acting this way routinely can create resentment and anger, as they’ll likely feel taken advantage of and will continue to have concerns and needs not met.

At the other end of the spectrum, maybe this has happened to you. You make sarcastic remarks to your administrative assistant about the way she handled a customer service call. Days later, you still feel bad about it and regret the remarks you made.

Or you raised your voice and spoke sharply to a business colleague who arrived 15 minutes late for a lunch meeting. Now you worry you may have damaged an important business relationship.

When people communicate and act in an aggressive manner, they make sure their own needs are met and get what they want, but at the expense of others.

Characteristics of aggressive behavior/communication include:

* Sarcastic
* Blaming
* Speaking with a raised voice or shouting
* Insensitive to the needs of others
* Making threats or delivering ultimatums.

People don’t like being around aggressive people and will look for opportunities to have as little contact as possible with them.

People who act and communicate aggressively will often feel bad and remorseful later.

Obviously, both passive and aggressive styles of communicating create their own set of challenges, and neither approach leads to strengthened relationships with others.

On the other hand, acting and communicating in an assertive way helps establish trust and openness and creates an environment where the needs and concerns of both people are understood and appreciated.

When we act and communicate in ways that are assertive we honor and respect our desires and needs as well as the other person’s. We believe everyone, including ourselves, has a right to be treated as an equal with respect.

Characteristics of assertive behavior/communication include:

*Responsible for your own feelings
*Open, honest, and direct with others
*Respectful of ourselves as well as others
*Flexible, engaging in give and take.

When we act and speak in an assertive manner we are basically saying, “I have rights and so do you. I respect both our rights. I’ll communicate openly, honestly, directly, and appropriately with you.”

When is it important to speak assertively? Well, obviously nobody ever likes being treated like a doormat and it’s never OK to run roughshod over people.

But there are specific times when it is especially important to speak in an assertive way. Here are a few:

* When we need to give someone feedback.
* When we need to raise an issue that needs problem solving.
* When we need to set limits around other people’s behavior.
* When we need to let others know what’s going on for us.

In a nutshell, here’s the key piece in being assertive: be clear and direct with the other person while being empathetic and caring.

If you practice this important communication skill, you’re sure to see positive results in your interactions with others.

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