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Assertive communication for success


An assertive person is confident and direct in dealing with others. Assertive communications promote fairness and equality in human interactions, based on a positive sense of respect for self and others. It is the direct communication of a person’s needs, wants, and opinions without punishing, threatening, or putting down another person. Assertive behavior includes the ability to stand up for a person’s legitimate rights – without violating the rights of others or being overly fearful in the process. A skill that can be learned, assertive behavior is situational specific; meaning different types of assertive behavior can be used in different situations.

Strong communication skills are essential for assertive interaction with others. Humans are social animals and communication is a very important part of our daily lives. Every interaction we have with another person including, face to face, over the phone, chatting online or even texting is communication happening, and have strong communication skills will benefit every type of interaction we encounter.


There are four styles of communication: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. The Passive Person: Passive behavior is the avoidance of the expression of opinions or feelings, protecting one’s rights, and identifying and meeting one’s needs. Passive individuals exhibit poor eye contact and slumped body posture, and tend to speak softly or apologetically. Passive people express statements implying that:

• “I’m unable to stand up for my rights”; “I don’t know what my rights are”; “I get stepped on by everyone”; “I’m weak and unable to take care of myself” and “People never consider my feelings.”

The Aggressive Person: An aggressive individual communicates in a way that violates the rights of others. Thus, aggressive communicators are verbally or physically abusive, or both. Aggressive communication is born of low self-esteem, often caused by past physical or emotional abuse, unhealed emotional wounds, and feelings of powerlessness. Aggressive individuals display a low tolerance for frustration, use humiliation, interrupt frequently, and use criticism or blame to attack others. They use piercing eye contact, and are not good listeners. Aggressive people express statements implying that:

• The other person is inferior, wrong, and not worth anything; The problem is the other person’s fault; They are superior and right; They will get their way regardless of the consequences; and They are entitled, and that the other person “owes” them.


The Passive-Aggressive Person: The passive-aggressive person uses a communication style in which the individual appears passive on the surface, but is really acting out anger in a subtle, indirect, or behind-the-scenes way. Passive-aggressive people usually feel powerless, stuck, and resentful. Alienated from others, they feel incapable of dealing directly with the object of their resentments. Rather, they express their anger by subtly undermining the real or imagined object of their resentments. Frequently they mutter to themselves instead of confronting another person. They often smile at you, even though they are angry, use subtle sabotage, or speak with sarcasm.
Passive-aggressive individuals use communication that implies:

• “I’m weak and resentful, so I sabotage, frustrate, and disrupt”; “I’m powerless to deal with you head on so I must use guerilla warfare” and “I will appear cooperative, but I’m not.”

An assertive individual communicates in a way that clearly states his or her opinions and feelings, and firmly advocates for his or her rights and needs without violating the rights of others. Assertive communication is born of high self-esteem. Assertive people value themselves, their time, and their emotional, spiritual, and physical needs. They are strong advocates for themselves — while being very respectful of the rights of others. Assertive people feel connected to other people. They make statements of needs and feelings clearly, appropriately, and respectfully. Feeling in control of themselves, they speak in calm and clear tones, are good listeners, and maintain good eye contact. They create a respectful environment for others, and do not allow others to abuse or manipulate them.
The assertive person uses statements that imply:

• “I am confident about who I am”; “I cannot control others, but I control myself”; “I speak clearly, honestly, and to the point”; “I know I have choices in my life, and I consider my options. I am fully responsible for my own happiness” and “We are equally entitled to express ourselves respectfully to one another.”


Next, in order to be assertive, one must practice listening skills. Hearing is the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Assuming an individual is not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something that one consciously chooses to do. Listening requires concentration so that the brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Listening leads to learning, but this is not always an easy task. The normal adult rate of speech is 100-150 words per minute, but the brain can think at a rate of 400-500 words per minute, leaving extra time for daydreaming, or anticipating the speaker’s or the recipient’s next words.

Listening skills can be learned and refined. The art of active listening allows you to fully receive a message from another person. Especially in a situation involving anger or a tense interchange, active listening allows you to be sensitive to the multiple dimensions of communication that make up an entire message. These dimensions include:

The occasion for the message: What is the reason why the person is communicating with me now?
The length of the message: What can the length of the message tell me about its importance?
The words chosen: Is the message being made formally? Is it with aloofness or slang?
The volume and pace: What clues do the loudness and speed give me?
The Pauses and Hesitations: How do these enhance or detract from the message?
Non-verbal clues: What does eye contact, posture, or facial expressions tell me about the message?


Empathy is also important in learning to be assertive. It is the capability to share and understand another’s emotions and feelings. Empathetic listening is the art of seeking a truer understanding of how others are feeling. This requires excellent discrimination and close attention to the nuances of emotional signals.

According to Stephen Covey in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, empathetic listening involves five basic tasks:
1. Repeat verbatim the content of the communication; the words, not the feelings
2. Rephrase content; summarize the meaning of the words in your own words
3. Reflect feelings; look more deeply and begin to capture feelings in your own words. Look beyond words for body language and tone to indicate feelings.
4. Rephrase contents and reflect feelings; express both their words and feelings in your own words.
5. Discern when empathy is not necessary – or appropriate.


Finally, in other to be effective in your assertiveness, you must learn to read body language, which is a form of non-verbal communication involving the use of stylized gestures, postures, and physiologic signs which act as cues to other people. Humans unconsciously send and receive non-verbal signals through body language all the time. Non-verbal communication is the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless messages. It is the single most powerful form of communication. Nonverbal communication cues others about what is in your mind, even more than your voice or words can do. According to studies at UCLA, as much as 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues, and the impact of performance was determined 7 percent by the words used, 38 percent by voice quality, and 55 percent by non-verbal communication. If a conflict arises between your words and your body language, your body language rules every time.

Let me know your communication/assertiveness successes and challenges.
Prof. Akindotun Merino is a Professor of Psychology and a Mental Health Commissioner in California.
Text: 0705 629 0985
Instagram: @drakinmerino: Twitter: @drakindotun


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Akindotun Merino
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