Language is key
We’re constantly required to tackle challenging situations in the workplace. It could be that you’ve noticed that your colleague talks behind your back or your direct report has agreed to implement your decision but hasn’t followed through. When you finally summon up the courage to confront the person, do you use apologetic words such as “Sorry”, “I am afraid that”? Or do you suddenly explode because pressure has built up over the past few months and you end up using emotionally charged sentences? When approaching situations like this, we may be subconsciously sabotaging the situation by our use of language. In this article, we’ll be looking at how you can change your language to achieve more effective outcomes.
3 most common verbal styles:
Aggressive: You are more concerned about yourself than others
Passive: You are more concerned about others than yourself
Assertive: You are concerned about yourself and others
What does aggressive behaviour look like?
Most excessively dominant or aggressive people are usually bullies. They show this by boosted ego, show-off, need to build an empire, bragging about monetary wealth, having ‘yes-men’ followers and so on.
What does passive behaviour look like?
Passive people don’t want to be dominant. They often appear shy and silent. They don’t seem to initiate debates and if they have something in mind, however useful for others, they may keep it to themselves. Assertive behaviour gives you the ability to have controlled conversations with others while respecting everyone’s needs. Fortunately, assertive communication is just a skill and anyone can learn it. In fact it can be quite fulfilling and satisfying as you can go on to express yourself the way you want to.
> Uses apologetic word such as “Sorry”, “I am afraid”, “Terribly sorry”, …
> There is a lot of uncertainty in the sentences delivered, emphasised by words such as, “possibly”, “may be”, “if possible”, “perhaps” and “not sure”.
> Put yourself down in comparison to others by stating “I am not really good at this”, “You obviously know more about this than I do”, “I have never done this before”, “It’s my mistake really”
> Expects permission and may ask directly for this. For example, “Can I do this?”, “Do you mind if I go ahead?” and “Is this OK with you?”
> Dismisses your own needs. For example, “I don’t really need this” and “It’s OK, I should be alright”
> Very few “I” statements are used in sentences.
> There are many accusations in the language.
> The sentences are full of “I” statements. It is all about the person who is delivering the request.
> The language is threatening. There can be many “if” statements which lead to punishment if the request is not satisfied. For example, “If you don’t comply, I will see to it that …”
> Opinions are delivered as facts.
> The sentences are emotionally charged with words inserted to fuel the conflict rather than to control it.
> Sarcasm and mockery is used to level the ground for further attacks.
> Forceful words such as “must”, “should”, “will” and “ought” are used frequently.
> Sentences are well composed and logical.
> There seems to be a solid structure to the reasoning and the request is well thought.
> Statements are clear and concise. The receiving person has no problem understanding what is wanted of them.
> The person seems to care about the opinion of others and is willing to compromise as necessary to achieve the higher aim
> “I” statements are present but are used sparingly when appropriate.
Guidelines for communicating assertively.
Here is a structure for helping you communicate more assertively and have a greater sense of control.
Be direct: Get to the point as clearly as possible and deliver it confidently
Be brief: Don’t confuse the other person by extra details or vague conservative requests. Deliver your request and stop.
Provide reasons: Make sure to present concise reasons that are directly related to your request.
Top 10 Tips for being assertive
1) Avoid justifying yourself.
2) Don’t say sorry when it is not necessary.
3) Don’t take a negative comment personally.
4) Don’t let others’ response affect your emotional balance.
5) Don’t get yourself into emotional arguments.
6) Avoid getting intimidated by ignoring the emotional charge.
7) Avoid flattery.
8) Think win-win. Look at the higher objective and get yourself and the other person to focus on that.
9) Keep asking questions to understand the other person’s point of view.
10) Don’t assume you know what the other person’s motives are.
How to using effective assertive sentences
The best way to understand what it really means to be assertive is with an example. Use the following simple step-by-step procedure to deliver your messages and requests assertively. A common scenario is used throughout the following steps for the examples given in each case:
Your colleague who is habitually late has arrived late again for an important meeting.
It is important to describe the results and effects of their behaviour specifically. Don’t generalise, expand or judge.
> What not to say: “There is no point having a meeting now. This project is hopeless!”
> Assertive Communication: “We are going to have very little time left for this meeting as I need to leave for another meeting at 15:00.”
Use Factual Descriptions
If you want to change someone’s behaviour use factual descriptions rather than your judgment or opinions. Do not label them.
> What not to say: “You’re always late. This is not acceptable!”
> Assertive Communication: “The meeting was scheduled for 14:00, it’s now 14:35”
Use “I” Statements, But not Too Many
If you don’t use “I” statements, you may appear passive. Using too many “I” statements, implys that you don’t really care for others. If you use them in moderation you will get the best of both worlds.
If you use “you”, it can be interpreted as judging as it sounds more like an attack. By using “I” you put the focus on yourself and how their behaviour has affected you which is of course what you are entitled to report. This also leads to less blame and focuses both of you on problem solving.
> What not to say: “You cannot be late again!”
> Assertive Communication: “I’d really like you to be here on time so we can spend enough time on this project.”
Free to express
When you can express yourself freely without fear of others the whole organisation benefits enormously. Employees can debate, argue and challenge any system, process or concept. Debates are no longer led by those who shout the loudest. Instead, the assertive style of communication will use language to dominate, boosting the naturally shy to be more talkative and silencing the naturally aggressive to be more considerate and open to others’ ideas.
If you would like to discuss how assertiveness training or coaching could support you or your organisation, contact us today.