We usually know deep down what we need and what infringes our needs even if we don’t recognise it on a conscious level. Being able to stand back, making this a conscious process and then cultivating the skill to communicate what we need to others is assertive communication. It is not to do with being forceful, selfish or insensitive – instead it is communication which is firm, balanced, clear, and more than anything else, it is congruent with our individual needs (and I emphasise needs as distinct from wants: we may want to win the lottery but our need is to have a sense of financial security and financial balance).
By committing to a particular task or project, are we accepting too much pressure on our time and resources and perhaps limiting the opportunity to meet our need for privacy (to reflect and consolidate) by having too little downtime or jeopardising our need for a sense of status and achievement by attempting to achieve too much in too short a time frame?
So, what are the basic principles here in addition to recognising and respecting your own needs?
We have a right and duty both personally and professionally to:
- Be our own judges. We are at our best when we are honest with ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses.
- Be respectful towards others and their needs and expect them to do the same.
- Be calm in the face of direct or indirect pressure.
The actual words we use have the best impact when our body language is congruent with the message. We can convey most of the message by adopting a confident posture, maintaining good eye contact, using open gestures (arms crossed subconsciously registers as defensive or confrontational), remaining calm and using a pace and inflexion of voice which closely matches that of the person we are talking to. 93% of communication is non-verbal.
How best then to phrase the message in the face of being asked to take on something which we do not have the time to do? Well, the words best to avoid are “No”, “I can’t” and “Yes”. The person asking will probably be under stress to get something done. So, to lower their emotional arousal, we need first to validate their position and acknowledge the importance of the task/project – things like “I can see/hear that this is important” or “Yes, I understand you need help with that.”
Next, express that you would like to help and then clearly explain your position. For example: “I am already tasked with client commitments [this morning, today, this week] which leave me with no spare capacity.” “If some of my priority work is reallocated to someone else, then I can certainly help you. I will speak to [my line manager] to see what can be done.” “I know I will have capacity [this afternoon/tomorrow]. Will that be soon enough, or would you like me check if anyone else can help this morning?”
Assertive communication is very liberating – getting the message across in a way that respects your needs whilst acknowledging the needs of others, paving the way for a solution.