How many times have you bitten your tongue recently and then afterwards beaten yourself up for not saying what you thought? Or maybe you said what you thought, only you wished you hadn’t. Delivering a message assertively takes confidence and practice. And the more practice you get, the more your confidence grows, helping you develop the skill of assertiveness. So here are the top ten tips to help you deliver an assertive message:
- Know what you want to say. You won’t appear confident if you are unsure of what you want, and you could appear foolish by asking for something that you eventually realise is not what you want.
- Think through the possible outcomes, deciding how you will respond in each situation. If you know what your bottom line is, everything else is negotiable, so decide what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
- Say it as soon as possible. Do not let too much time pass, as this builds up apprehension and you may decide “not on this occasion”. On the other hand, wait for the peak of your anger to pass before you say it.
- Say it! Don’t hesitate or beat about the bush, come right out with it! Wherever possible, practise before you say it, listening to your tone of voice. Do you sound confident? Perhaps you could role-play it with someone and ask them for feedback on how you sound or what not to say.
- Be specific. Say exactly what you want or do not want, what you are happy or unhappy about, so that there can be no confusion. Begin with the word “I” and use as few words as possible. Remember that long explanations are unnecessary and they will make you seem as though you are blustering or overly nervous about what you are saying.
- Look the person in the eye but don’t stare. People generally feel more comfortable if you look directly at them. You simply look shifty if you cannot look them in the eye, and you certainly will not come across as someone who knows what they want.
- Look relaxed. You’ll convey anxiety by shifting from one foot to another, waving your arms around or, conversely, being too rigid. Practise looking relaxed in the mirror, or get your best friend to give you some feedback.
- Avoid laughing nervously. Smile if it’s appropriate, but if you giggle or laugh, you won’t look as if you mean what you say. This will only confuse the person you are speaking to.
- Don’t whine or be sarcastic. Be direct and honest. Whining and pleading can either annoy the person or make them feel guilty: it is being manipulative. Being sarcastic communicates hostility, as you put down the other person.
- Congratulate yourself on getting this far – even if nothing happens as a result of delivering your assertive message, you will know you have given it your best shot. And that will build your confidence for the next time you need to deliver an assertive message.
Des Whitehorn is the Training Principal of Zee Associates (www.zee-associates.co.uk). She can be contacted on 01825 733621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.