Learn the difference between several common communication styles and why assertive communication skills are important. Find out what specific behaviors are assertive and how to use them.

The Power of Communication Styles

Your co-worker just took all the credit for a big project that you worked on together – but what can you do about it? Let’s look at how four different people might handle this tricky situation:

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  • First we have Pam, who exhibits a passive communication style. Pam is very upset but she doesn’t want to cause a big scene. No one ever recognizes Pam’s hard work at the office, but she’s not surprised. That’s just life, right?
  • Next we have Al, who exhibits an aggressive style. Al storms over to the co-worker; he’s going to demand that he get credit for his work. Al is tired of that lazy guy and is going to tell him exactly what he thinks of him.
  • Pete, on the other hand, is passive-aggressive. Pete is mad, but he’s not going to say anything. Instead, he gives his co-worker dirty looks during meetings and ‘forgets’ to work on the next project.
  • Finally, we have assertive Alice. Alice takes a different approach. She talks with her co-worker privately and shares that she was upset not to get proper credit. She firmly but politely asks her co-worker to correct the record about her work on the project. Her co-worker apologizes and agrees.

Assertive communication skills, like the ones Alice has, encourage open, productive communication. Assertive communication behaviors allow you to express your point of view clearly without attacking other people or ignoring your own needs.

What Are Assertive Behaviors?

Let’s look at several key skills of assertive communication:

‘I’ statements: The main building block of assertive communication skills is something called an ‘I’ statement. When you use an ‘I’ statement, you simply state how you feel about something that happened; keeping it based on your personal experience reduces the listener’s defensiveness. An ‘I’ statement is often used in this type of formula: ‘I feel _X_ when you do this _X_.’ This shares your perspective without blaming or insulting the other person. Alice might’ve put it like this: ‘I feel angry when I work hard all weekend too, and you don’t mention that.’

Active listening: It might seem strange that listening is so important when you want to get your point across, but people are more likely to take your concerns seriously if you’ve heard their point of view. When people don’t feel understood, they often continue to repeat themselves and can’t move towards a solution. Active listening often involves restating, or rephrasing, what you hear; Alice, for example, might have said to her co-worker, ‘So, you’re saying that you didn’t think it was necessary to give me credit, too?’

Sticking to the facts: Instead of using dramatic language, like ‘You’ve never cared about anything but yourself!’, assertive communication stays focused on the issue at hand. Alice calmly reminds her co-worker that she spent as many hours on the project as he did, instead of calling him names.

Staying focused: It’s easy to get pulled off topic, but it’s more effective to stay with the point. That co-worker may want to talk about how he wasn’t given credit for a project last year and didn’t complain about it, but Alice would gently bring it back to the point: ‘Let’s stay focused on what happened this morning.’

Lesson Summary

Assertive communication skills are behaviors that keep communication personal and focused, rather than passive, which means not expressing needs, or aggressive, like attacking someone else. When you use assertive communication skills, you avoid wasting time on passive-aggressive behaviors, like giving people dirty looks instead of speaking to them directly. A key assertiveness skill is using ‘I’ statements to convey the speaker’s feelings. Other assertive communication skills include sticking to the facts, active listening, and staying on topic.