How communication styles affect assertiveness


This week, Jo Lord looks at the impact that communication styles have on assertiveness.

Assertiveness is one of the essential skills in the modern working environment. There are many benefits of being assertive, such as better time management, increased self esteem and the ability to negotiate more effectively. Assertion means standing up for what you want. It means expressing opposition, it means confrontation……. it takes courage.

Some people find it harder than others to be assertive because of their natural easy-going style, and therefore more practice is required. However, the aim should not be just to gain a win – the aim should be to solve the problem and get the best result for both parties.

Fundamentally, it’s about communicating effectively and managing relationships.

We may be passive and feel unable to advocate for ourselves, aggressive and be forceful towards others, or even passive-aggressive, which involves smiling sweetly while disrupting and even sabotaging others behind their backs.

It is little wonder we have so many challenging and problematic relationships – and often end up feeling isolated and inaccessible!

In order to develop effective relationships we must learn to be assertive – that means being clear, direct and respectful in the way that we communicate.

Passive communication

This occurs when individuals have developed a pattern of avoiding expressing their own opinions. This is often born from low self esteem and often these individuals will hold the general belief that ‘I’m not worth it’.

Passive individuals do not respond outwardly to hurtful situations or to situations that can stir up anger. Consequently, they may allow annoyances to mount up, often unaware of the build-up. Eventually they will exceed their highest tolerance threshold and may then display an explosive outbursts that may be totally out of proportion to the event that generated it. After any outburst, far from feeling relief, they are likely to feel guilt and a sense of shame, so will return to the perceived safety of more passive behaviour.

Spotting the passive communicator

Generally, passive communicators fail to assert themselves, don’t express their true feelings or opinions and ignore their own needs. Extreme passive communicators often speak softly, almost apologetically and they may also offer limited eye contact. You will hear them say “people never consider my feelings” or “I don’t know what my own rights are”.

Impact – the impact of operating a passive communication pattern means that individuals may feel anxious and that their life is out of control. They may experience feelings of hopelessness and often feel resentful (although they are probably unaware of it) as their own needs are not being met. Passive individuals may be unable to create healthy relationships within the workplace as there are issues that they are never really addressing.

Aggressive communication

Aggressive communication can also occur from a place of low self esteem often caused by some form of trauma or past ill treatment. This is a style where the individual will ensure that their own needs are met at the expense of others. The individual feels very clear in expressing their own feelings, opinions and judgement of an individual or a situation, and this often appears as rude or verbally aggressive.

Spotting the aggressive communicator

This isn’t usually too difficult – the aggressive communicator may try to control others, sometimes through humiliation or by attacking ideas. They often criticise and are likely to blame others. At the extreme, the type of behaviour that will be displayed could be an overbearing voice and posture, they will interrupt frequently and fail to listen well. They will say things like “your opinion isn’t worth anything” or “it’s your fault”, and people can be made to feel intimidated.

Impact – the impact of this type of communication is alienation by and from others. Extremely aggressive communicators often fail to ‘own’ issues and often blame others and fail to accept responsibility for what happens to them.

Passive-aggressive communication

This is an interesting style in which individuals may appear passive and submissive. However, they are really acting from a place of anger and therefore below the surface there is resentment or dislike operating.  People who develop a pattern of passive-aggressive communication usually feel stuck and powerless, unable to deal with the focus of their resentment directly.

Spotting the passive-aggressive communicator

These individuals will express their anger by subtly undermining the object (imagined or real) of their resentment. Literally the smiling assassin – they will mutter to themselves rather than confront the person or issue. Having difficulty in acknowledging their anger, they may use facial expressions that don’t match how they feel. Their behaviour may contradict what they say, as you notice them appearing to be cooperative while doing things to deliberately disrupt or annoy.

Impact – this behaviour also results in alienation as they remain stuck in a situation, while not really addressing or dealing with issues in a mature and respectful way.

Assertive communication

This is a style where individuals are able to be firm advocates of their own rights and needs without infringing the rights of others. Assertive communication is a product of good self esteem; these individuals value themselves, their time, their own beliefs and needs and are able to be strong advocates for themselves whilst remaining respectful of others.

Spotting the assertive communicator

Jo Lord

Jo Lord

The assertive communicator will express their needs and wants clearly and respectfully. They will usually listen without interruption, feel in control of themselves and be able to stand up for their own rights. They will usually display good eye contact, speak in a calm and relaxed tone of voice and feel connected to others. They are likely to use a lot of ‘I’ statements and realise they have considered choices and options in life.

Impact – the impact is that assertive communicators feel connected to others in a healthy and effective way. They feel in control of their lives and able to address issues and problems as they arise. The assertive communicator is also able to create respectful environments for others to grow and develop.

Being assertive is about being clear, direct and respectful

Undertaking assertiveness training can increases people’s range of choices – it may involve breaking away from the familiar, stereotypical patterns of behaviour and looking for alternative, more effective ways of communicating.

Checking your own style of communication can be of immense benefit to everyone. Becoming more assertive is not just a skill to modify behaviour, but can be a way of gaining confidence, of enhancing self esteem and of cultivating honest, powerful and effective communication.

Jo Lord is Director at Learning to Inspire

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 19th Oct 2011 - Last modified: 30th Oct 2017
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