Assertive people get what they want in the workplace. They speak up and make themselves heard.
On the other hand, people who hem and haw and those who can't seem to communicate in a confident manner often fall by the wayside. They can be viewed as uncertain, indecisive and weak.
Unfortunately, some professionals try to be assertive but accidentally veer off into "aggressive" territory, while others go to the other end of the spectrum entirely.
In this article, we're going to explore the happy middle ground – how to be assertive without fear and without going overboard.
Know what you want to say. Being assertive is all about your communication style. If you don't have a crystal clear picture of the message you're trying to send, how can you expect to communicate it with clarity?
Too often, people start talking before they really know what they want to say. If you haven't already articulated something in your head, chances are pretty good that you won't magically be able to articulate it when you open your mouth in front of others (unless you're a very strong, on-your-feet thinker and speaker).
So take some time to map out your goals for the conversation before you start. What are you trying to communicate? Getting clear on WHAT you're going to say ahead of time will let you focus more on HOW you're saying it later.
Bottom line it. An easy way to kill your efforts is to clutter your message with unnecessary information. This just inspires others to tune out. If they sense you've transitioned into a pointless tangent, they'll start thinking about what's for dinner instead of listening to you. The more you can get to the point quickly and stay on point, the more forceful your message will be.
Practice and minimize filler. Speaking is quite different from simply thinking. You'll often find that what seemed so clear in your head becomes a jumbled mess when you say it out loud.
If this is a particularly crucial discussion and being assertive is of the utmost importance, consider practicing out loud. As we all know, the first few times you talk about something new can be awkward. You may stumble, struggle to find the right word, repeat yourself or talk in circles a bit. That's to be expected. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
This is also a great way to minimize filler – those distracting words that fill the air while you pause to think of your next word. Examples include "um," "uh," "ya know" and "well…" Most of us overuse these words and, as a result, our communication can appear wishy washy, unsophisticated or apprehensive. If you've never really listened to yourself, you may be shocked to hear how often you use filler. Improvement starts with making yourself aware.
Manage volume. Some people just naturally have quiet voices. Unfortunately, the volume at which you speak has a big impact on how people interpret your message. If you speak in a low, weak tone, you'll appear timid, hesitant and fearful. If people are constantly asking you to repeat yourself, it can even suggest you're hiding something.
Up the volume and you'll immediately look more powerful and certain. You don't have to yell (in fact, that can push you into aggressive territory), but you want to project your voice so everyone can hear you comfortably. If you find yourself running out of breath or getting hoarse, it's perfectly fine to pause in silence for a moment or take a sip of water.
Avoid devaluing language. One of the worst things you can do for your communication is to use language that reduces the importance of what you're saying. For example, the word "just" implies that something is insignificant: "I just thought…" or "This is just an idea…" Don't these statements sound like the person saying them isn't even interested? It's like they're giving the listener a warning that what's to come is trivial and irrelevant.
Another way people do this is by prefacing their words with phrases like: "I could be wrong but…" or "This might sound crazy but…" Why give people a reason to think your contribution is wrong or crazy? That frames what they hear and makes them look for confirmation.
Finally, avoid the question mark sound at the end of your sentences (unless, of course, you're asking a question). If you're making a declarative statement, turning your voice up at the end makes it sound like you're questioning yourself. And hey, if you're not sure about what you're saying, why would anyone else be?
Believe in yourself. Most importantly, to communicate assertively you have to believe in what you're saying. The more passion and certainty you feel for the subject matter, the easier and more natural it will be to speak powerfully about it. If you want to see the assertive side of yourself, have a conversation about something you care deeply about and for which you have a strong conviction. Watch yourself. Listen to yourself. Take note of how you communicate and find ways to bring those same skills to the workplace.
Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com, believes work can be a nourishing life experience. As a career coach, corporate trainer, and public speaker, she helps professionals of all levels unlock their true potential and discover long-lasting career fulfillment.