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How Assertive are You?

How assertive are you?


Assertiveness is a form of communication that allows you to communicate your message in a confident, firm, and professional manner, so that you can either;

  • Make your point clearly heard; or
  • Deter the other person from trying to overwhelm you, with their more aggressive manner.

Assertiveness is to be contrasted, on one hand, to aggressiveness (too much assertiveness) and on the other hand, too timid (not enough assertiveness).

What is the correct amount of assertiveness?

Think of a sliding scale.

Assertiveness sliding scale

50 represents "normal conversational tones".This scale measures the intensity of emotion, ranging from 0 for no intensity of emotion, all the way up to 100, which is full-power, full-on emotional intensity.

During a communication, we can think of there being four levels of intensity of emotion.

  • 0 to 45 is too timid or passive communication. Not enough intensity.
  • 46 to 55 is normal conversational intensity.
  • 56 to 65 is assertive communication. Slightly increased intensity. Which is our target zone for assertiveness.
  • 66 to 100 units of intensity. Too much assertiveness; this is too pushy, or aggressive communication.

We need to be operating at normal and assertive levels. Not at "passive-timid" or at "aggressive" levels.

You need to develop the ability to communicate with the correct amount of assertiveness

If you do, then you will not be too afraid to express your opinion in the meeting: You will be able to make a speech to the board of directors; and you will be able to withstand the pressure of the social bully, when he or she tries to dominate a situation by using an aggressive manner.

In addition, if you use on the correct level of assertiveness you will avoid the perils of NOT becoming the overbearing, or over assertive, aggressive person in the meeting. The aggressive personality tends to "win battles" but "lose wars", because over assertive people tend to repel and therefore they fail to gain the cooperative help they need to achieve their goals.

Mrs Thatcher fell victim to becoming over assertive and her career was sabotaged, not by her enemies, from outside of the conservative party, but from her friends, from INSIDE her own party!

How do you achieve the correct level of "assertiveness"?

There are four elements to assertiveness.

  1. Mental attitude.
  2. Words.
  3. Tone.
  4. Body language.

Let us look at each one.

1. Assertiveness is primarily a state of mind

Assertiveness is achieved by focusing your mind on the content of the conversation, not on the status or personality of the people in the conversation.

If you distract yourself by thinking about personalities, or who is more important than whom; or who is thinking what, about whom, then you may lose your assertiveness and become timid.

For example, if you begin to think, "They won't listen to me. They think that I'm no good. They don't like me. I am not as important as them. They are the bosses, they must know". Then you will feel timid and you will lack assertiveness.

On the other hand, if you distract yourself by thinking about personalities, and about who is more important than whom, or who is thinking what, about whom, then you may come across as too aggressive.

For example, if you begin to think, "I won't listen to that clown. He is an idiot. Compared to me, he knows nothing. I will put him in his place." Then you will feel over assertive, aggressive and you will lose their good-will, and cause your allies to become your enemies. The "Thatcher Effect", (see above.)

2. Assertiveness uses polite language

If you swear, then you have crossed the line from assertive to aggressive.

I recommend the use of the phrase, "Instead of that, would you please........"

To illustrate: "You keep pointing your finger at me as you speak. Instead of that, would you please, put your hand down and talk to me properly, without pointing."

Or, "You are swearing at me. Instead of that, would you please, speak to me without swearing, or this conversation is over."

3. Assertiveness is a tone of voice

Assertiveness has its own tone-of-voice. Assertive voice tone is slightly louder than normal; slower in its rate of delivery and delivered at the deeper end of your natural voice range.

Assertive = Louder, deeper and slower.

  • Aggressive to too loud, too fast, and too shrill.
  • Timid is too quiet.

4. Assertiveness is a form of body language

Assertive body language is achieved by using:

A straight back. Stand up straight - Don't cower, don't puff up and try to look intimidating or aggressive.

Direct eye contact. If you are able, use a steady gaze into the eyes of the other person. If you cannot manage that, then look at the space on their forehead that is in the middle of their two eyes. You are not looking into an eye, but you are looking at the centre point of their eye-line. This allows you to look directly at them without feeling you are battling with their will power verses your will power.

If you can look at them directly then you will appear assertive.

Here is the assertiveness formula in a nutshell

  1. Don't worry about who is above or below whom?
  2. Focus you mind on the content of the conversation.
  3. Use polite language.
  4. Never swear.
  5. Stand up straight. Sit up straight.
  6. Don't cower. Don't puff up.
  7. Never point.
  8. Use a slow delivery with a slightly louder voice at the lower end of your voice range.
  9. Don't shout.
  10. Look at them in the eye or on the eye line.

Do all this and you will be assertive.

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About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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