Are You Assertive or Aggressive

Do you often find that something that you have said in a conversation or written in an email has caused an adverse reaction in the other person and you don't know why? It could be that your communication style is too aggressive.

Aggressive communication makes you look like a bully and sends a message that you are right and everyone else is wrong. It provokes anger, resentment and sometimes a desire for revenge. Words in a sentence such as unforgivable, unacceptable, and idiotic are examples of aggressive words. Additionally, these words introduce the defence cycle in communication. The listener/reader becomes angry, wants revenge, goes on the defence and says something that inflames the situation. You then become angry, want revenge, well you get the picture. Incidentally the communication defence cycle is similar to the anger, violence, grief and sleep cycles as all have five parts to them.

Assertive communication on the other hand is based on mutual respect and is not just about what you say but also about the way that you say it. Assertiveness displays your message better, respects the view of others and shows confidence. Instead of using the word 'unacceptable', try the word 'unhelpful'. Replace 'breaching privacy is unforgiveable' with 'I'm sure that you will agree that we all value our privacy'. Rather than say 'to disregard policy is outrageous', use 'we must be cautious when disregarding policy'. You can temper your adjectives without necessarily changing the message.

Positive and assertive communications when used together are empowering. Positive communication focuses on moving forward, are solution based, and concentrate on the positive aspect of the message. If looking back on something that has gone wrong, examine the cause and not the issue. Always end a message by offering a way forward. If you structure your written and oral communications in this way people are sure to read them.

Finally, unless you are preparing a formal report for the Board of Directors, keep your communication short and sharp. Research tells us that very few formal reports are fully read, most people go straight to the executive summary because they aren’t interested in the detail. If the detail is shorter, you will encourage them to read the entire document.