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How to Improve Assertive Communication Skills for Better Relationships

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How to Improve Assertive Communication Skills for Better Relationships

In a work environment, it is essential that employees communicate openly and honestly. This kind of communication includes being open about one’s needs and expectations in a work environment. It also includes communicating when one is struggling with a product, colleague or client.

This is called assertive communication.

What Is Assertive Communication?

Assertive communication is the ability to directly and honestly communicate a range of emotions.

It is the ability to self-advocate or take a stand with and for oneself. While assertive communication is essential for the individual, it is good for the organization as well.

When we practice assertive communication, we reduce stress and anxiety, and we perform better. We also allow others to support us by fulfilling our requests or to grow by receiving feedback on areas where improvement is needed.

When we practice assertive communication, we feel better, even if the situation does not really change. When we stand up for ourselves and voice out our needs, we take an important and empowering step.

As executive leadership consultant and fellow Lifehack contributor Malachi Thompson noted in his article How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way:

“Don’t make the error of thinking effective assertiveness means convincing and winning over others to adopt your values and point of view.”

Assertive Communication Boosts Employee Morale

When employees practice assertive communication, morale improves. It is impossible for team members to be truly happy if they are unable to communicate honestly about their experience.

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When employees are fearful that honesty and openness can result in retaliation, they remain quiet or just go along to get along. They may be physically present but mentally checked out. When this happens, employees could see problems coming a mile away but will remain quiet due to fear.

Employees may see opportunities yet fail to innovate because they do not feel safe doing so.

The thinking goes something like this:

“If I experiment, can I risk being wrong?”

“If I experiment, will I be recognized for my contributions or overlooked?

“If I step outside of the box, will my colleagues or supervisor view me as a threat?”

For the benefit of the individual and the entity the person works for, assertive communication is imperative. But how do we cultivate for people not prone to being assertive or communicating assertively?

How to Develop Assertive Communication

1. Understand What You Want

To develop assertive communication, take time to get clear on what you want and why. When we are not clear on what we want, we are more susceptible to the whims of others. But when we know what we want, we have a starting point from which to assess all opportunities and situations.

2. Get Clear on Your Personal Values

Similarly, get clear on your values. The values that you set for yourself will guide what you tolerate and what you simply are unable to accommodate. Before immediately responding to a request or question, think about whether the request violates your values, is in line with your values or aligns with what you want.

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3. Start with People Whom You Trust

To develop assertive communication, start gradually and with trusted people. Practice stating what you want to people who have demonstrated their profound respect and support of you.

Start with people whom you trust. Find the people who supported you before and those who act in your best interest. Because these people are considered safe, asserting your desires with them requires little risk.

Once you communicate what you want and need, supportive colleagues and friends will do their best to meet your needs. As you gain practice with people who support you, you will gain more confidence as well. In time, you will gradually tolerate more risks in trusting people.

The Underbelly of Assertive Communication

While assertive communication is beneficial, there is an underbelly associated with it. Most people struggle with receiving and giving direct feedback. They hedge when they should specifically cite what they want, or they bristle when others share their honest thoughts and feelings.

For people who were raised in environments where expressing one’s emotion was discouraged, being told to be open can feel risky and foreign. For people who were taught that there is space for all emotions, communicating honestly may be like second nature.

The rest of us are somewhere in between. To cultivate an environment where team members practice assertive communication, managers must understand something about their employees’ backgrounds, culture, and upbringing. This will help inform resistance to assertive communication and devise strategies to foster a better environment.

Another rarely discussed aspect of assertive communication is the way societal norms and cultural expectations influence how we perceive people who practice assertive communication.

What Do I Mean?

I have spent much of my career manipulating how to speak appropriately in the workplace. I do not mean being articulate or, as my mother would say, speaking the King’s English.

No, I mean communicating without being labeled “bossy,” “aggressive” or “inappropriate.” I grew up in an environment where people spoke clearly about how they felt. They did so with little fluff, and I carried that communication style into the workplace.

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My formative career experience involved managers and organizational leaders who pulled no punches in communicating their wants and expectations. Consequently, I thought the way I grew up and the leaders I worked for were the norms in terms of how to communicate.

As I progressed through my career, I learned that perceptions and communication styles could sometimes be gendered and racialized. A white person could say something and would be perceived one way, and I could say the same thing and be perceived in an entirely different way.

“Angry Black Woman” Label and Assertive Communication

Further, separate and apart from my upbringing, black women broadly have had to be mindful of our communication styles due to unfair labels and negative stereotypes.

Many black women spend a significant portion of their lives dodging the “angry black woman” label. This relentless stereotype has trailed black women for decades, making it difficult for people to hear our honest feedback without coloring it through the lens of “she’s just angry.”

We calculate how and when to raise dissent and ponder whether doing so will earn us that unenviable label. This means every conversation involves a risk. Whether individuals are communicating preferences to a teacher or advocating for their child with medical professionals, every bit of input must be carefully assessed through the “niceness” or “polite” lens: am I saying this appropriately, am I saying it politely, etc.

This is not helped by the fact that, in some workplaces, when Black women express their feedback, they can be shut down, labeled “aggressive,” “difficult” or “problem employees.”

Model Minority and Assertive Communication

Many Asian Americans have navigated the model minority myth. The myth suggests that they are the prized minority.

What happens when people who believe in the model minority myth or view Asian Americans this way experience assertive communication from a member of this community?

They could be dumbfounded, or they could resent the person for stepping outside of the lines created for them. The bottom line is that managers who subscribe to the thinking that Asian Americans are the model minority may only be able to experience and relate to people who show up one way – passive, compliant and docile.

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Gender and Assertive Communication

If you couple these stereotypes with gender norms for women, you know that communicating can be a morass.

In a March 29 White House briefing on the coronavirus, President Donald Trump admonished PBS News Hour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, to “Be nice. Don’t be Threatening…That’s why you used to work for the Times and now you work for someone else”. This suggests that her transition from the New York Times to PBS News Hour was somehow connected to how she treated others.

Trump’s comments came after Alcindor assertively reminded the President that he had said “some of the equipment that states requested, they don’t actually need.” She struggled to finish her sentence before Trump cut in to chide her.

As the most powerful executive in the nation, the President’s passive-aggressive and undermining treatment of a Black woman journalist sets a terrible example of what is and what is not appropriate. That he told her to “be nice,” is emblematic of what women, women of color and Black women experience in many workplaces.

Genders dictate a narrow role for women and place a premium on patriarchy. I say all of this to point out that while assertive communication is ideal, we must be conscious of what it looks like on people of different genders and people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

That means that if we say we value assertive communication, we must value it on all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race or background.

Final Thoughts

In closing, assertive communication is so important that it is worth understanding how to do it right – not only for oneself but for the people around you as well. When you understand the underbelly to assertive communication, you may respond to your colleagues with more understanding, empathy, and patience.

In the end, everyone benefits – you, your colleagues and your company or organization.

More Tips to Improve Your Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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More by this author

Jennifer R. Farmer

An author and trainer specializes in helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists

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Last Updated on January 5, 2022

How to Deal With Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide)

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How to Deal With Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide)

We all lose our temper from time to time, and expressing anger is actually a healthy thing to do in our relationships with others. Expressing our differences in opinion allows us to have healthy conflict and many times come to an agreement or understanding that works for everyone. However, there are times when anger can become overwhelming or damaging, and during these times, it’s important to learn how to deal with anger.

Expressing anger inappropriately can be harmful to relationships, both personal and professional. You may express too much anger, too often, or at times that are only going to make things worse, not better. In this article we will look at anger management techniques that will help you better control your emotions.

Let’s take a deeper look at how to deal with anger.

Expressing Anger

Anger is a natural and normal part of almost any relationship. This includes relationships with your significant other, kids, boss, friends, family, etc. Anger provides us with valuable information if we are willing to listen to it. It clues us in to areas where we disagree with others and things that need to be changed or altered.

Unhealthy Ways to Express Anger

Here are some common yet unhealthy ways to express anger that you should avoid:

Being Passive-Aggressive

This is a term many of us are familiar with. Passive-aggressive behavior happens when someone is angry but uses indirect communication to express their anger.

Some of the more common passive-aggressive behaviors include the silent treatment, making comments about someone behind their back, being grumpy, moody, or pouting, or simply not doing tasks or assignments that they should.

This is a passive-aggressive person’s way of showing their anger. It’s not very productive but extremely common.

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Poorly-Timed

Some people get overwhelmed and express anger in a situation where it can’t really do any good.

An example would be getting angry at one person in front of a crowd of people. All that does is make people uncomfortable and shuts them down. It’s not a healthy way to express anger or disagreement with someone.

Ongoing Anger

Being angry all the time is most often a symptom of something else. It’s healthy and normal to express anger when you disagree with someone. However, if someone is angry most of the time and always seems to be expressing their anger to everyone around them, this won’t serve them well.

Over time, people will start to avoid this person and have as little contact as possible. The reason being is no one likes being around someone who is angry all the time; it’s a no-win situation.

Healthy Ways to Express Anger

What about the healthy ways[1] to adapt? When learning how to deal with anger, here are some healthy ways to get you started.

Being Honest

Express your anger or disagreement honestly. Be truthful about what it is that is making you angry. Sometimes this will entail walking away and thinking about it for a bit before you respond.

Don’t say you’re mad at something someone did or said when it’s really something else that upset you.

Being Direct

Similar to being honest, being direct is a healthy way to express anger.

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Don’t talk around something that is making you angry. Don’t say that one thing is making you angry when it’s really something else, and don’t stack items on top of each other so you can unload on someone about 10 different things 6 months from now.

Be direct and upfront about what is making you angry. Ensure you are expressing your anger to the person who upset you or you are angry at, not to someone else. This is very counterproductive.

Being Timely

When something makes you angry, it’s much better to express it in a timely manner. Don’t keep it bottled up inside of you, as that’s only going to do more harm than good.

Think of the marriages that seem to go up in flames out of nowhere when the reality is someone kept quiet for years until they hit their breaking point.

Expressing anger as it occurs is a much healthier way of using anger to help us guide our relationships in the moment.

How to Deal With Anger

If you feel angry, how should you deal with it right at that moment?

1. Slow Down

From time to time, I receive an email at work that makes me so angry that steam is probably pouring out of my ears.

In my less restrained moments, I have been known to fire off a quick response, and that typically has ended about as well as you might imagine.

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When I actually walk away from my computer and go do something else for a while, I am able to calm down and think more rationally. After that happens, I am able to respond in a more appropriate and productive manner. Doing things that helps you learn how to release anger can make an uncomfortable situation more manageable before it gets out of hand.

2. Focus on the “I”

Remember that you are the one that’s upset. Don’t accuse people of making you upset because, in the end, it’s your response to what someone did that really triggered your anger. You don’t want to place blame by saying something like “Why don’t you ever put away your dishes?” Say something more like “Having dirty dishes laying on the counter upsets me—can you work with me to come to a solution?”

When you are accusatory towards someone, all that does is increase the tension. This doesn’t usually do anything except make your anger rise higher.

3. Work out

When learning how to deal with anger, exercise is a great outlet. If something happens that angers you, see if you have the opportunity to burn off some of the anger.

Being able to hit the gym to get a hard workout in is great. If this isn’t an option, see if you can go for a run or a bike ride. If you are at work when you become angry and the weather permits, at least go outside for a brisk walk.

Besides working some of your anger out through exercise, this also helps to give your mind a chance to work through some ways to address what it is that upset you.

4. Seek Help When Needed

There are times when we could all use some help. Life can be stressful and overwhelming. It’s perfectly fine to seek some help from a mental health professional if it will help you get back to a healthy balance.If you find that you are angry all the time, it might be a good idea to go talk to an expert about learning to control intense emotions. They can give you some sound advice and ideas on how to get your anger to a more manageable and healthy level.

5. Practice Relaxation

We all seem to lead incredibly busy lives, and that’s a good thing if we are loving the life we are living. That being said, it is very beneficial to our physical and mental well-being to take time out for relaxation.

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That can mean spending time doing things that help us calm down and relax, like being around people we enjoy, practicing deep breathing or listening to music. It could be making time for things that help bring us balance like a healthy diet and physical activity.

Many people incorporate techniques such as yoga and meditation to calm their minds and release tension when learning how to deal with anger. Whatever your choice is, ensure you take time out to relax when warning signs of anger start to bubble up.

6. Laugh

Incorporating humor and laughter on a regular basis will help keep anger in check and help you get over a bad mood and feelings of anger more quickly. This isn’t part of formal anger management techniques, but you’ll be surprised by how well it works. Remember, life is a journey that’s meant to be enjoyed fully along the way through healthy emotion. Make sure you take time to laugh and have fun.Surround yourself with people that like to laugh and enjoy life. Don’t work at a job that just causes you stress, which can lead to anger. Work at something you enjoy doing.

7. Be Grateful

It’s easy to focus on the bad in life and the things that cause us negative emotions. It’s vitally important to remind ourselves of all the wonderful things in life that bring us positive emotions, things that we easily forget because we get caught up in the whirlwind of day to day life.

Take time out each day to remind yourself of a few things you are grateful for in order to help you learn how to release anger and invite in more positive feelings.

Final Thoughts

Life can be overwhelming at times. We seem to have constant pressure to achieve more and to always be on the go or motivated. People we are around and situations we are in can cause stress, anger, and negative emotions. At times, it can seem to be too much, and we get angry and our emotions start to get out of control.

During these times, keep in mind that life is an incredible journey, full of wonder and things that bring you joy. When you find yourself angry more often than is healthy, take time out to remember the good things in life—the things that we seem to forget yet bring us so much positive energy and emotions.

Use some of the tips included here to help with how to deal with anger and better control your emotions.

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More Resources on Anger Management

Featured photo credit: Andre Hunter via unsplash.com

Reference

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