Assertive Communication – 6 Tips For Effective Use

What IS assertive communication?

Assertive communication is the ability to express positive and negative ideas and feelings in an open, honest and direct way. It recognises our rights whilst still respecting the rights of others. It allows us to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions without judging or blaming other people. And it allows us to constructively confront and find a mutually satisfying solution where conflict exists.

So why use assertive communication?

All of us use assertive behaviour at times… quite often when we feel vulnerable or unsure of ourselves we may resort to submissive, manipulative or aggressive behaviour.

Yet being trained in assertive communication actually increases the appropriate use of this sort of behaviour. It enables us to swap old behaviour patterns for a more positive approach to life. I’ve found that changing my response to others (be they work colleagues, clients or even my own family) can be exciting and stimulating.

The advantages of assertive communication

There are many advantages of assertive communication, most notably these:

  • It helps us feel good about ourselves and others
  • It leads to the development of mutual respect with others
  • It increases our self-esteem
  • It helps us achieve our goals
  • It minimises hurting and alienating other people
  • It reduces anxiety
  • It protects us from being taken advantage of by others
  • It enables us to make decisions and free choices in life
  • It enables us to express, both verbally and non-verbally, a wide range of feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative

There are, of course, disadvantages…

Disadvantages of assertive communication

Others may not approve of this style of communication, or may not approve of the views you express. Also, having a healthy regard for another person’s rights means that you won’t always get what YOU want. You may also find out that you were wrong about a viewpoint that you held. But most importantly, as mentioned earlier, it involves the risk that others may not understand and therefore not accept this style of communication.

What assertive communication is not…

Assertive communication is definitely NOT a lifestyle! It’s NOT a guarantee that you will get what you want. It’s definitely NOT an acceptable style of communication with everyone, but at least it’s NOT being aggressive.

But it IS about choice

Four behavioural choices

There are, as I see it, four choices you can make about which style of communication you can employ. These types are:

direct aggression: bossy, arrogant, bulldozing, intolerant, opinionated, and overbearing

indirect aggression: sarcastic, deceiving, ambiguous, insinuating, manipulative, and guilt-inducing

submissive: wailing, moaning, helpless, passive, indecisive, and apologetic

assertive: direct, honest, accepting, responsible, and spontaneous

Characteristics of assertive communication

There are six main characteristics of assertive communication. These are:

  • eye contact: demonstrates interest, shows sincerity
  • body posture: congruent body language will improve the significance of the message
  • gestures: appropriate gestures help to add emphasis
  • voice: a level, well modulated tone is more convincing and acceptable, and is not intimidating
  • timing: use your judgement to maximise receptivity and impact
  • content: how, where and when you choose to comment is probably more important than WHAT you say

The importance of “I” statements

Part of being assertive involves the ability to appropriately express your needs and feelings. You can accomplish this by using “I” statements. These indicate ownership, do not attribute blame, focuses on behaviour, identifies the effect of behaviour, is direcdt and honest, and contributes to the growth of your relationship with each other.

Strong “I” statements have three specific elements:

  • Behaviour
  • Feeling
  • Tangible effect (consequence to you)

Example: “I feel frustrated when you are late for meetings. I don’t like having to repeat information.”

Six techniques for assertive communication

There are six assertive techniques – let’s look at each of them in turn.

1. Behaviour Rehearsal: which is literally practising how you want to look and sound. It is a very useful technique when you first want to use “I” statements, as it helps dissipate any emotion associated with an experience and allows you to accurately identify the behaviour you wish to confront.

2. Repeated Assertion (the ‘broken record’): this technique allows you to feel comfortable by ignoring manipulative verbal side traps, argumentative baiting and irrelevant logic while sticking to your point. To most effectively use this technique use calm repetition, and say what you want and stay focused on the issue. You’ll find that there is no need to rehearse this technique, and no need to ‘hype yourself up’ to deal with others.


“I would like to show you some of our products”

“No thank you, I’m not interested”

“I really have a great range to offer you”

“That may be true, but I’m not interested at the moment”

“Is there someone else here who would be interested?”

“I don’t want any of these products”

“Okay, would you take this brochure and think about it?”

“Yes, I will take a brochure”

“Thank you”

“You’re welcome”

3. Fogging: this technique allows you to receive criticism comfortably, without getting anxious or defensive, and without rewarding manipulative criticism. To do this you need to acknowledge the criticism, agree that there may be some truth to what they say, but remain the judge of your choice of action. An example of this could be, “I agree that there are probably times when I don’t give you answers to your questions.

4. Negative enquiry: this technique seeks out criticism about yourself in close relationships by prompting the expression of honest, negative feelings to improve communication. To use if effectively you need to listen for critical comments, clarify your understanding of those criticisms, use the information if it will be helpful or ignore the information if it is manipulative. An example of this technique would be, “So you think/believe that I am not interested?”

5. Negative assertion: this technique lets you look more comfortably at negatives in your own behaviour or personality without feeling defensive or anxious, this also reduces your critics’ hostility. You should accept your errors or faults, but not apologise. Instead, tentatively and sympathetically agree with hostile criticism of your negative qualities. An example would be, “Yes, you’re right. I don’t always listen closely to what you have to say.”

6. Workable compromise: when you feel that your self-respect is not in question, consider a workable compromise with the other person. You can always bargain for your material goals unless the compromise affects your personal feelings of self-respect. However, if the end goal involves a matter of your self-worth and self-respect, THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE. An example of this technique would be, “I understand that you have a need to talk and I need to finish what I’m doing. So what about meeting in half an hour?”


Assertiveness is a useful communication tool. It’s application is contextual and it’s not appropriate to be assertive in all situations. Remember, your sudden use of assertiveness may be perceived as an act of aggression by others.

There’s also no guarantee of success, even when you use assertive communication styles appropriately.

“Nothing on earth can stop the individual with the right mental attitude from achieving their goal; nothing on earth can help the individual with the wrong mental attitude” W.W. Ziege

Want to Be More Effective in Your Communications? Try This!

Studies have repeatedly shown effective interpersonal exchanges depend on effective communication. But the word “communication” has multiple interpretations. Therefore, it should be broken down into several key components. To assist you in considering the effectiveness of your own communication, review the ten pairs in the following list and select the one term in each pair that you value more highly. In making your selection, ask, “Which of the two am I more likely to use?” or even “Which of the two would I rather use?”

I would rather communicate by…

1. a) arranging information chronologically b) putting the most exciting information first

2. a) using comforting words b) offering radical, dramatic, challenging thoughts

3. a) supplying familiar terms b) exploring unknown possibilities

4. a) stressing a simple set of relationships b) acknowledging the many possible cultures

5. a) forming strategic and new alliances b) doing what is expected

6. a) expressing myself logically b) including multiple, perhaps even contradictory ideas

7. a) using statistics b) using personal experiences/accounts

8. a) including data relevant to the task b) bringing in information from a variety of sources

9. a) narrowing the scope b) extending the known boundaries

10. a) considering possible skepticism b) attending to credibility issues

Before we offer recommendations, there is one thing worth noting: the contingency factor. Given the complexities of circumstances, individuals, and goals, any one of these twenty items might be appropriate. Wise use is contingent upon sensitivity to the needs of the moment. Various circumstances demand flexibility from us; to rely repeatedly on the same communication tools is to minimize your effectiveness. But speaking in a general sense, certain elements in the communication process are effective no matter what the circumstances.

You’ll find those asterisked in the list that follows.

1. a) arranging information chronologically b) putting the most exciting information first

2. a) using comforting words b) offering radical, dramatic, challenging thoughts

3. a) supplying familiar terms b) exploring unknown possibilities

4. a) stressing a simple set of relationships **b) acknowledging the many possible cultures

5. **a) forming strategic and new alliances b) doing what is expected

6. a) expressing myself logically **b) including multiple, perhaps even contradictory ideas

7. a) using statistics **b) using personal experiences/accounts

8. a) including data relevant to the task **b) bringing in information from a variety of sources

9. a) narrowing the scope b) extending the known boundaries

10. a) considering possible skepticism b) attending to credibility issues

Half of the ten pairs were included as “buffers.” That is, because it is difficult sometimes to separate what we do from what we think the experts believe we should do, five of the pairs were inserted to make the identified traits less obvious. How many of your responses match the five that are asterisked?

0, 1, or 2 matches: Although you have probably had some successful in influencing others to join the betterment bandwagon from time to time, there is still some room for improvement. To illustrate, while simplicity is a good thing, restricting yourself to a simplistic view may cause you to neglect the multiple possibilities embedded in the various cultures your influence project depends upon. Develop your awareness of such and use the diversity of values and the value of diversity to enrich your undertaking.

3 matches: You’re already doing an above-average job of communicating. Nonetheless, if you are the kind of person who reads self-development books like this one, you are the kind of person who is interested in getting better than you presently are. For the two italicized items you are not employing, select one, and for a period of three months commit to making greater use of that particular tool. Then, for the next three-month period, concentrate on using the other.

4 or 5 matches: You probably have been told many times that you are an outstanding communicator. This many matches confirms that fact. As an influencer, it seems you carefully weigh the conditions in which you are influencing and select the most appropriate medium for your message. In addition, you are apparently a frequent user of the elements employed by the most able communicators.

Communications Security Versus Effective Coordination of First Responders in the ‘Golden Hour’

Inter organisation emergency response coordination in the event of a major incident is a complex issue. There are numerous organic challenges to overcome and these significant challenges can be further exacerbated by the ability of those ‘first responders’ to communicate effectively across a highly charged, complex and often confusing incident area. There are solutions available, such as the Incident Commanders Radio Interface (ICRI) available through Domain Communications which can help to overcome the technical challenge of inter organisation communications, it is simple to use, quickly deployable and readily available.

Whilst ongoing and recently rejuvenated coordination efforts of liaison, joint exercises and improved understanding of organisational practices and priorities are undoubtedly paying dividends, including overcoming those challenges presented through entrenched cultural, procedural and methodical differences, there is also a financial cost to delivering that coordination in a real situation.

Common procurement is a noble aspiration, but the special requirements of emergency agencies mean that in truth, they are often using very different communication equipment where interoperability/compatibility is not straightforward. Often communications units operate in different frequency bands and are not physically able to communicate with one another. Over and above this there is often encryption to ensure the protection of sensitive and classified information, and these encryption systems too are often different.

Recently the British armed services were employed to help deliver elements of security for the 2012 London Olympic Games; it will come as no surprise that those existing challenges of culture, procedure and methods of communications are very well entrenched in the military and have the potential therefore to increase by a level of magnitude the complexity of interoperability in the event of a major incident at the 2012 games or other key events. It is further complicated by the fact the military may use their existing communications equipment which is often encrypted and also varies from service to service. There are also some procedural differences within the armed services, although there are undoubtedly large areas of commonality.

The bottom line is that specifically and necessarily there are those users within and without the first responder community who routinely use encrypted communications as part of the UK national security arrangements. In the event of a major incident, these agencies and organisations, supported by the military, need the ability to communicate and coordinate to ensure the most effective, safe and timely responses and ultimately save lives; this ability is hampered by the employment of numerous encrypted communications systems, but is this level of encryption really necessary in the aftermath of a major incident? It is probably that the immediate priorities for preservation of life, national infrastructure, integrity and resilience will also score very highly in any commanders risk assessment.

Solutions such as ICRI exist which can deliver the required intercommunication very easily and at a relatively low cost. So the final obstacle would appear to be the approval or authorisation of those encrypted services to move quickly into the use of an unencrypted audio bridge in the event of a major incident. That this is not something to be undertaken lightly, after all these encryption systems are employed for good reason and at significant additional expense; it is definitely this critical point which really needs a level of investigation and consideration.

The protection or encryption of voice communications is usually employed to protect sensitive information which could be exploited by unfriendly forces to aid criminal, subversive or terrorist activity, or it could be to protect formally classified data or information protected by legislation. In any case, there will have been assessments made of the reasons for protecting the information and the level of protection required. The question is whether on balance, the short-term requirement to coordinate in a national emergency outweighs those original requirements sufficiently to communicate in clear during an ongoing incident. It is vitally important to note that this short period of ‘in-clear’ communications does not increase the threat to the ‘breaking’ of any encryption system, and the only threat to actual information would be during the period that the system was connected to the communications bridge. In any event, encryption can still be maintained when needed by simple switching at the hub which will likely be located within a secure Gold or Silver command where the final decision on the trade between communication security versus coordination of first responders will be made.

It is important to recognise that we are presented with a multi-level security challenge; a challenge that will, and does, exist and needs a pragmatic, realistic, affordable and scalable solution. There are multi-level security systems available, but these are often complex, carry a high training burden aimed at the specialist and are very expensive.

ICRI can link encrypted networks, as well as ‘link-in’ unencrypted networks (such as a mobile phone). The decision to integrate is based on a risk assessment that is local to the incident commander (Gold/Silver). Above all, without synchronised command and control of all first responder assets, confusion, added risk and even displaced defences allowing an unchallenged potential secondary or tertiary incident could occur.

London 2012 was a great success thanks to the overt and covert work of the security services and other national assets, nevertheless those decision makers and influencers in the emergency service power houses may wish to consider this option to help first responders deliver coordination of vitally important and complimentary emergency services to future major events throughout the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.