12 Tips on How to Be an Effective Communicator

An assertive communicator is direct without being abrasive.  The assertive communicator is able to get their needs met effectively; therefore, they tend to have a higher level of self esteem and lead happier lives.  The assertive communicator does not result to behavior that will diminish the other person; therefore, others are more comfortable in dealing and negotiating with assertive communicators.  

Aggressive Communication

Aggressive Communication

Aggressive communication can be confused with assertive communication.  Aggressive communication makes others feel uncomfortable, sometimes intimidated, or can make a person get aggressive with you.  Assertive communication makes a person feel heard, understood, and they clearly understand where you are coming from even if they don’t agree.  Remember assertive communication is NOT about getting others to agree; it is about being able to effectively get your point across and feeling like others have heard you and understood your point of view.

1. Commit to being an assertive person.

Making a commitment to being assertive is the same as making a commitment to be fit, to get an education, to do better at something.  It is not an automatic; it is something that will take work and it will take time to perfect.  With practice, time, and patience with yourself you will get better.

2. Be a good listener.

Listening sometimes is so much more important than talking.  When you listen you have to make sure you are not thinking of what you will say next.  Listening means actively paying attention to the words the person is saying and the meaning you believe they are trying to convey to you.  Once you hear a person out you should, if necessary, ask follow up questions to make sure what you think they are saying is accurate.  For example, “So what I hear you saying is…?” The person will either confirm or try to give more information so they are being clear.  Only after you have fully understood what a person is trying to say should you respond in an assertive manner.

When a person feels you have fully listened to them and understood them they will then be willing to listen to and understand you.  Often we are so determined on getting our point across we forget to make sure the other person is ready to listen.  If they are not feeing heard they will not want to listen to you.  This especially applies if you are the person who is in a non-subordinate role, such as supervisor, parent, the more assertive person in the relationship, etc.

You may feel tempted but don’t interrupt.  There is nothing more frustrating than a person who constantly interrupts another person.  If a person is interrupting you then stop talking and let them talk.  Once they are quiet begin with:  “Now that I have completely heard you out I would like to finish .” This cues the person in that you would like to be heard.

3. Speak honestly and openly.

Being an assertive communicator is about being honest with yourself, first and foremost.  Thinking about exactly what it is you are trying to convey.  It is then about being open or transparent, as much as it is necessary, to get your point across.  It is about being honest with the listener so they understand your point or message clearly.  If you are unable to disclose a reason why, then don’t feel obligated to do so.  For instance, someone asks you to do something.  You don’t want to do it because it is a value conflict.  Telling the person this may hurt their feelings.  Assertive communication: “I’m sorry I am unable to do that at this time.”  “I have a conflict that would get in the way of me assisting you”.  You are being honest, yet you are not being specific.  If a person needs to know the reason. Assertive communicator: “I can only say I have a conflict at this time, I’m sorry I cannot be of more assistance”.  You are still being honest and clear that you are not willing to disclose your conflict nor do you have to.  So as much as it will not offend or diminish a person’s self worth, you want to be honest. 

4. Understand everyone is entitled to their point of view or opinion, which does not constitute a right or wrong.

Often we get into conversations which are controversial or where opinions are very different from one another.  Rule of thumb, avoid conversations, if you know a difference of opinion will upset you or upset others.  These typically can apply to topics related to politics, religion, and value based topics, such as how one should raise their kids.  If you are drawn into such topics remember everyone is entitled to their opinion.  Just because you feel strongly about your opinion does not make you right, no matter what the topic may be. Sometimes stating, “I understand your point of view”, will allow a person to move on to a new topic.

5. Avoid trying to make others feel guilty.

An assertive communicator does not resort to making a person feel guilty, sad, ashamed, or intentionally angry.  This type of communication is considered manipulative or gaslighting.  If someone has done something you don’t like, let them know how it has made you feel and what your stance is on the situation.  Example: “I don’t like when you yell at me because it makes me nervous and I really can’t hear your point once you start yelling.” This tells a person how the behavior makes you feel without trying to make them feel guilty for yelling.  It also lets them know you would like to hear their point of view but it is not possible when they yell. Examples of aggressive and demeaning behavior:  “I hate you," “where did you learn this behavior,"  “only crazy people yell”; “who do you think you are yelling at me”.

6. Choose appropriate times for those tough discussions.

Waiting for the right time to have a talk is important.  You don’t want to have a difficult talk when you or the other person is under stress, feel angry, not feeling well, or they are very happy about something.  For example: You know your wife is most stressed when she arrives home from work, so assertively talking about how she has failed to pay the light bill again may not be the best time to do this or waiting until he is watching his favorite sports team on tv also might not be the best time to address an important issue.

7. Stay calm, breathe normally, look the person in the eye, keep your face relaxed and speak in a normal voice.  

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Body language speaks volumes so always be mindful of your body language.  You should have an assertive stance (feet shoulder length apart, hands by your sides, chin up and a pleasant look on your face), an assertive voice (clear, concise, firm, not angry).  Be mindful of your hands and the distance you stand from someone.  Both parties seated in a safe neutral space is the ideal situation; though it may not always be possible. Look the other person in the eye, without giving them a stare down.

8. Don’t assume the person is against you.

In the case of your boss, co-worker, intimate partner you can sometimes think they are against you or out to get you in some way because they say something you don’t like or they give you some type of criticism.   If what they say upsets you, don’t respond until you are able to be calm.  See tip # 7.  While you are calm, before you decide to respond, make sure you think seriously about whether there is any truth to what was said.  If there is truth to what they said think about how you may be able to take the negative and turn it into a positive.  This is truly the sign of someone who is in control and someone who acts, thinks, and communicates in an assertive manner.  

For example: My boss said I write too much and never really get to the point.  In my head: I can’t believe they said that!” A few minutes after you have had a chance to fully process what was said in calmness, “Maybe they have a point.” You re-read what you wrote and you think it might be a little wordy.  Maybe you don’t know how to write more concisely. Communication to boss: “Yesterday, you said my writing was too wordy.  I re-read it and realize you might have a point.  Do you have any suggestions how I might be able to improve this and get more to the point?”  Your boss might suggest you read some pieces where the writing is more to the point. This would be a successful assertive communication between employee and boss.

9. Getting the message across to the receiver is the responsibility of the person communicating.  

When people fail to communicate effectively they often think it is the fault of the other person who is on the receiving end who has failed to understand them. Remember the failure of communication is on the person who is trying to get their point across or need met. If someone is not understanding you then you have failed to communicate in a way they can understand you; therefore, it is your responsibility to make sure you are being understood and try again.

Pouting and sulking is not assertive communication. This sort of behavior diminishes the message and puts you in a position of powerlessness. Aggressive behavior, such as yelling, screaming, hateful language, threatening body language will only alienate the receiver. The receiver will NOT get the message you are trying to convey and they are likely to cease communication with you and avoid future communication. If you are in a relationship where communication is superficial consider if you have used aggressive communication tactics with this person in the past.

Trying to manipulate others into getting what you want may work temporarily; however, when a person realizes they are being manipulated they will not want to deal with you. People who are manipulated will usually avoid dealing with you and become resentful of you.

Passive communicators don't communicate. They believe people should know what they think and want. Passive communicators put the responsibility of getting their needs met onto others. This usually results in people unsuccessfully making attempts to meet your needs or they tend to assume they know what is best for you and act on it whether you like it or not. They are trying to please you; they just don't know how because you do not communicate in a clear assertive manner. Eventually, people will get frustrated with dealing with you and make fewer and fewer attempts at trying to figure you out.  This can be the death of a relationship.

10. Don’t use all or nothing statements such as “you always," “you never”.

This type of communication is aggressive or passive-aggressive, NOT assertive. Example of assertive communication: I don’t like it when you…..” Begin with “I” statements and be specific about how the behavior or action has effected you .

11. Forgive yourself when you have not been as assertive as you would have liked.  

You can always go back and re-address in an assertive manner or you can wait for the next right opportunity to be assertive.

12. Practice your assertive discussion with a friend or in a mirror.

Remember to always use “I” statements, “I feel," “I don’t like it when___," “I like it when___” Take notice of your posture and gestures.  Take notice of your facial expressions.  Be kind to the person in the mirror.  Also understand you are the person in control of your words and actions. You cannot control what others say or do; only your responses.