When communicating with others, whether colleagues or clients, on the job, in meetings, or on the phone, we all tend to stick to our habits. But often those habits are unhelpful.
Perhaps we rarely take the opportunity to speak up and give voice to our views and opinions – finding it difficult for example to say ‘no’ when managers demand an extra task to be completed. Or perhaps we tend towards a more combative communication style, especially when stressed, frequently losing our temper, creating rifts and making others upset.
Our habits might be very deeply rooted, and they can be difficult to change. But change is possible – it requires us to adventure into new and unfamiliar terrain where we act differently and communicate differently with others. Slowly little victories can be won, and our habits can begin to shift.
However, individuals do run into problems with getting this process started. Often either they lack a clear understanding of their current communication style, and are not sufficiently reflective about the way they communicate with others, or else they don’t have a clear picture of what a more effective, professional style of communication might look like.
In this blog, we’ve outlined an approach to developing your communication style based on the LDL Assertive Communication programme.
What’s Your Communication Style?
The first step to develop your communication skills is to become more reflective about how you currently communicate with others. What difficulties do you face? What could you do better? What changes might you like to make?
To help guide this process of self-reflection, at LDL we work with the Interpersonal Influence Model developed by HRDQ.
This model identifies four communication styles: Aggressive, Passive, Concealed Aggressive and Assertive. These styles can be mapped onto the following grid (copyright HRDQ):
As you can see, the different styles are mapped according to the two axes: ‘Openness of communication’ on the y-axis and ‘Consideration for others’ on the x-axis.
‘Openness of communication’ here describes “an individual’s willingness to disclose to another his or her thoughts, feelings, past experiences and reactions”, while ‘Consideration for others’ means “an individual’s willingness to accord to others the same rights he or she expects for him- or herself.”
Of course certain situations may move you to act and communicate in very different ways, but as individuals we do tend to have a preference for a particular style of communication, and the Interpersonal Influence Model is designed to help you map your preferences.
Becoming More Assertive
At LDL we use questionnaires associated with the HRDQ model to help people determine their communication style, and identify their preferences. The idea is that once you have a clear idea about where you currently are, it is easier to identify what changes you may need to make in order to shift towards that golden quadrant in the top-right hand corner of the grid that corresponds with ‘assertive behaviour’.
Assertiveness is about achieving a balance between ‘Openness in communication’ and ‘Consideration for others’. It applies to all situations, whether you are writing an email, on the phone, or in a face to face meeting. The assertive style is typically the most effective style for influencing others in a business environment. Assertive people are confident in themselves and not afraid to share their views. At the same time, they show consideration for others and respect their feelings and needs.
Below we’ve included a few tips for increasing your assertiveness…
4 Tips for Becoming More Assertive
1. Balance directness with consideration for others
A good way of assessing the assertiveness of a particular communication you’ve been involved in is to look at the words that were used. Look over anything you have said or plan to say to colleagues or clients (this works especially well with email). Write down the words and underline in red the ‘aggressive’ elements of the communication, in which you outline your preferences and suggestions, and in blue all the elements in which you show consideration for others. Assertive communication should strike a balance between red and blue.
2. Make eye contact – but not too much!
Making eye contact with others is a crucial aspect of assertive communication. It engages the other person and adds a sense of directness to your communication – showing that, yes, you are indeed talking to them, and expect them to pay attention. That said, try not to make too much eye contact. Too much eye contact can seem aggressive: a demonstration of authority and a challenge to the person you are looking at either to out-stare you or look down at their toes.
3. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard
People often struggle with speaking up to make themselves heard, despite often having something very valuable to contribute. Limiting beliefs might often hold them back, such as ‘I don’t have anything worthwhile to say’ or ‘people won’t like what I have to say’, ‘they don’t want to hear me’. Ask yourself what beliefs might be holding you back from making your voice heard, and don’t be afraid to challenge and question those beliefs, as well as others around you.
If you tend to struggle with this, a good way to break the ice in a meeting for example is to try to contribute early on – even if what you have to contribute seems trivial. Make a comment – it gets you involved in the group dynamic, and makes it easier to contribute more fully later on.
4. Cultivate mindfulness
Deborah Wain, our lead consultant on assertive communication training has a favourite film – Karate Kid! Or, at least, a favourite quote from that film: “Mind like water”.
Martial arts legend Bruce Lee said something along the same lines:
“Be like water making its way through cracks… adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
This quote might seem excessively poetic for your own workplace, but there is a resonance of sense here. Because it is important to try to maintain an inner stillness and sense of calm through all the emotional and interpersonal storms that we often find ourselves within – to cultivate mindfulness and ‘a mind like water’. That way, the storms become easier to navigate and you are less likely to be driven to a more emotional response. Instead be considerate, show composure, and cultivate an ability to see situations from the perspective of others. This is the basis of empathy, and remains the most reliable way of building effective relationships with others.
Learn more about LDL Communication and Presentation Skills Training, including our one-day Assertive Communication programme.