Before making your request, describe the situation. What’s going on? Be as clear as you can without making a long speech.
- ‘It’s 3 years since I had a performance review.’
- ‘The new photocopier has broken down again.’
- This project is running behind schedule.’
If your request has to do with someone else’s behaviour, focus on the behaviour rather than their personality or motives.
Not ‘You’re obviously not a teamplayer.’
Rather ‘I noticed you were quiet in the team meeting.’
Calmly express how you are feeling in the situation. Here are some tips:
State your emotions clearly in a simple statement ‘I’m upset that you didn’t consult me.’
Emphasise the positive ‘I’d be much happier if you told me you were going to miss the deadline.’
Sometimes you can skip the Express stage. If you are sending back an undercooked steak in a restaurant, for example, you don’t have to say how upset you are.
Specify what you would like to happen.
Decide what you want ahead of time.
Be clear but brief and specific. Not ‘I’d like you to take on a more active role in the project.’ Rather ‘I’d like you to chair the project update meetings from now on.’
Frame the request positively. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Not ‘Don’t send out your work with errors in it.’ Rather ‘I’d like you to check your work for errors before you send it out.’
Describe the outcome you think will follow if the other person does or does not go along with what you suggest. Be specific and realistic.
Perhaps you will simply feel better. ‘I’d really like that much better.’ ‘Then I think I would have more job satisfaction.’
Sometimes your outcome will be a concrete effect in the outside world.
‘I think the project will get done much faster that way.’
‘Then your reports will be much clearer for readers.’
Perhaps you will do something for the other person in return (often works in a family context).
‘If you do that, I’ll help you out with the backlog next week.’
‘If you eat your tea nicely, you can have ice-cream afterwards.’
Perhaps if the other person doesn’t do what you request, you will do something they won’t like. Note: You should use this one extremely sparingly, even with children. Many people overuse punishment, or the threat of it, as a way of getting what they want. Reward is usually much more effective.. Sometimes, however, negative consequences are appropriate.
‘If you keep on making sexist remarks, I will report them to HR.’
‘Unless you tidy your room there will be no TV tonight.’
If you believe that:
- Others will feel angry/hurt if I refuse
- They’ll cease to like me
- It’s rude/selfish to refuse
- I have no right to refuse
- If I refuse, I relinquish the right to make requests of others
- Their needs are more important than mine
these beliefs will lead you to say ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no.’
If you believe that:
- Others have no right to make such requests of you
- Other people ought to sort themselves out
- If I meet their request, people will think I’m a ‘soft touch’
these beliefs will result in an aggressive refusal.
The key to behaving assertively is to believe that other people have the right to ask; you have the right to refuse. Where the definition of the job limits your right to refuse, you still have the right to state the difficulties the request will cause.
Hints for refusing requests assertively
- Keep the reply short but friendly
- Use clear wording:’ ‘I prefer not to…’ or ‘I don’t want to…’ or ‘I’d rather not…’ or ‘I’m not happy to…’
- Give the real reason for refusing, don’t invent one eg. say ‘I’m not comfortable with that’ rather than ‘I’m too busy right now.’
- Don’t over-apologise
- Acknowledge the requester: ‘Thank you, Anne, but I’m not ready to..’
- Identify yourself with your decision rather than hiding behind rules, precedents and third parties. Don’t say ‘I would if I could, but it’s not up to me.’
- Ask for more clarification or more information
- Ask for more time to decide
Non-verbal behaviour: slow down, speak steadily and with warmth, otherwise you may sound abrupt.
Expressing your viewpoint
Relax before you start. Breathe deeply and slowly as you think about what you want to say.
Plan: What is your viewpoint? Why do you think this way? Limit your message to a maximum of 3 most important points – otherwise you risk waffling. Who are you speaking to and what are they likely to think?
Rehearse if you can – out loud.
Own your message. Use I’ statements to show that you take responsibility for your view. ‘My own feeling on this is…’ ‘In my opinion…’ ‘I’m all in favour of..’
Be open to new ideas and information. Listen to the other point of view and consider it seriously.
Don’t undermine your own opinion out of the fear that others may disagree. ‘I could be completely wrong about this but…’
Don’t apologise for having an opinion ‘Forgive me for saying this but…’ ‘I’m really sorry but I think…’ Do you really regret having a point of view?
Don’t be dogmatic. It is possible to word one’s opinion in a way that crowds others offstage and implies they have no right to disagree. ‘Anyone in their right mind would see that…’. Avoid wording your opinion as though there is no other way to see the issue.
Don’t simply bow to pressure. If the other person dismisses your opinion, but you still think it’s important to consider, don’t just back down. Decide whether it matters enough to pursue - maybe not right now, but after giving yourself and the other person time to think. Say something like ‘I see why you feel so strongly. But I do too. Can we call it a day for now and discuss it again tomorrow?’
- Build relationships
People do things for people they know, like and trust. Meet face-to face where possible, or at least pick up the phone. Build a reputation as a trustworthy professional.
- Know your audience
Adapt your approach. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Learn about their preferences, needs, priorities and concerns.
What do you really want? What are your main points? Back them up and bring them to life with engaging evidence, examples, details, illustrations, precedents.
- Find the benefits for your audience
People typically make choices based on self-interest – so what’s in it for them?
- Get your message across clearly and concisely
Preparation will help. Practise aloud beforehand when it really matters.
- Be the first to give
Do something for another person and they are more likely to want to reciprocate.
- Make it easy for them to agree
Ask for agreement to one small step at a time. This will probably mean you need to do the hard work yourself.
- Really listen to their views and objections
Show that you understand and respect their viewpoint. Be open to new information. Collaborating is likely to lead to the best solution.
- Remember that body language is critical
Use good eye contact, upright open posture. Use your hands to reinforce what you say. Arrange seating for cooperation rather than confrontation (45-90°).
- Use your voice for impact
A lower pitch makes you sound more persuasive. Speak slowly, use pauses for emphasis. Speak loudly enough to ensure good modulation. Use downward inflection for authority.
Plan to persuade
What do I know about them?/
How should I communicate initially (Email, phone, face-to-face, combination)?/
How can I hook them?/
What do I really want?/
Key points: 3 max. Most compelling point?/
Bring points to life: facts, figures, examples, stories, precedents, demo/
How can I make it easy for them?/
What if we can’t agree?/
How will I follow up?/
Challenge 2: Making a complaint
You have taken responsibility for the design and printing of a brochure. When you receive the draft back from the printing firm, you are disappointed with the print quality: the colours don’t stand out as you had hoped and the finish is matt rather than gloss, as you had expected.
The print deadline is next week so you need to sort this out quickly. Prepare to call the printers.
© Model reproduced by kind permission of the author Terry Gillen 2012
Challenge 3: Giving upward feedback
You are finding it hard to manage your boss’s communication style. He has a habit of sending you endless short emails all with a different subject. You seem to spend most of your day responding to his questions and providing reassurance that you are on track with your work. You are finding it difficult to get time to focus on anything for long. You would prefer weekly face to face meetings and fewer emails.
Prepare to speak to your boss.
Challenge 4: Responding to criticism
You are working in a team on a project with a tight deadline. Things are falling behind a bit and the team leader wants to find out why. At a team meeting, one of your colleagues accuses you in front of the others of failing to deliver your part of the project in time for her to meet her own deadline properly. You were not aware of this.
Note: In real life you have little time to plan your response but it is important to quickly manage your self-talk in order to respond assertively.
Planning the other stages now will also help you to be better prepared for future occasions where you have to respond to criticism.
Challenge 2: Suggested solution
Challenge 3: Suggested solution
Challenge 4: Suggested solution
- How are you going to think differently as a result of what you have learned about Communicating Assertively?
- What are you going to do differently?
- What have you learned about your personal strengths in communicating assertively?
Communicating AssertivelyWorkbook - 1