Avoiding conflict with Assertive communication Offer direct communication in a considerate manner

Assertive communication should not be confused with an aggressive communication style. In many English speaking countries, assertive has mistakenly come to be recognised as a communication method that can alienate:

'I'm not sure if I approve of our new line manager; he comes across as very assertive'.

In the example above, evidently, the behaviour of the new line manager was not to everyone's taste. Assertive, as used here, is most likely describing someone who likes to make their point or get their way, usually to the detriment of others.

This is not assertive communication – this is aggressive communication.

An aggressive communication style offers high levels of directness in expressing needs, wants and opinions but does so in a way that gives no thought to other people's feelings or needs.

By contrast an assertive communication style also offers high levels of directness but, crucially, needs, wants and opinions are expressed in a way that is considerate of others.


Do you prefer to work with people who display an assertive or aggressive communication style?

Assertive people
  • Solicit the views of others
  • Explain clearly with reasons why they are or are not able to fulfil specific needs
  • Use phrases that seek collaboration
  • Find areas of agreement while still discussing differences
  • Are inclusive
  • Constantly look for solutions

In the programmes we carry out with management groups right across industry, the phrases below consistently jump out as being used by people recognised as assertive by colleagues.

Interesting, people use phrases such as, 'respected, warm, motivational, not just a colleague but a friend, good listener and there for me' to describe these individuals.

Evidently, truly assertive individuals gain high levels of 'buy-in' from those around them.

Try these phrases for yourself next time you are tempted to use anything but an assertive communication style:

  • Would it be possible to / if you/we could.....?
  • ...and the reason for that is.....
  • I wondered if we could....
  • When would it be convenient....
  • What solutions can you recommend?
  • Let's look at both the pros and cons of this....
  • How does that sound to you?
  • I'd like us to....
  • Are there any other ways we can approach a solution on this?
  • I see!
  • Right!
  • I am not really happy with that, and I do also have another option. Can I go through this with you now please?
  • I think I understand your position on this....can I just clarify...?
  • I didn't appreciate the working behaviour displayed on that occasion and I think we will feel much better if we learn from that and start afresh. What do you think?
What others can you think of?

Let's take this further.

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