Assertive Communications: The Language of Leadership

May 15, 2022


We’ve all experienced a conversation we’ve had with a co-worker, a boss, or a client that simply didn’t go well. We knew the message we wanted to convey and the outcome we hoped to get, but because we didn’t communicate it effectively, we sent a mixed message that ultimately led to confusion, frustration, or conflict. Our communication style lacked assertiveness. If we had communicated in a more assertive manner, the result would have likely been quite different.

Our self-esteem can impact the way we send and receive messages. Individuals with low
self-esteem tend to communicate in a passive way. Others might think they are superior to everyone else, resulting in an aggressive communications style.

“The only healthy communication style is assertive communication.”

~ John Rohn

Communicating assertively conveys confidence and allows you to convey your message in a calm, respectful, positive way without upsetting others or becoming upset. When communicating assertively, your express your thoughts, opinions, feelings, attitudes, and rights in an open, honest way.

Communication StyleExample
Passive“I’ll take on four more projects, even though I have too much work on my plate and am feeling quite stressed.”
Aggressive“No way I’m taking on all these projects. Can’t you see I’m already overloaded with work? Do it yourself!”
Assertive“I’ve evaluated that my workload is close to full. Can we split these projects up or change their due dates?”

Assertive communication is not passive and it’s not aggressive. Rather, communicating assertively is the language of leadership. It helps build trust and respect, solve differences, promote problem-solving and strengthen workplace relationships.

Follow these essentials to assertive communication:

Positive Body Language

Your body language should sync and reinforce your verbal communications.

  • Make eye contact
  • Speak clearly and calmly
  • Keep your tone of voice even
  • Keep your physical stance open; avoid crossing arms and legs
  • Respect personal space and keep a comfortable distance apart, which is approximately three feet

Use “I” Statements
We are most likely to retain the goodwill of the person with whom we’re communicating if we keep to our own thoughts and beliefs so that it focuses on your need. One way to do this is to use “I” statements expressed in a specific and direct way. For example, “I will need more time to finish this project. Can you approve my request?”

Be Clear, Specific, and Direct
When communicating a request, ensure your ask is direct and to the point. For example, “Will you please have that letter finished by today?,” rather than “Do you think it will be done by today?”

No-no Words

When speaking clearly and assertively, avoid the following words:

  • I’ll try
  • Ought to
  • Should have
  • Must
  • Always
  • Never

For example, rather than saying, “I’ll try to get back to you later.” Say, “I’ll call you back by 4 p.m. (Of course, make sure you return the call by 4 p.m.) This allows you to be clear and direct and avoid any misunderstanding.

Speaking assertively takes practice and self-control. When opting for this style of communication, you’ll be recognized as a confident professional who not only manages stress well but one who acknowledges his or own needs and feelings while showing respect to his/her co-workers, too. You’re communicating the language of leadership!

About the Author: 

Nancy Schnoebelen Imbs is an empowering professional development consultant, dynamic motivational speaker and author. Highly dedicated and results-oriented, she has the skill and passion for helping individuals become more confident and successful in business and beyond. She and her company Polished help clients focus on key adjustments that result in meaningful impact and effectiveness.

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