How To Develop An Assertive Communication Style


A straightforward way of communicating is one of the characteristics shared by high-achieving women.

Our sisters-in-charge know the importance of relating to and talking to colleagues with respect and authority. Actually, all of us, girls and boys alike, recognise that assertive communication gets results in and out of the workplace.

But getting it right can be difficult. We are scared of coming across as too pushy. Our natural inclination is not to keep our heads down. We don’t like conflict. We want to be liked.

Guess what — communicating straightforwardly is a surefire way of coming across as an agreeable person who also has authority.

Start by making a few tweaks and changes to your habitual style of communication, and notice the difference in the way you feel about yourself and in the way that others respond to you.

Say what you mean

Don’t hide behind vague generalisations which leave people wondering just what you really meant. Practise making ‘I ‘ statements without sounding in-your-face or annoyingly non-committal. Look for situations when you can say:

  • I like/what I’d like is/I prefer

  • I’m not happy with/I don’t support

  • I think that/feel that

Aim for three a day. If you find this really difficult, choose something small. When someone asks what you would like to drink, instead of saying you don’t mind, whatever’s easiest (which isn’t actually helpful), say you would like tea with sugar/a strong coffee/a skinny latte with a shot of caramel. No caramel? I’d love hazelnut!

Mean what you say

Don’t promise to do things you know you won’t do. Don’t say something is fine when you know it isn’t.

We respect those whose word can be trusted.

Stop apologising

This doesn’t mean stop saying you’re sorry — there are times when you need to apologise (and times when you don’t need to but will choose to anyway).

What you do need to do is to remove every hint of the apologetic when you routinely make a request, or explain something, or give an instruction.

Instead of

  • ‘I’m really sorry, but this needs to be done at once.’


  • ‘Jackie, this needs to be done at once.’

Instead of

  • ‘I’m afraid you didn’t make the team.’


  • ‘Jack, I have to tell you that you didn’t make the team.’

Instead of

  • ‘I’m sorry, but I disagree.’


  • ‘I disagree/I have to disagree/I see it differently.’

Be an active listener

Don’t pretend to listen while you think about what you will say when they stop talking, or think about what you will have for lunch.

Listening is an assertive communication skill that you can develop.

Start by deciding to focus on one encounter a day. When it is over, see if you have heard the factual content and any subtext of the conversation. Ask yourself:

  • What did they say?

  • How did they seem?

  • Did I sense that something wasn’t being said?

If you find your attention drifting, or for any reason cannot concentrate, say so:

  • ‘Jackie, I really want to hear about this, but it’s not a good time because I’m distracted at the moment/I’m thinking about my client meeting. Can we meet…’

Greet people

Make brief eye contact with everyone you meet, and give a definite spoken greeting.

Any variation of hello, hi, all right, good morning/afternoon/ works fine. Accompany it with a smile, a nod, an eyebrow flash, whatever seems right.

It’s a tiny action which signals your confidence and your ability to engage with people.

Say thank you

Always. Not just for the big things, but when someone stands aside for you, holds the elevator, lets you go first, serves you in a shop or cafe. Good leaders have good manners and acknowledge other people.

listencovermar14cjsmallerYou might also like:

My book, How To Listen, aims to help you to build better relationships by using effective communication.

You can get the book at Amazon worldwide.


smartgirlcover1The Smart Girl’s Guide To Getting What You Want — How to be assertive with wit, style and grace

This book explains the secrets of assertiveness and the simple steps you can take to help you relate to other people honestly and openly in every area of your life.

The Smart Girl’s Guide To Getting What You Want is available as a print book through bookstores and as an ebook at Amazon worldwide.