There are many factors that play a role in leading groups to solutions (which can also be defined as achieving success), but how a leader communicates with his or her group is an especially pertinent one.
Two common communication styles are “aggressive” and “assertive.” Although they may appear similar at first glance, the differences in both the approach and the results of these two styles are dramatic. Here is a closer look at these two styles and how practicing assertiveness enables one’s leadership to become more natural, positive, and effective.
Aggressive vs. Assertive
Though generally aimed at influencing the behavior of another person, assertive communication is very different from aggressive communication:
- Denies the rights of others
- Wins at all costs
- Is emotionally charged
- Lacks consideration and empathy for others
- Damages others’ self-esteem
- Does not use inappropriate anger or emotion
- Does not try to hurt others
- Is honest, fair, and direct
- Allows others to save face
- Expresses emotion using eye contact and positive body language
- Practices good listening behaviors
The differences between these two communication styles are significant, and the outcomes of each are markedly different:
Outcomes of Aggressive Communication
- Makes others feel disrespected
- Triggers aggression in others
- Builds walls
- Escalates situations
- Leads to negative interactions
Outcomes of Assertive Communication
- Makes others feel valued and respected
- Builds team players
- Opens the door to collaborative solutions
- Minimizes stressful situations
- Improves relationships
The Assertive Communication Model and Non-verbals
Now that we know the basic differences between aggressive and assertive communication and their respective outcomes, let’s take a closer look at how business leaders can expand their communication skills. By following The Assertive Communication Model while leading groups to solutions, not only will problems be addressed and solved, but the personal affirmative qualities of leadership will be enhanced.
Step 1: Open the discussion in a non-threatening way by acknowledging the other person by name and engaging in small talk. Then, describe the facts of the specific problem (do not use the word “you” and do not label the other person with adjectives). Do this in a non-judgmental, positive way. Ask easy, neutral questions about the situation without being confrontational, and keenly observe the other person’s body language.
Step 2: Describe your own feelings in accurate, specific words and explain why you feel the way you do. Use “I feel” statements. Express your point of view, but be neither overly dramatic nor too passive. Share your goals, concerns, dilemmas, and values. Be humble.
Step 3: Explain why you feel the way you do in an articulate, respectful way. Share your interpretations, inferences, and impressions while providing relevant background information. Respect the other person’s perceptions and opinions while managing your own emotions and keeping an open mind.
Step 4: Explain what you want to happen next. Describe your needs, wants, and ideas. Clearly explain your expectations (who, what, where, when, and why) and ask for others’ input on a solution. Look for common ground and opportunities to use their ideas, and give credit where it’s due.
Non-verbals are the communication cues that you send alongside (and in between) the words you speak. They are just as important as what you actually say, if not more so. To ensure that you are communicating your words and emotions accurately, continually monitor the non-verbal messages you may be sending by asking yourself the questions below:
- Are you maintaining reasonable eye contact?
- Are your facial expressions properly signaling your state of mind?
- Are you using hand gestures respectfully?
- Are you refraining from tapping your fingers or feet?
- Are you remaining fluid and using positive body positions?
- Are you aware of the tone, inflection, and volume of your voice?
Communication Barriers vs. Constructive Openness
Now let’s look at the differences between communication barriers (habits that get in the way of effective communication) and constructive openness (habits that improve communication in relationships).
By increasing our awareness of our own bad habits, we can unlearn them and replace them with more positive and effective approaches. Barriers can include impatience, analyzing instead of listening, controlling the conversation, needing to “win,” believing there is only one “right” way, inflexibility, and unwillingness to adapt or compromise.
When it comes to communicating openly and honestly, most people get scared. We are fearful of hurting other people and making them angry, or we worry that we will be rejected. Because of these overarching fears, not only does the other person remain unaware of our feelings, we also fail to realize the impact that our actions are having on others. This is how small annoyances turn into big issues down the road.
Instead of allowing this negative cycle to continue, be honest with yourself about your emotions and then share them as both temporary and changeable feelings. This allows the other person to see and better understand your frustration, but also your sincere desire to improve the relationship.
Effective communication is vital to a leader’s success, which also supports the success of the business. By routinely using The Assertive Communication Model, continually monitoring your non-verbals, breaking down communication barriers, and practicing constructive openness, your true qualities of leadership will shine.