Let's Talk: Assertive Communication

With Aimee Bateman

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Assertiveness: it’s something that doesn’t always come naturally to people.

Maybe you’re a people pleaser who’s too scared to voice what they’re actually thinking.

Perhaps you’re at the other end of the scale and you’re a little like a bull in a china shop when it comes to getting your point across (but you don’t mean to be).

Either way, assertiveness is a vital communication tool that’s important to help both you and others to progress.

In this Let’s Talk interview, we discuss with expert, Ellen Samothrakis how you can learn to be assertive in the workplace and conduct conversations, leaving both you and your colleagues clear about next steps.


    Watch this interview and learn:

    • What being assertive is
    • About both aggressive and submissive behaviours
    • How to tell someone something they may not want to hear in a tactful way
    • Examples of what to say and what not to say in conversations.

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Aimee: Hi, I'm Aimee Bateman, Founder of Careercake and today I'm joined by my very good friend, Ellen Samothrakis, who is a Learning and Development coach. Ellen has been, for about 15 years now, helping people with all kinds of challenges in their career. You helped with my leadership qualification, I think about 10 years ago. And today we're going to be talking about assertiveness at work, because we often hear people say “You should be more assertive, you should be less aggressive” and I think it's something that I'm a bit confused about and I know that some of our audience are confused about because they've written in and asked us to do some stuff. So thank you for coming to clear some stuff up. So firstly, what's the difference in your opinion between assertiveness and aggression?

Ellen: Okay, so if I start with aggression, first of all. I've spoken to so many people who feel that they're being assertive because they're communicating, they're telling someone how they feel. They're having that conversation that we encourage people to have. So they feel are being assertive. The difference when you are aggressive, is that you can do it in a way that makes someone feel that their opinion doesn't matter – “Actually, I am right; my viewpoints are all that matter here. I need to get my point across; I'm going to talk over you”. I may raise my voice; I may use body language that may be aggressive in the way that it comes across. So you can communicate and get your point across, but you can still respect the other person. You can still care about what their feelings are, what they think, and you can communicate to someone in an assertive way, which is acknowledging their rights. So, acknowledging that they have a right to be heard, acknowledging that we're going to communicate, but not to upset that person. We want to get our point across, but in a way that doesn't make that other person feel bad.

Aimee: So how about if I was going to go and have a conversation with somebody, but I want to have a really clear idea of what I would need to do in order to be assertive and what I would need to avoid doing to be seen as being aggressive. So, what's the difference in an example?

Ellen: Okay. So, if I was to give an example as to how I communicate in that assertive way, the very first thing I would do is plan before I went into that conversation. So, I'd think about what was it that I wanted to achieve from that conversation with the person, first of all.

Aimee: So, it's a bit more considered.

Ellen: Very, yes. So, you're thinking about - what am I going to achieve and how am I going to get this point across - my opinions, my feelings across to this person in a way that makes it neutral. So, we would talk about maybe a task. So, if we were talking to someone and we were talking about a task that hadn't been completed or a deadline that had been missed, for instance, then rather than saying “You haven't done this … it's your fault that … I feel that you …” and talking about the person, we talk about that task instead. So, it takes the personal approach out of it and we're talking about the situation or the task rather than throwing blame or making someone else feel uncomfortable.

Aimee: So that could be “Ellen, you didn't get that report in. You made us miss the deadline. You've messed it all up” and obviously that's very, you, you, you, but if I was being assertive, I would be more situational. So, the situation now is the report hasn't been done. The deadline hasn't been met and it doesn't look like we're going to get the outcome that we wanted. So, it’s more about the situation rather than you. And that’s quite easy to do isn’t it, just to flip it.