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Coaching Clinic: When in doubt, be more of a dog | Comment

Strong, confident communication is essential to being effective at work: it’s the holy grail of human interaction. Like Goldilocks’ mush, to get the best results, we don’t want to handle situations too aggressively or lack the confidence to get our point across. Fortunately, landing in that sweet spot of assertiveness is a skill that can be learned.

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The perfect balance

Identifying appropriate assertive communication is not always straightforward because it is so often confused with aggression. In truth, there is a fine line between the two.

One of our favorite ways to conceptualize assertiveness with the teams we work with is to use the Talmudic saying, “If I’m not for me, who will be for me?” But if I am for myself alone, what am I?

Truly assertive communication – the kind that results in great corporate cultures – is about balance: we respect our own wants and needs, but we also recognize and respect the wants and needs of others in return.

It is the ability to express opinions positively and confidently while respecting others. Aggressive behavior, on the other hand, wants to impose itself at all costs.

Why is assertiveness essential?

Evidence of the benefits of assertive communication is, perhaps unsurprisingly, everywhere. By treating others with fairness and respect, assertive leaders have been shown to engender more loyalty, be better liked, and achieve better results by solving problems more effectively and negotiating better solutions for their teams.

For younger employees, being assertive helps build confidence, increases job satisfaction, and has even been shown to improve mental health. Clearly, fostering an assertive communication culture benefits companies across a range of metrics, both performance- and people-focused.

Be more dog!

Not everyone is comfortable expressing their emotions openly at work. However, authentic emotional expression is not only one of the fastest ways to develop your assertiveness, but also an essential component of emotional intelligence in its own right.

To be more comfortable with this, we like to encourage clients to channel their inner dog! As Andrew Salter, a 1950s psychologist and “father of assertiveness” trainer, put it: “If a cat purrs when happy and a dog howls when stepped on, a man should do the same – or at least frown.”

Just as a dog greets you exuberantly even after a short time away from home, openly and wholeheartedly expressing their pleasure to see you again, so the assertive communicator expresses their emotions (in a balanced and respectful way).

Our prescription for being more doggy includes the following exercises:

  • Use more “feeling-talk” including adjectives in your speech. Instead of “today is Friday”, try “I’m so excited, today is Friday and the weekend is here”.
  • Don’t forget the facial expression: a lot of communication is non-verbal and expressing joy or displeasure on the face stimulates congruence and authenticity.
  • Contradict and attack: If you disagree with someone, say so. We encourage clients to practice small-scale disagreements throughout their days. The more comfortable you are with these small, assertive interactions, the easier it will be to disagree about something strategic when it matters.
  • Use more “I’m talking”: “I want”, “I need” or “I feel” all convey basic affirmations and help get your point across firmly. For example: “I am convinced that we need to bring in a third party to arbitrate this disagreement. »
  • Interact with empathy; always try to understand the other person’s point of view before expressing what you want from them.

Above all, assertive communication is based on each of us understanding our own rights. Companies must ensure that values ​​are clearly communicated and that there is a strong culture of recognition and support.

As individuals, we in turn should have a good understanding of our strengths, as well as a strong belief in our value to our organization. Together, these two elements will create the best environment for assertive communication among all, promoting well-being, strong boundary management and performance across the enterprise.

And remember, when in doubt, be more of a dog – eyes open, ears high, ready and waiting to communicate how you feel and want, always in a warm, supportive way.

If you would like assistance in creating a more effective communication culture for your organization, or to discuss assertiveness skills coaching, please contact us at [email protected]

Natalie Hall and Phanella Fine run Risinga human capital consulting firm focused on culture and leadership

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