For the past two weeks, the focus of this blog has been how you would handle a situation at work when someone takes credit for your idea. Unfortunately, this happens quite frequently according to many of my readers, and their responses demonstrated a  wide range of communication styles from passive to direct and assertive.

Communication experts agree the clearest, most productive and most effective way to communicate is honestly and openly, which is assertive communication. This type of communication allows for the potential for people to also communicate openly and honestly with you.

Assertive communication is defined as clear, direct, honest statement of feelings; use of “l” messages; speaking up appropriately for oneself while considering the needs, wants, and rights of others. 

It is important to note is that women who communicate in a direct and clear manner are viewed more favorably in the workplace!

There is a new study from Stanford Graduate School of Business  that shows in the business world, women who are aggressive, assertive, and confident but who can turn these traits on and off, depending on the social circumstances, get more promotions than either men or other women.

This is certainly encouraging, yet I find that learning to assert oneself appropriately in the workplace still remains an issue for many women. One of the most effective ways to communicate confidence is to use assertive communication and many women find this challenging. Part of the problem is the lack of confidence to use “I” statements in assertive communication, (that goes against some of the lessons we have learned about always putting others first).

Here are some tips and guidelines to build your assertive communication skills.

  1. Visualize the person you want to be. How would that person behave and communicate? Do you currently exhibit this behavior and what do you have to change?
  2. Ask for feedback from trusted colleagues about the way you are coming across. This would be a great discussion with a mentor as well.
  3. Practice using “I” statements. Stay true to your feelings without blaming others.
  4. State your opinions clearly.
  5. Accept compliments with grace. Say “thank you”. It’s simple but somehow we always find the need to give credit to others or discredit the compliment. Give example of someone saying you did a good job and you say the team did it. Well, what was your part in the team effort? What was your contribution? Acknowledge. Don’t downplay the compliment. Take credit.
  6. Practice giving your opinion at least once during every meeting.
  7. Make it a goal to speak during every meeting.
  8. Practice saying “no!” especially when people (your boss or direct reports) delegate inappropriately to you. Don’t fall into the trap of taking on the work when it’s not appropriate.
  9. Ask for what you need. No one knows everything and the best leaders are those that acknowledge this. Not asking for what you need may sabotage your efforts in the long run.
  10. Practice expressing your opinion clearly and confronting issues head-on using “I” statements. Avoid the inclination to backpedal and negate your true feelings.
  11. Build your self-confidence and stay focused on your value. This gives you the courage to communicate effectively. Make sure you are balancing your communication style so that it is not aggressive or passive aggressive.
  12. Focus on unhooking emotionally from situations with difficult bosses and colleagues. Instead focus on your reaction. You can’t control their behavior. You can only control your reaction.
  13. Do your homework. When you are negotiating for a raise or asking for a promotion, have all the history and facts about your specific accomplishments and how they have impacted the business. Use benefit language that includes specific outcome and results rather than your effort involved.

My advice is to start practicing assertive communication in a non-threatening situation such as with a customer service representative, waiter or bank teller. When you are faced with a situation in which you feel compromised or disappointed, use “I” statements to clearly express your opinion and build your comfort level with assertive communication over time.