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Developing Assertive Communication as a Woman in Business

By: Tammy Swed

Women in business may find day-to-day communications challenging. How do I express my thoughts, needs, and goals with assertion? Will I be perceived as aggressive or pushy? How do I drive the conversation in a way that leads to my desired outcome while maintaining a positive relationship with the person I’m interacting with?

Many women want to develop the assertive communication skills needed to express themselves, deliver a message effectively, and be heard without second-guessing themselves. Finding the right balance between confidence and an impactful expression of your position is key. AMA’s Assertiveness Training for Women in Business course offers the following advice on strengthening workplace communications.

Defining Communication Styles: Assertive or Aggressive

The first step to developing assertive communication skills is to identify the differences between assertive, passive, and aggressive behavior. Here’s how each is defined:

  • Passive behavior: the act of ignoring, suppressing, or disregarding one’s thoughts, feelings, and needs by withdrawing from a situation—mentally, physically, and/or emotionally
  • Assertive behavior: the act of expressing one’s thoughts, feelings, and needs in a direct, clear, honest, and respectful way to others
  • Aggressive behavior: the act of emotionally and forcefully standing up for one’s thoughts, feelings, and needs with disregard for the thoughts, feelings, and needs of others

Build Confidence and Self-Awareness to Support Assertive Communications

In the workplace, our communications and behavior can fall anywhere along the continuum from passive to aggressive. Different situations may require different approaches to communication. However, expressing your thoughts and needs confidently while showing respect to others is a constant in assertive communication.

Developing assertive communication skills is more than just learning to talk differently. Being assertive requires women to think assertively, feel confident, and behave positively. We can begin to achieve these goals by developing a deeper self-awareness of our strengths and weaknesses and increasing our self-confidence.

An important component of building self-confidence and becoming more assertive is to be honest, truthful, and accepting of who you are. No one knows us—our strengths and our weaknesses—better than we do. By becoming more self-accepting and less self-critical, we can learn to be more assertive communicators and become less intimidated or hostile to the reactions of others.

To develop self-awareness and confidence, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are some things I am sensitive about?
  • How do I typically react when confronted with these sensitive topics?
  • What are some steps I can take to approach the situation in a different way and change my reaction?

The Choice to Be Assertive for Women in Business

Through continuous reflection and self-awareness, you can identify your “hot buttons” and come up with a more effective strategy to address sensitive situations and topics. Women need to choose whether to be assertive in their communications on a case-by-case basis. We also need to consider the consequences of asserting or not asserting ourselves in our interactions with others.

By knowing ourselves and supporting our own self-esteem with positive thoughts and reminders of personal strengths, we can demonstrate actions that make us more comfortable when we clearly, directly, and honestly express to others how we feel, what we think, and what we need.

Visit AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center to find workshops, webcasts, and more designed to help women build their leadership abilities and achieve success.

About the Author(s)

Tammy Swed  is a learning solutions manager at American Management Association, responsible for business excellence for women and training seminars.