Communication Styles: Assertive Communication

What is your style of communication? This post kicks off a four-part series examining different styles of communication, starting with assertive communication.

Communication Styles: Assertive Communication

Being assertive in communication means we respectfully (not aggressively) express both positive and negative thoughts and ideas in a spirit of honesty and openness.

A casual Internet search of “communication styles” will bring up a host of labels to represent the different ways people communicate: “the manipulator,” “the controller,” “the supporter,” “the director” and “the socializer.” Other sites will provide various descriptors, like “intuitive,” “open” or “direct.”

These are all expansions, adaptations and creative new approaches to the four basic communication styles: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive.

Knowing how we communicate, and recognizing how others communicate, is essential to having better understanding of others, growing in patience toward others and improving our overall relationships with one another.

This first blog post will examine the assertive communication style, the one we both try to practice, even if often unsuccessfully.

What is assertive communication?

Assertive communication demonstrates respect for others without diminishing respect for ourselves.Being assertive in communication means we respectfully (not aggressively) express both positive and negative thoughts and ideas in a spirit of honesty and openness.

This form of communication demonstrates respect for others without diminishing respect for ourselves. It acknowledges and validates feelings and emotions, but is not driven by them. Practiced appropriately, assertive communication effectively balances self-control and patience (Galatians 5:22-23) with humility and meekness (Matthew 5:1, 3), all while standing fast if attacked (1 Corinthians 16:13).

Although it can be challenging to use, assertive communication is basically the gold standard of communication.

Here are some examples of assertive communication:

  • “I hear you and understand why you feel that way, but here are the reasons I disagree.”
  • “I’m confident we will be able to find something that will work out for both of us.”
  • “I’m willing to take responsibility for the role I played in what happened.”
  • “I’ve respectfully listened to your point of view; may I present mine?”
  • “I’m sorry to interrupt, but it feels like you are attacking me. I suggest we cool down for a minute or two, or just agree to disagree.”
  • “I feel upset when you do this to me because it makes me feel like I’m not being heard.”

What do we notice? Assertive communication involves crystal-clear expressions of feelings, responsibility, confidence and personal needs, as well as respectfully disagreeing without needing to win an argument or put down the other person.

The benefits of assertive communication

Here are some of the benefits associated with assertive communication:

  • Friends, family members and coworkers will be relieved that they don’t have to constantly try to read your mind to figure out how you really feel about an issue or situation.
  • If both parties practice it, a debate will be a respectful exchange of differing ideas leading to better decision making.
  • Unmerciful and condemning black-and-white generalizations will become nuanced and critically thought-out arguments that have more validity and logic than self-righteousness and anger could ever produce.
  • Instead of festering under the surface, issues will be brought into the open and respectfully worked through.

How to practice assertive communication

  1. Say what you mean. The hallmark of assertive communication is being open and honest with our thoughts, but balancing them with care and concern for the other person.
    Are there consequences for being open and honest? Definitely. Sometimes there may be offenses, hurt feelings and bumps in relationships, no matter how much we humanly try to season our speech with grace, tact and gentleness (Colossians 4:6).
    Assertive communicators take the risk, though, because it is better to sometimes fail at saying what we mean than to purposefully practice avoidance or subterfuge—which can make a bad situation continue for long periods, eroding the atmosphere in an office, family or friendship. 
  2. Reflect on your conversational status often during communication. During pauses in conversation, or at least immediately after, we should evaluate and think about how things are going (or went): Am I getting too mad about trivial things? Is my approach coming off as honestly humble or insulting? Am I still avoiding (or hiding) my feelings? Is my voice rising, or am I remaining calm? What am I really trying to achieve in this conversation? Assertive communicators are self-monitoring during conversation to observe if respect is present on both sides.
  3. Practice empathy often, not just during communication. Assertive communicators are effective because they find common ground and empathize with others. A good exercise is to think of all the times others have not empathized with us, and how communication (and relationships) failed due to that.
    How many times have we been told “you shouldn’t feel like that” or “don’t think that”? Was this ever helpful? How many times have we been insulted and made to feel like we were the only ones who ever had a problem or felt a certain way? Was this ever helpful? Thinking of our own personal experiences in which we were not shown empathy can help motivate us to strive to not be like that. It helps us treat others the way we want to be treated—which is often called the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31).

To study more about the principle of treating others as you want to be treated, read our article on "The Golden Rule." 

Some scriptures on assertiveness

Here are some Bible verses that give us positive examples of assertive communication in action:

  • “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17, emphasis added throughout).
  • “And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’” (John 8:11).
  • “Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:23-24).
  • “But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
  • “For which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:20).

Although our personality certainly influences our communication style, it does not govern it. We don’t have to be stuck in a communication style if we don’t want to.

The next three blog posts in this series will look at passive, aggressive and passive-aggressive communication styles. We will compare all three with assertive communication to prove that the assertive style is the most effective form of communication and that it can be learned and practiced by anyone.

It is the gold standard of communication.

Read about passive communication in part 2 of this series. 

For more insights on communication, read our articles on “The Joys and Challenges of Communication.”

Topics Covered: Relationships, Christian Living

About the Author

Eddie and Shannon Foster

Eddie and Shannon Foster

Eddie (a school speech-language pathologist) and Shannon (a school counselor) Foster are members of the Cincinnati/Dayton, Ohio, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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