How To Be Assertive Without Being Rude

Article contributed by guest author John Drury.

Have you ever walked away from a situation where you wanted to say something straight to someone but decided against because you did not know how to be assertive without appearing rude?

Just this week I have become aware of several work situations where this has happened. The awkward conversation has been avoided, again, for fear of causing some kind of offence.  Instead of being assertive and talking through an important relationship issue the whole thing was left unsaid with one party feeling frustrated and the other largely unaware.

Consider this: two sales team members who are bringing in 80% of the income into a small business and both have grievances with the owner that could impact severely on their future in the business. Expectations about incentives for their future employment have been left unclear for months. They are both hard working people who do not like to cause a fuss. However, both of them are becoming more frustrated and disillusioned every day.

I have seen ridiculous situations develop in workplaces because of the fear of being assertive. Such as: a position being made redundant because a boss did not know how to have a difficult discussion with an employee who was not performing; a person resigning from a job they enjoyed just because they were unable to discuss an issue with their supervisor; and a company changing suppliers because of a misunderstanding with a new salesperson. All of these could have been resolved with a simple conversation. Avoidance was perceived easier than risking conflict.

5 Keys to being assertive without being rude

  1. Get your emotions under control – It is important that you deal with yourself first. If you are too nervous or upset you may be afraid that you will say something you regret. If you follow the steps below it will give you a process to follow that will take much of the emotion out of things for you.
  2. Have a clear objective – Clarify in your own mind what it is you want to speak about. Know what it is you want as the outcome of the conversation. E.g. the sales people from the above example want to clarify their incentive agreement with their employer and ensure that verbal promises have a time frame for implementation.
  3. Frame the conversation clearly – The best way to ensure a person takes you seriously and listens is to ask if you could have 5 – 10 minutes to speak to them to clarify something. Make it clear what the conversation is about. Stick to the issue you raise. Have a clarification mindset rather than a confrontation mindset. Aim for an outcome that works for both of you.
  4. Be respectful – As the instigator you are leading the conversation. Be assertive, but stay respectful and clear headed, and you will stay in your power. Do not ever make personal remarks. Hold any anger. Have an expectation that things can be worked out. However, consider what your non-negotiables are and do not allow yourself to be talked into something to which you cannot agree.
  5. Summarise to conclude –  Say, the following. “Thank you for discussing (insert issue) with me today. I understand we have agreed (insert agreement). Do you agree? Is there anything you would like to add?” If there are any remaining differences at the end of 10 – 15 minutes say, “I want to respect our agreement around time. I understand there are still some differences (summarise any unresolved differences). Do you agree? What do you suggest we do from here?”

The reason why conflict escalates and arguments develop is usually because people wait too long to speak about things. They have a few unspoken small issues bubbling away under the surface. They are waiting for an ideal time to talk to the appropriate person. Trouble is the ideal time rarely comes. Rather, something happens that causes them to snap and suddenly words are spoken with an emotional force that confuses and complicates the real issue.

I have discovered that unresolved relationship problems tend to grow larger. They are always easier to resolve early on. Don’t wait and allow them to become larger and more complicated.

If you follow this simple process you are being assertive. You are taking the initiative. You are far more likely to resolve awkward issues quickly and cleanly without being rude.

The result – healthier functioning relationships.

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