Learning Task 4: Describe Assertive Communication

Different people communicate in different ways, and it is important to be able to ascertain what style of communication they are using to convey information.  This prevents people from jumping to conclusions and allows us to understand things from other’s perspectives.  Understanding communication styles and using assertive communication goes a long way in preventing conflict before it begins. Non-assertive communication is viewed as emotionally dishonest, indirect, and inhibiting. It can lead to hurt and anger on the part of the individual, and pity and irritation by others.

Communication Styles

There are four basic styles of communication: passive, aggressive, passive aggressive, and assertive.  We will look at some of the key characteristics of each of these to help you identify them when engaging with others.

Passive communicators

Passive communicators may be very agreeable to other people’s ideas, or indifferent.  They may resist expressing their ideas or feelings to others and may not make eye contact during conversation.  Passive communicators fail to stand up for themselves and do not express personal feelings, needs, ideas, or opinions in the workplace. Individuals who use this form of communication can easily be ignored or have their rights violated. Overall, they come across as less engaged than others involved in the conversation.  Passive communication is generally considered ineffective as while it minimizes conflict, it does not allow for sharing of information and can create anxiety and resentment in the passive communicator.

Aggressive communicators

Aggressive communicators are typically commanding and forceful with their communication.  They may take over the conversation and communicate in a way which is rude, intimidating, hostile, and destructive.  Aggressive communication may include shouting, threatening behaviour, and humiliating others.  An individual who is acting aggressively has little respect for the rights and needs of others and achieves a goal at the expense of others. They may believe that they are the only ones with valid or useful ideas. Aggressive communication is also considered to be ineffective as it generally causes conflict and makes it challenging to hear the perspectives and ideas of others. It is inappropriate for the workplace and can lead to negative consequences with both supervisors and colleagues.

Passive aggressive communicators

Passive aggressive communicators combine the passive and aggressive communication styles.  Often this style of communication is confused as passive only communication.  They may seem to agree with an idea outwardly while being covertly aggressive.  This aggression could manifest itself as muttering comments to themselves, withholding communication or suggesting that others would disagree with the idea rather than themselves.  This is also an ineffective communication style as it is indirect and leads to confusion and misplaced conflict.  This type of communication is often hard to identify and creates a toxic work environment.

Assertive communicators

Assertive communicators are direct, firm, honest, and clear about their ideas and wants while not discounting the ideas of others.  They typically express ideas in a thoughtful and polite way, while respecting the values and opinions of others.  If there are disagreements regarding views, the assertive communicator will typically use “I feel” statements rather than accusatory or “you” statements to resolve the disagreement.  Assertive communication is respectful–even when you are expressing negative emotions, you don’t hurt others. When you communicate assertively, you express your needs, wants, thoughts, and feelings without guilt.  When you communicate assertively, you take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings and state your position with confidence. This is widely considered to be the most effective style of communication as it does not create unnecessary conflict and allows for all ideas and views to be shared.

A person sits behind a desk looking worried while another person stands over them aggressively.
Figure 4.1 Being assertive does not mean being aggressive

One of the best tools for ensuring that you use assertive communication is to use “I” statements. “You” statements in general create defensiveness and emotional resistance and shut down communication. They can promote conflict. “I” statements, on the other hand, avoid destructive blaming, criticizing, ridiculing, and name-calling. The speaker just makes a statement expressing their feelings. “I” statements can help prevent conflict.

Effective Communication

Figure 4.2 shows examples of assertive behaviour and aggressive or passive behaviour.

Figure 4.2 Examples of assertive and aggressive or passive behaviours
Effective Communication – Assertive Behaviour Ineffective Communication – Aggressive or Passive Behaviour
I have completed my assigned tasks. You didn’t do your work.
I feel angry when you interrupt me because it makes me feel what I have to say isn’t important. Would you just listen to me and stop interrupting?

Whatever – it’s not like you’d listen to what I was saying anyway.

I need more clarification to complete the task. You are not being fair. You didn’t give me the information I needed in order to complete the job.

Remember that you can only accurately speak about your own intentions. In addition to offering accurate information, the use of “I” statements allows the other person to be receptive rather than defensive. Effective communication needs a sender of accurate information and a willing, open receiver.

Remember, too, that you communicate in ways other than words. For example, assertive communication includes the following non-verbal behaviours:

  • making eye contact and looking directly at a person when you are speaking. This shows that you are sincere, interested in the conversation, and confident about what you are saying.
  • standing or sitting in an erect posture and maintaining an appropriate personal distance
  • leaving your hands by your sides and making appropriate non-threatening gestures
  • keeping your voice pleasant, steady, and strong and accompanied by appropriate facial expressions

Self-test icon.Now complete the Learning Task Self-Test.


Self-Test 4

  1. What are the four basic styles of communication?
    1. Passive, passive aggressive, aggressive, assertive
    2. Aggressive, non-aggressive, passive, non-passive
    3. Passive-passive, aggressive-passive, assertive-passive, passive
    4. None of the above
  2. Which of the following is an example of assertive communication?
    1. Expressing yourself clearly and firmly
    2. Conveying your feelings and ideas honestly
    3. All of the above
    4. None of the above
  3. Which of the following is an example of passive communication?
    1. Standing up for yourself
    2. Failing to stand up for yourself
    3. Speaking through body language
    4. Being easygoing and not taking offence
  4. Which of the following applies to people who don’t speak up in the workplace?
    1. They aren’t good employees.
    2. They aren’t good team members.
    3. They deserve what happens to them.
    4. They are easily ignored and can have their rights violated.
  5. Which of the following most applies to aggressive behaviour?
    1. It shows a lack of respect for supervisors and co-workers.
    2. It should not be tolerated in the workplace and is considered rude, hostile, and/or destructive.
    3. All of the above
    4. None of the above
  6. Only you can speak accurately about your own intentions.
    1. True
    2. False
  7. Assertive communication also includes non-verbal behaviors.
    1. True
    2. False
  8. Using “you” at the beginning of each sentence is key to assertive communication.
    1. True
    2. False
  9. Seeming to agree with an idea outwardly while being covertly aggressive is an example of which type of communication?
    1. Passive
    2. Passive aggressive
    3. Assertive
    4. Aggressive
  10. Communicators that are direct, firm, honest, and clear about their ideas and wants while not discounting the ideas of others are:
    1. Passive
    2. Passive aggressive
    3. Assertive
    4. Aggressive

See the Answer Key in the back matter of the textbook for self-test answers.

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