By May Bleeker, 2 Aug 2012
The information below is drawn from a course teaching assertive behaviour that I was privileged to experience many times. First as a participant, then as facilitator-in-training, and later as a facilitator of the course.
The training course was aimed at replacing ineffective behaviour styles with assertive behaviour and thereby improving interpersonal relationships all round. Participants usually fell into three camps:
The courses were very practical and involved simulation exercises where people first interacted "as themselves". They would be given specific situations to respond to, and they would respond with their usual style.
Then, after learning specific new assertive behaviour beliefs and skills, they were given these same tasks and required to respond using the new skills they had learnt. They would get personal feedback, guidance and coaching from facilitators as they did so.
It was fantastic to observe the changes that came about in people that were willing to give up their old habits. In some cases, by simply changing how they habitually sat in a chair, many gained insight into how they could 'be themselves assertively' instead of 'trying to disappear in the crowd'.
The course not only taught verbal assertiveness skills (what to say and how), it also provided feedback and guidance on how to move and shape your body to match the verbal message (i.e. assertive behaviour).
See if you can find something useful in the guidance given below:
This means not looking away too much or quickly, nor staring too hard, or staring at a person's cheekbone or above their head when you are speaking to them.
It means matching the level of eye contact to the requirements of the situation. An open, friendly look, without excessive staring usually works in most situations.
Whatever your style is, having a presentable appearance 'advertises' that you care about yourself enough to take care of yourself.
A sloppy, unkempt appearance advertises that you can't be bothered about how you look or are not able to care for yourself.
Even if you choose to be relaxed in your style, everyone interacts with your appearance (more than you do, in fact). So it is usually advisable to be aware what you are projecting in a given situation. What works with your friends on a night out, might not work as well when meeting your boss for the first time.
Filling a chair is harder for a small person than someone with a large frame. Have you noticed that larger / taller people automatically seem to command more authority? Height and size gain attention and create an impression. But large people can sometimes scrinch down in their chairs to minimize their size. Assertive behaviour involves being comfortable with being yourself and projecting this in a relaxed manner. Sit upright and fill your natural space.
If you are small, your posture and manner are what create the impression. If you sit upright and centered and use the arms of your chair to take up more space this can be more effective than slumping.
Keep your head upright and your shoulders square, and don't slouch over the table. If you need to project authority in a business situation, keep your jacket on.
If you are large and need to take care not to intimidate, then push your chair slightly further back from the group or the other person. Keep your movements small rather than wide and large. Keep your voice neutral and warm, rather than loud and hard. Be aware of your facial expressions and let them be friendly.
For example. If you are about to be interviewed, you might be shown to a particular chair, or set of chairs. Choose one diagonally opposite the interviewer, rather than directly opposite.
Directly opposite may feel too 'intimate' and even challenging. If there is no table between you it can be quite uncomfortable, like standing too close to a person in public. Not an element you want to bring into an interview. Diagonally opposite has a more relaxed, comfortable effect that encourages easy communication.
If you are at an important meeting and are able to choose a seat, choose one a couple of chairs down from the leader of the meeting, rather than at the other end of the table.
You will have more impact in the meeting if you are able to make eye contact with the person managing the proceedings or catch their eye through body language. These signals may be lost if you sit too far away, or even if you sit too close.
Some of these suggestions may seem artificial on reading, after all, an assertive person is assertive with or without their jacket. However, if you are not accustomed to being assertive in your daily mannerisms, you will be surprised at what a difference it can make to try these behaviours on 'until they fit'.
These are not hard-and-fast rules, but are tips that have assisted many others in projecting themselves confidently and can assist you and the effectiveness of your communication style.
The same applies to choosing a seat in a public forum. Do you automatically go to the back row? If you want to make an impression, or have more impact, particularly if you have to speak, choose a seat where you will be more visible to the group.
If you are accustomed to flirting in your relationships, or have a very jokey manner, take care with how you express this in business contexts.
Flirting and joking might seem to work in building relationships, because people enjoy this kind of lightheartedness (depending on how it comes across).
But both of these styles of interacting hold some danger for misinterpretation and could discourage people from taking you seriously. If you are trying to develop assertive behaviour and confidence, a more direct approach may work better.
When selecting new employees or promoting within a company, those doing the hiring look at more than just qualifications. For internal 'upward mobility', you are more likely to be recommended if you have a presence and make an impact, than if you are the charming office flirt or resident clown.
Your level of assertiveness is reflected in your body language. But changes can be made from the inside out or the outside in.
Changing your physical mannerisms to more confident, self-assured forms will actually help you feel more confident and express more assertiveness in your everyday life.
Assertive behaviour is necessary to maintain boundaries and for effective functioning within relationships. It is therefore supportive of good self esteem. So improving your assertiveness in general will also help build self esteem.
If you find difficulty in finding the right balance of assertive behaviour and either tend to 'come across too strong', or 'blend into the background' too much, check out: