How to Be Assertive and Confident in Your Communication without Being Aggressive

Assertive and Confident Communication

In many situations, it is useful -- and even desirable -- to communicate with confidence and assertiveness. Presenting this self-image can be useful when we are attempting to achieve a position or be awarded a task that demands the recipient exude confidence and assertiveness. Presenting ourselves with confidence can help us get promotions, raises, and new positions; in our personal lives, it can help us achieve our goals, as well. These personal goals might include establishing new friendships with highly confident people, in accordance with the attraction feature of similarity, or asserting dominance in personal business interactions.

Communicating With Confidence

When we are speaking, we are communicating through two channels simultaneously. These are the verbal channel, and the nonverbal channel. In sending a clear message, we need to make sure the message we're sending is congruent through both of these channels. That is, if you choose confident words in an effort to portray a confident self-image, it is also necessary to invoke nonverbal communication cues that also project confidence and supplement your verbal message. For example, if you prepare a script of words that you believe will project confidence, it will have a very different impact on your audience's perception of you if your nonverbal cues support your words, or contradict them.

Presenting oneself as confident means different things in different cultures. Your goal is to come across as assertive and confident, not aggressive or overbearing. These lines are defined differently in different cultures, different co-cultures and different contexts. Sometimes, how one person presents himself as confident, will be perceived as aggressive when another person tries the same thing. For these reasons, because confidence is perceived by different behaviors in different contexts, this section presents a series of questions for your consideration, rather than answers on "how to be confident."

Let us consider what it means to project confidence through nonverbal channels. In this consideration, let us touch on each of the 10 components of nonverbal communication. The first is facial displays. What sort of facial displays convey confidence, versus lack of confidence? What is the setting of your brow? What is the setting of your jaw? Facial displays speak volumes about the speaker. What messages are you embedding in your facial displays when you are trying to exude confidence? Is your brow relaxed or furrowed? Is your jaw relaxed or set? Let us next consider eye behaviors. What sorts of eye behaviors send a message of confidence? How is your gaze? Do you establish eye contact and keep it while you are speaking? As we saw in the listening chapter, we tend to have less eye contact when we are speaking, than when we are listening. How can you use eye contact to present an image of confidence? Will you retain eye contact with the person to whom you are speaking? Or will your eyes dart away and will you avoid eye contact? Also, what other messages are you sending with your eyes? If the eyes are the windows to the soul, how can you set them to present yourself as confident?

Moving on, how do movement and gestures contribute to a presentation of confidence? What sorts of movements will you make? Where will you sit in your seat? Will you sit with your back against the back of the chair? Or will you lean forward toward your listener? If you are standing during this discussion, will you lean in toward your listener? Or will you lean away from them? Will you pace the floor? Or will you stand in one place? What will you do with your hands? What sorts of head movements will you make? Be careful that if you are trying to convince someone that you can do something, that you are not shaking your head no at the same time. Not only does this send a mixed message, but if communication is as much as 93 percent nonverbal, which message do you think your audience will actually receive? Further, let us not overlook a discussion of posture in this category. What posture, in your mind, presents confidence? Shoulders back and chin up? Shoulders rolled slightly forward and chin angled slightly downward? In general, a straight spine with shoulders back and chin up often presents confidence. However, as with everything else, this posture can also be perceived as something other than confidence. As a result, you really need to consider your audience when making these types of assessments.

What will you do with touch? Will you extend your hand in an attempt to shake your listener's hand? How firm will your handshake be? Will you extend your hand again at the close of the meeting? Will you slap your listener on the shoulder or the top of the back? How will you respond if your listener attempts to touch you?

The voice is an extremely important nonverbal communication. You need to consider all components of vocalics in your consideration of what constitutes confident communication. Increased speed tends to suggest nervousness or fear, so you will probably want to speak at a normal, or even slightly slower, pace. Low vocal volume is widely perceived as manifesting low confidence, so you will probably want to speak at a volume that is very easy for your listener to hear, without coming across as though you're yelling. Your articulation should probably be as clear as possible, as mumbling is not widely perceived as demonstrating confidence. When we get nervous, our vocal pitch tends to rise, so in an effort to exude confidence, we will probably want to be aware of not letting our voice get too high.
Recalling that vocal tone conveys emotion, you will probably want to be aware of the emotion that you are conveying. If you come across as sad or angry, does that exude confidence? You will also want to be aware of your use of filler words. When we get nervous, we might tend to use them more. Therefore, an effort to present confidence will probably mean trying to avoid the use of filler words. Also, borrowing from the listening chapter, consider the use of silence in your efforts to present yourself with confidence. Is it true that the more you say, the less confidently you come across? The Japanese have a proverb that translates roughly to "silence has all the answers." Be intentional with your use of silence in your efforts to present yourself with confidence.

The use of smell as a nonverbal cue in presenting confidence may not be as straightforward as it first appears. I have known highly confident people who did not wear underarm deodorant, and highly confident people who bathed themselves and purchased scents. As a result, I leave this category to your own discernment. It is important to consider how you believe your audience will perceive your behavior, far more than what you believe your nonverbal messages are saying about you. As a result, this category can depend hugely upon your audience.

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In terms of personal distance, what do you believe is a distance that exudes confidence? Should you retain a larger distance? Or should you close that distance? Again, this determination will depend upon your audience and your own best guess of your audience's perception.

When we talk about physical appearance, what sorts of physical appearance exude confidence? Some of the most confident professional people I have known wear old jeans and sometimes ripped shirts. Many women don't wear any makeup. I cannot say, however, that this strategy will work for everyone. Sometimes that very same personal appearance yields an interpretation of low confidence in certain people. The question for you is what will your audience perceive as confident in your personal appearance?

Finally, let us consider our appropriate use of time in our efforts to present ourselves with confidence. What is your perception of the confidence level of a person who arrives at an appointment 30 minutes early? Ten minutes late? Once again, your use of time in an effort to present self-confidence will largely be dependent upon your context and your audience.

The most important question you can ask yourself in evaluating all of these nonverbal cues is, How will my audience perceive this? Of course, there is no single answer to this question, and different audience members will interpret the same behavior differently. What one person sees as confident, another views as egotistical and cocky. Similarly, what one person sees as confident can be perceived as disrespectful. Thus, using your nonverbal cues to send messages of confidence is rather a moving target. I can suggest to you that you consider very carefully all of the behaviors that you perceive as confident, then have this conversation with one or more other members of the co-culture in which you're trying to present yourself as confident. In this way, you will develop a better sense of how certain nonverbal cues are perceived within your specific co-culture, and how to use them in your favor.

The role of the self-concept

In attempting to improve your confidence with in your communications, as a first step, you might observe the nonverbal behaviors of people you consider highly confident. These might include, for example, Barack Obama, Al Gore, and other world leaders, past and present.The behaviors of these individuals are easy to observe, because many of their public addresses are available online for your viewing, at your convenience, while the nonverbal behaviors of other highly confident people, such as Bill Gates for example, might be harder to access.

Aside from manipulating your nonverbal behaviors for a particular purpose, the best way to come across as confident is simply to be confident. Of course, for many of us this is much easier said than done. Nevertheless, your confidence level is directly related to your self-concept and your self-esteem. If your self-identity is solid and sound, and your sense of value of that identity is high and strong, you will probably have to pay less attention to your specific nonverbal behaviors in your efforts to exude confidence, because your actual high confidence levels will simply come out naturally.

So, the question becomes not how you can come across more confidently, but how you can actually be more confident. In the article on Self we learned that we tend to surround ourselves with individuals who reinforce our self-concepts. If our self-concept is low, we tend to surround ourselves with people who have low opinions of us. This is no way to build self-confidence. If the people in your life are constantly belittling you, insulting you, and generally treating you with low value, how can you possibly develop a strong and healthy sense of self? How can you build confidence when those in your life are constantly seeking to undermine any steps that you make toward improving your self-confidence? People with a low sense of self are often uncomfortable when those in their lives have successes they feel are out of their reach. As a result, they might seek to ensure that others do not have successes that they themselves can't. Developing a strong self-concept might well be perceived as one of those threats, provoking others to go into attack mode. It's exceedingly difficult to improve your self-concept when those in your life make it their mission to ensure that you don't.

If our self-concept is high, we tend to surround ourselves with people who have high opinions of us. In this scenario, we don't likely have much need for focused attention on communicating with confidence, because we probably already do.

If you truly wish to improve your self-concept, perhaps an honest look at the influences of those in your life is warranted. Just because we might love someone doesn't always mean they provide us with healthy company. Further, engaging in a program of mental health might not be a bad idea. In improving your self-concept, your self-confidence also improves.

Self-esteem also plays a role in your presentation of self. Self-esteem, recall, is the value you place on your identity. When you place an accurate value on your identity, you will probably be more comfortable in your own skin.This will come across as confidence. Is not confidence an accurate awareness and certainty of your own self and abilities? When you place high value on your self and abilities, also known as high self-esteem, does this not equate to confidence? Then, the value that you place on yourself plays a very significant role in your self-confidence levels.

There are essentially external strategies and internal strategies to communicating with confidence. I say external strategies, because this involves manipulating our nonverbal communication cues in specific efforts to be perceived as confident. This analysis should not be underestimated or overlooked in efforts to improve your confidence in your communications. Ideally, however, external strategies should be coupled with internal strategies. That is, if your self-concept is high and your self-esteem is also high, you will probably come across as confident, whether or not you intend to. Your inner confidence will simply exude, even without focused attention on specific nonverbal cues. Certainly, even highly confident people explicitly train their nonverbal communication cues in efforts to come across as confident communicators. In the best of worlds, these two strategies should complement each other. That is, a strong self-concept and self-esteem form an excellent foundation, but ideally should also be supplemented with focused targeting on specific nonverbal cues. Which nonverbal cues you feel need the most targeting will depend on you.

Communicating With Assertiveness

In some ways, developing assertive communications here is developing confident communications. Assertiveness has to do more with speaking, instead of not speaking, and speaking your needs plainly and clearly, rather than passive aggressively. In assertive communications, you develop an argument and deliver it. You are less concerned with disagreements to your argument, and don't get rattled when this occurs. Rather, you practice competent communication, and stay your course within your argument, adhering to your tenets and responding to contradicting positions.

Competent communication doesn't mean that you necessarily give in when there is disagreement. Rather, it means that you meet disagreement with appropriate and effective communication. In assertive communication, you assert your position, even when others don't like it, though in this scenario it is especially important to be attentive to appropriateness.The effectiveness often comes in the specific words you choose and the nonverbal cues you use when delivering an argument. If you choose a hostile vocal tone, your argument will likely have less effectiveness than if you choose a softer and gentler tone for delivering your argument.

Being assertive also doesn't mean steamrolling your conversation partners when people disagree with you. Rather, it means simply stating your case, matter-of-factly, and sticking to the points you wish to make, rather than allowing yourself to be sidetracked by adversarial comments and attempts to weaken your position. It means sticking to your guns, without resorting to personal attacks, either verbally or nonverbally. Being assertive simply means arguing your position. This can easily be done calmly, and with a great deal of respect for your audience. Assertiveness means addressing adversarial comments with communication competence, attending to the needs of your audience, and moving forth with your argument.