Assertiveness: Transforming Conversations Towards ‘What Else is Possible?’

Posted on August 2, 2017

Redwood & Co were recently asked to look at freshening up a basic communication course for a client for whom we have been working for some time. Into it they wanted to build in the notion of assertiveness. This request, seemingly straight forward at first, led a group of us into an interesting exploration of assertiveness as a philosophy, mindset and communication design tool.

Our client described that for their context, assertiveness meant: the ability to ‘say No’ when you do not have the time or the resources. As our team at Redwood & Co began to design a communications program around this, we had a growing sense that behind a ‘No’ there exists many possibilities for two people in assertive communication to: connect deeper, discover insights and leverage information that would otherwise be unavailable if, like a car at a red light, the invitation for cooperation stopped at ‘No’.

Take the following example: your manager / colleague / client asks you to create an additional project for the portfolio. Your autopilot clicks in and you think ‘No, I cannot do that…I have no time…I have other priorities’ or ‘No, that cannot be done…we do not have the resources.’

‘No,’ often goes a long way to creating unnecessary conflict in a business, and prevents the information, perspectives and stories associated with the ‘why’ that sits behind the ‘No’ from being engaged with.

Reviewing this scenario with we recognise that we typically put our energy into the task of saying ‘No’ rather than using that energy to discover, through two-way dialogue, ‘what really are the priorities here and what could be possible to enable this & that?’

Assertiveness, is a communication style based on balance. Balanced communication operates from a position of: Self-respect, Empathy, Confidence.

Image source: PICSELI on Unsplash

  • When we respect ourselves we are motivated to think, speak and act in alignment with our rights; we know who we are and we give ourselves the permission behave coherently and in solidarity with our needs and our wants.
  • When we are empathic we activate our emotional intelligence, holding within ourselves the desire to understand, appreciate and respect the other person’s needs and wants.
  • When we are confident, we have a deep belief in the value that we bring, and therefore are empowered to articulate ourselves with clarity, conviction and a groundedness that helps us to engage in conversational exchange around our needs/wants with an attitude that is authentically curious and genuinely motivated towards cooperation.

Our team at Redwood & Co. asked:
What would happen if leaders in organisations considered assertiveness as both a mindset and mechanism that transforms ‘No’ into a constructive dialogue where two individuals strive to enable respectful, empathic, confident inquiry and evaluation towards ‘what else is possible in this moment?’
How can leaders in organisations build the confidence in their people and in themselves to craft and nurture a conversational environment for ‘Pauses-Before-No’ to form, wherein their people can say ‘Perhaps…but let’s talk first’?

This is where we at Redwood & Co. have taken our new design and delivery approach to assertiveness. An interactive and engaging programme that has at its core ‘assertiveness as a mindset towards ‘what else is possible?’; where fundamentally assertiveness is explored as a practice of collective commitment to safe, curious and constructive dialogue… and where we are seeing some really positive feedback and uptake too!

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