Assertive Communication Series Article 3: Assertive Communication – How You Say It
Assertive communication is imperative for women to master if they want to have success in their careers. In order to hone our assertive communication skills, we need to consider not only the words we use, but also include our tone of voice and body language. The most famous statistics that show the percentage of communication that is verbal vs. non-verbal are discussed in a great psychology today article.
“The numbers represent the percentages of importance of varying communication channels have with the belief that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.”
The article states that these statistics are up for interpretation based on the exact percentages and don’t apply to every situation. But the point is, a huge amount of our communication is non-verbal. How we say something is just as important, if not more, than what we say.
Here are some tips on how to be assertive in your tone of voice and body language.
Tone of Voice
Women’s voices often rise at the ends of sentences as if they’re asking a question or asking for approval, even if they aren’t. If you use this type of tone while talking, it sounds much more passive and takes credibility away from the actual words you are using.
A better way to adjust your tone is to use the authoritative arc. This is where you manipulate the tone to where your voice starts on one note, rises in pitch through the sentence, and drops back down at the end.
In my workshops I ask the same question below using the rising tone that women often use and then again using the authoritative arc. Unanimously everyone agrees that using the authoritative arc in your voice makes the statement, even though it is a question, sound more assertive, and even bold as though you couldn’t even answer it with a no.
Question: Can you complete this project by 2pm on Thursday?
Be sure to evaluate if you tend to have your voice rise at the end of a question. Work towards using the authoritative arc when you speak. This will take some practice, but you will actually see yourself feeling more assertive when you speak just by altering your tone of voice!
Head Tilts. Women often use too many head tilts. Head tilting is a signal that someone is listening and involved, and a particularly feminine gesture. Head tilts can also subconsciously be processed as submission signals. It is important to use head tilts when you want to demonstrate your concern and interest. But when you need to project power and authority, you should keep your head straight up in a more neutral position.
Another body language issue women have is nodding too much. When a man nods, it means he agrees. When a woman nods, it means she agrees, is listening to, is empathizing with, or anything really. Women are accused of nodding way too much! Constant head nodding can express encouragement but not authority and power. To project authority, especially when stating your opinion, keep your head still and straight.
I was a part of a workshop where we were given feedback on our communication skills and I was given the feedback that I nodded too much. I had no idea I nodded that much. Once I became conscious of it, I realized it was true! It was definitely a subconscious thing I need to make a conscious effort to reduce. Sometimes it is helpful to get friends and colleagues feedback on some of your non-verbal skills so you can find areas to focus on improving.
Handshake and Eye Contact. In my workshops, I ask how many people have someone’s hand and got the limp shake? I call it the “limp noodle”. When I shake someone’s hand and they give me the “limp noodle”, I immediately begin to form a more negative impression of the person. Handshakes make a HUGE first impact. Allan Pease has a great TedTalk on the power of the handshake. He says to keep your body squared off to the person, facing him or her fully. Ensure there is palm-to-palm contact and that the web of your hand (the skin between your thumb and first finger) touches the web of the other person’s. Look your partner in the eyes, smile and start to speak: “So good to meet you . . .” or whatever. Most of all, remember to shake hands firmly.
And finally, good eye contact is key. Ensure when you are speaking and listening to someone that you keep your eyes focused on the other person’s eyes. It is ok to look away, but ensure that you are looking more at them than away. Making good eye contact is the non-verbal way that people create trust with each other.
The non-verbal part of our communication is truly key in being effective in our communication skills. If you are unsure of areas that you need to work on, ask a friend or trusted colleague to help identify some areas for you. Choose one thing to master at a time, and before you know it you will be an expert at assertive communication!
(photo courtesy of www.freegreatpicture.com)