, Gloucester, MA


April 19, 2013

Body language contributes to assertive communication

In my last column, I related the many benefits of assertiveness in verbal communication, as well as addressed the negative consequences of under-assertive and over-assertive communication styles.

To review briefly: assertive verbal communication is an open, honest, non-judging, non-blaming nor attacking approach that benefits both parties involved, and results in enhancing and growing the relationship. The two extremes, on the other hand — over-assertiveness (or aggressiveness) which blames and attacks demonstrating little understanding or concern for the thoughts and feelings of the recipient, and under-assertiveness which withholds the expression of true feelings making the other party responsible for figuring out or mind-reading to find out what is really going on — block and prevent constructive dialogue and damage the relationship.

To create constructive discussion of an issue, it is important that both speaker and listener not only attend to the intellectual and emotional components by taking an assertive approach, but also attend to communication conveyed by the body and tone. Assertive style helps both speaker and listener to be clear, fully heard and understood, but it is also important that the body language of both matches the language of the conversation.

In an issue of the “Bottom Line Personal” newsletter, Robert E. Alberti was quoted on the subject of assertiveness and body language. (Alberti is the co-author of “Your Perfect Right,” a popular guide to assertiveness training.) According to Alberti, there are several physical supplements to assertive speech. See how many you use, and if you use them effectively:

Eye contact, Proper eye contact lends sincerity and directness to assertive messages. A relaxed, yet steady gaze mixed with comfortable moments of looking away is the best approach. If eye contact is overdone, it can be interpreted as a stare. Too little eye contact is also undesirable since it may give the impression of insincerity or of being too deferential.

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