ARE Singaporeans assertive? To the many I posed this question to, it appears there is no clear answer.

Most agreed that employers reward employees for being assertive in various scenarios at the workplace. There were, however, many definitions of assertiveness — from being demanding to being polite but firm about the outcome one wanted to achieve.

Assertiveness is defined as the ability to communicate our thoughts, feelings and ideas, both positive and negative, in an open and honest way that does not abuse our rights or the rights of others.

Benefits

What are some of the benefits of being assertive? First, you can expect fewer conflicts in your dealings with your peers.

Being skilful at honest and open communication will help you achieve your business goals without hindering others from meeting their needs as well.

Indirectly, this will result in less stress in your work life. You will enjoy stronger, more supportive business relationships and lead a healthier lifestyle. If assertiveness is such a good thing, why are so many of us afraid of being assertive? From a casual survey of my colleagues and business associates, the number one reason is the fear of displeasing others or not being liked.

One of our basic human instincts is the need to be wanted.

As such, we try very hard not to jeopardise our likeability. Other reasons for not being assertive would include avoiding immediate confrontation and unpleasantness.

Interestingly, many also attributed not being assertive to low self-esteem and/or a lack of confidence.

Consequences

So what happens when you are unable to or prohibited from communicating your thoughts openly in the workplace? Informal surveys indicate that the common consequences are depression, resentment and frustration. Studies have also shown that an oppressive environment can lead to violence, anxiety and poor work relationships.

Psychologists even go so far as to attribute severe inhibition to open communication as the likely cause of physical illness and parenting problems.

How to be assertive

Among the various ways to boost assertiveness, one of the most effective yet often overlooked methods is to exhibit non-verbal assertive behaviour in the workplace. Here are some typical examples:

* Look directly at the person you are talking to, eye to eye;

* Sit or stand up tall with a straight back. Speak clearly, audibly and firmly;

* Emphasise your most important points with gestures and facial expressions;

* Avoid mumbling, whispering or sounding as if you are asking a question when you are not; and

* Do not whine or use an apologetic tone of voice.

Effective non-verbal behaviour communicates up to 70 per cent of the speaker’s intended message.

You can assert yourself without offending others. Here are some simple pointers:

* Always ask questions to find out other people’s opinions and requirements;

* Offers suggestions and ideas, not advice;

* Never blame others;

* Speak with a steady voice in a clear, well-pitched, warm and sincere tone;

* Use “I” statements. For example, “I prefer”, “I’d like”;

* Speak in clear, concise statements that are to the point;

* Focus on what can be done, not what can’t be done;

* Offer problem-solving statements; and

* Give and receive feedback,

both developmental and motivational.

Keep it cool

Do you find it a challenge to be assertive while maintaining a cool head? Here are some “cool” tips:

* Tell the person you will discuss the subject at another time, and leave;

* If you decide to stick it out, remain calm and steer the conversation back to the original point;

* Try to understand the other person's point of view;

* Appreciate there may be other issues motivating the behaviour of the other person;

* Don't take heat-of-the-moment criticisms to heart; and

* Learn from the experience and try to think up better ways to negotiate in a similar scenario.

Assertive skills can be learned and acquired. Use these tips to master the art of effective communication and become an excellent manager.