by Clare Gurton

Being assertive is crucial for success in work; in meetings, giving presentations or talks and on paper. It really is not what you say, but how you say it that counts. Here are some tips to help you develop assertive language:

  • Use familiar language
  • Use formal conversational or written language
  • Avoid obscure language
  • Avoid jargon unless you are certain the readers will understand it
  • Use concise language
  • Remember that wordy expressions can hide major points
  • Be concise: pare sentences as much as possible without losing the meaning
  • Instead of general and vague phrases, be specific
  • Use correct language
  • Be accurate; accuracy requires correct word usage
  • Use moderation; avoid over-generalisations
  • Correct grammar, punctuation and spelling is imperative. Errors create negative impressions and cause you to lose credibility
  • Use persuasive language
  • Strong verbs – use direct action-oriented verbs and verb phrases
  • Assertive phrasing – eliminate deferential words and phrases
  • Use constructive language
  • Take a positive approach; avoid language that invites negative responses

Assertive body language is also crucial in meetings or when giving presentations. This will help to centre you and to ensure your audience connects with what you are saying. There are several elements involved in assertive body language:

  • Your voice. You may be considered non-assertive if your voice is weak, hesitant, soft, or wavering, while a tense, loud, shaky, or demanding voice will demonstrate aggression. Aim for an assertive voice: firm, relaxed, well modulated.
  • Your eyes. Non-assertive eyes may be averted or downcast, while aggressive eyes can be narrowed, cold, or staring. Keep your eyes open, frank, and direct.
  • Your posture. Non-assertive posture is often stooped, while an aggressive person may stand stiff, with hands on hips and feet apart. Assertive posture is erect, relaxed, well balanced.
  • Your hands. Non-assertive hands are fidgety, fluttery, or clammy, while someone who is showing aggression might keep fists clenched and make abrupt gestures or point a lot. An assertive person will use relaxed appropriate hand movements.