Staffing Management

How Can Leaders Be Assertive Without Being Abrupt?

By Staff Report

Jan. 22, 2015

Dear High-Wire Act:

Strong communication skills are so fundamental to effective leadership that developing them is really not optional anymore. Fortunately, there are many resources available to those who want and/or need to do so.

It may be helpful to remember that what some might consider abrupt, others may hear more positively, appreciating what they might call openness, candor or transparency. But it can be a fine line as you pointed out. 

Leaders often need to be assertive. We have to be able to communicate clearly, and to direct the work of others on whom we depend. When an abrupt or abrasive delivery impedes our message, it’s time for some development. 

Mastering a more assertive communication style will take time and practice, and probably involve changing some old habits. Each of us has a set of communication preferences that determine how we typically give and receive information. Understanding styles and preferences should be mandatory learning for leaders at every level. Because it’s often not just what we say; it’s how we say it. 

In order to show assertive decision-makers how to communicate most effectively, you’ll want to engage a coach. Traditional classrooms are problematic when the subject matter is so personal. As the very foundation of every leader’s effectiveness, the ability to communicate clearly and assertively when necessary is invaluable. 

One-on-one coaching allows for repeated practice, discussions of specific examples or persons and unencumbered brainstorming. None of this can be done in a traditional classroom setting.

Great communicators use the power of style and an understanding of others’ communication preferences to speak and write more effectively with their audiences. They are typically more influential and persuasive as a result.

It’s also important to remember that some degree of assertiveness is expected from leadership. We have to overcome resistance and negotiate all the time. 

In addition to coaching, if you want your leaders to be assertive decision-makers without coming across as abrupt, you’ll need to start with your C-level executives. Setting the tone, which in this case is also leading by example, should be deliberate. 

If your company has a PR or corporate communications professional, you have a tremendous resource at your disposal for coaching your leaders on communication skills. When that’s not available, an investment in coaching would be a good choice. 

It’s critical that leaders be able to express the entire spectrum of human emotion at work without becoming antisocial. There are disagreements, there is frustration, and there is anger, among other normal human feelings. Communicating clearly and directly, in ways that signal respect, will assure a leader’s best chance at inspiring, motivating and retaining hard-won talent.

SOURCE: Alan Preston, Preston Leadership/, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, Dec. 8, 2014.

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