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It’s no secret that even as professionals, we encounter ineffective communication skills every day. We can see it in our co-workers who give us the cold shoulder or silently storm around the unit/department. We can see it in the unfortunate tirade of a boss who’s a “yeller” but insists she has an “open door” policy. Or in the physician who makes the false assumption that we can read minds.

Perhaps we even see ineffective communication in ourselves.

3 Keys to Develop Assertive Communication Skills

Communicating effectively is a core skill necessary for you to succeed. If you happen to think that developing your communication skills isn’t as important as developing your clinical skills, you’re making a big mistake. The #1 skill leaders look for when hiring, promoting, or recommending is effective communication.

Luckily, communication skills can be learned.

Recognize Different Communication Styles

Four different communication styles exist: Aggressive; Passive; Passive-Aggressive; and Assertive. Each style can also be further identified by their levels of honesty and consideration.


People who use this style are exceedingly blunt. The aggressive person may even get right in your face, yell and scream, and openly criticize others. Aggressive communicators score high on the honesty scale but low on the considerate scale.


People who use this style are exceedingly considerate. For fear of conflict or stepping on toes, they are not always honest about their true feelings. People-pleasers often fall in this category.


This communication style is neither honest nor considerate. Users of this style will smile to your face then stab you in the back when you turn around. Alternately, they may act bitter, chilly or stoic, and when directly asked why they are angry or upset, will say nothing is wrong yet continue to give you the cold shoulder.


This style offers a healthy balance of both honesty and consideration. This is a direct, strong and calm style of communication and focuses on achieving a healthy compromise that respects everyone involved. This style, without contest, is the most effective for healthcare.


The nurse who uses the assertive communication style adheres to the following behaviors:

  • Communicates concerns directly to the person he or she has an issue with, rather than talking indirectly about someone behind his/her back.
  • Listens actively and reflectively to others.
  • Offers direct eye contact.
  • Has strong self-awareness and a relaxed posture.
  • Communicates positively and constructively, without use of judgement and labeling.


  1.  Think before speaking – Your most important step. Thinking before you speak gives you the time to breathe, think and craft your response in a respectful, considerate way. Before speaking, ask yourself:
    • What are the goals?
    • What are my options?
    • How can I communicate in a way that’s honest and respectful?
  2.  Pay attention to body language – What your body says can be more powerful than your words:
    • Be Equals – If they’re sitting down, you sit down. If they are standing up, you stand up. Leveling the playing field always supports assertive communication.
    • Be open and strong – Avoid coming in defensively, with arms crossed. Balance your body. Notice your solar plexus and ground yourself, feet slightly apart, arms open, and palms up, avoiding fighting fists or stiff boxing stance. Avoid darting your eyes around.
    • Control your tone – Speaking quickly, with a high pitch or in a whisper will come off weak, nervous and lacking self-esteem. Breathe deep and even, speak in a clear, audible tone, and avoid racing through your words.
  3.  Use scripts when communicating:
    • “I’m concerned about…” or
    • “Help me to understand…” or
    • “I’m not sure you’re aware…

These are great examples of non-inflammatory opening statements, which can help diminish the likelihood of putting the other person on the defense, or feeling attacked.

Assertive communication not only extends respect for those we work with, but nurses who use assertive communication receive greater respect for themselves.

Maybe it’s time to work on yours.

Renee ThompsonThanks so much for reading. Take care, be kind, and stay connected.


If you like this post, I recommend the following:
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Dr. Renee Thompson works with healthcare organizations who want to overcome the leadership and clinical challenges their people face every day. If you’d like to find out more about her programs, please visit her website www.reneethompsonspeaks.com.

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