[Phew – this is going to be a long one, so prepare yourself, or come back later, but please come back.]

The goal of effective communications is not to be nice, necessarily, but to get the other party to ‘act’ on your message. You need them to apprehend what you’ve said, and agree that it is a good idea, but ultimately you want them to act.

Here are five keys to getting all three.

Assertiveness is the pre-requisite to getting your message across: you have to have the courage to put yourself out there.

Assertiveness: the capacity to claim one’s rights or put forward one’s views confidently and directly. It also entails being conscious of the other’s wishes and needs. It may also mean encouraging others to be open and honest about their views, wishes and feelings, so that both parties act appropriately.

What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Is self-confidence a pre-requisite to assertiveness? or do people who learn to be assertive become more self-confident? The extent to which assertiveness may be related to feelings of positive self-esteem, and therefore deep-seated in our primary development, it may not be easy to develop confidence and assertiveness. But assertiveness skills can be learned, and mastered, and internalized. And with it comes increasing self-confidence.

Assertiveness is a balancing act between two behavioural tendencies: too attentive to your own needs (aggressive) or too acquiescent of others needs (accommodating).

Assertive behaviour includes:
– Being ‘present’
– Being open in expressing wishes, thoughts and feelings and encouraging others to do likewise.
– Listening to the views of others and responding appropriately, whether in agreement with those views or not.
– Accepting responsibilities and being able to delegate to others.
– Actually and regularly expressing appreciation of others for what they have done or are doing.
– Being able to admit to mistakes and apologies.
– Maintaining self-control.
– Behaving as an equal to others.

Take a deep breath, and take your place.

Positive Statements
You attract more bees with sugar than with vinegar. So when communicating with another look to include as many positive statements as you can.
– Be descriptive of the problem, balancing the risks with the opportunities, not just stating the risks. Don’t be a negative Nellie.
– Be complimentary of others’ views and opinions in the matter at hand.
– Point out what has worked in the past as well as what have been the problems. Acknowledge the goodness of the past, but move on.
– When the problem is sufficiently defined move as quickly as possible to your ideas for resolution. Be proactive.
– Bring forward solutions that are practical, doable, timely and cost effective. Be careful of idealistic or too ambitious plans and goals.
– Don’t dwell on what won’t work but what can be tried. (Introverted personalities are especially ‘guilty’ of this style of thinking; be a ‘critical’ thinker yes, but don’t lead with the downside.) Point out risks and relevant past failures if these are instructive but first point out the advantages of the suggestion.
– Bring optimistic realism to the solutions and avoid pessimistic doubt.

Effective use of Questions
Gathering information is a basic human activity – to learn, to help us solve problems, to aid in decision-making and to understand each other more clearly.

Questioning is a key way to gain more information and without it interpersonal communications can fail. Questioning is fundamental to successful communication – we all ask, and are asked, questions when engaged in conversation, or should!.

A successful outcome may depend more on the questions asked than the statements made – asking the right questions at the right time.
Although questions are usually verbal in nature, they can also be non-verbal. Raising of the eyebrows could, for example, be asking, “Are you sure?”; facial expressions can ask all sorts of subtle questions at different times and in different contexts. People with low EI skills may ‘miss’ these sorts of questions.

Non-Verbal Communication
We get our message across not just with our words but with our bodies.

Interpersonal communication not only involves the explicit meaning of words, the information or message conveyed, but also refers to implicit messages, whether intentional or not, which are expressed through non-verbal behaviours.

Non-verbal communications – both voluntary and involuntary – include facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, gestures, hand movements and other body language displays (kinesics), posture and the physical distance between the communicators (proxemics); eye contact; facial expressions; physiological changes (sweating, red in the face!). These non-verbal signals can give clues and additional or even contradictory information and meaning over and above the spoken (verbal) communication.

Non-verbal messages allow people to:
– Reinforce or modify what is said in words. For example, people may nod their heads vigorously when making a claim to emphasize their point and invite agreement in the listener, but a shrug of the shoulders and a sad expression when saying “I’m fine thanks,” may imply that things are not really fine at all!
– Convey information about their emotional state.
– Define or reinforce the relationship between people: familiar vs unfamiliar; formal or casual.
– Provide feedback to the other person.
– Regulate the flow of communication, for example by signaling to others that they have finished speaking or wish to say something.

Non-verbal communication is a language unto its own, culturally driven and ever changing; consequently interpreting non-verbal communication is not that simple.

Non-verbal communication is further complicated in that it is usually not possible to interpret a gesture or expression accurately on its own. It consists of a complete package of expressions, hand and eye movements, postures, and gestures which should be interpreted along with speech, and in context. If we accurately interpreted the meaning of every nod, eye movement, and gesture, we might truly get the meaning in the message. Not so surprising that we often miss.

Communicating with Conviction
Passion accelerates potential. People are more influenced by emotion than by facts. And so presentations and conversations need to include energy and enthusiasm in order to elicit an energetic response.

Communicating with conviction of course begins with you believing, strongly, in your own message. People can read through doubt, insincerity and false enthusiasm.

Emotional contagion is the phenomenon of unconsciously responding to the emotions of others: whether laughter, or sadness, optimism or pessimism, or yawning. When we bring displayed enthusiasm to our conversations we inevitably cause others to pick up on our own emotion. Well okay, within limits. This essay is about tact and diplomacy, so don’t barrel them over with your enthusiasm and conviction.

If you are interested in exploring these ideas further AFS Consulting has a program for you delivered in one-on-one coaching modality: “Mastering the Art of Tact and Diplomacy. Check it out here: https://afsconsulting.ca/executive-coaching/communicating-with-tact-diplomacy/