In my experience as a soft skills trainer, I have met a lot of people who ask about assertiveness skills. This has either come about due to previous experiences, which had resulted in being aggressive or passive.

Individuals will often question why they need to be assertive, and many believe that screaming and shouting is being assertive! When we start to scream and shout, we have lost control, and we are probably aggressive. Indeed in my experience, poor management or leadership can be traced back to not being assertive when required, and we have given in and become either passive or aggressive.

What do we mean about being assertive? Well, it's not about being aggressive or steamrolling someone into submission. It is much more than that; it is about being in control seeking and exchanging opinions, developing a full understanding of the situation and negotiating a win-win situation.

As is the case with many of these skills, being assertive can come more naturally in some, and this can be traced to a number of characteristics, including individual personality.

Remember, non-assertive behavior is not a sign of weakness, and often, it is the most appropriate behaviour for most situations. Don't be fooled into thinking that you always have to be more assertive. Although with some people it is just their natural trait with others, they find it challenging alien, and many managers find themselves feeling inadequate because they simply can't (or think they can't) become assertive. However, we all know that sometimes we have to be assertive, and we all know that if we don't, we run a real risk and the risk is clear people will take advantage if we allow it. As a Manager, this could have negative consequences, so we must take control and when required and the situation dictates, adopt a more assertive approach.

A few top tips regarding being assertive:

Choosing the right approach being assertive depends on making choices that meet your needs and the needs of the situation. Sometimes it's appropriate to be passive; remember though this is still being assertive as you rather than other people or situations are in control.

Develop a value and belief system allowing yourself to be assertive is key. It is often the main stumbling block for individuals who simply don't permit themselves to be assertive. Typical suggestions include:

a) Allow yourself to get angry in a controlled manner

b) To say 'No'

c) To ask for help

d) Allow mistakes

Using effective assertive language is a key tool for becoming more assertive. Often we think we are more assertive, and we let it fail by using inappropriate language that makes us appear passive or aggressive. Avoid "You're being ....." or other statements where you sound like you accusing or judging. The use of "I feel" or "I think" type statements are more effective because it's very difficult to argue with someone who uses "I".

Tone is another important aspect of how we communicate. A steady or dropped tone is the most appropriate, a tone that rises, and the statement sounds like a question and sends a message that they are unsure about what they are saying. Women, in particular, may unconsciously communicate this by letting their tone rise at the end of the sentence.

Body Language and Being Assertiveneeded how we communicate and get our message across, is dominated by body language. Therefore it follows that we must demonstrate appropriate body language. Confidence is often associated with assertiveness, and confident body language is a must; stand tall, breathe deeply, and look people in the eye. Open body language is a must, and arms should be away from our sides and not fiddling or behind our backs.

Remember being assertive is all about being in control. It is very much a state of mind that can be learned and switched on and off when required. I have met and taught many lovely warm individuals who you think wouldn't be able to do any of the above but, with a flick of a switch (when required) can adopt many of the skills we have discussed. Remember though only using it when required is the key.

Claire and I have completed a journal on assertiveness skills, it's a great way of recording your actions and changing your behaviour.  Even if you have struggled with being assertive previously you can change if you really want to.  You can order our journal from Amazon here.

Ralph Moody is the founder of Target Training and specialises in trainer and management development.  You can read more about him here.