Assertive communication: The importance of voice

At the PM Forum  half day workshop on “Impact, assertiveness and effectiveness” there were delegates from law, intellectual property and accountancy firms. Some felt these skills weren’t taught at university and others wanted help to develop their roles and grow personally. Some were new to their roles and professional services marketing. There were also a fair number from Liverpool who were surrounded by the excitement of the Eurovision Song Contest preparations. Most wanted to increase their confidence in dealing with partners and other fee-earners. It’s worth mentioning that this year’s theme for mental health awareness month is anxiety. And there’s research to suggest that assertiveness training can reduce anxiety, stress and depression. A key theme from the workshop was Assertive communication: The importance of voice.

Keys to Assertive Communication

Assertiveness is the ability to stand up for what you believe while staying calm and positive and respecting others’ views. Assertive behaviour ensures that you’re able to make decisions which means you will hold some responsibility for outcomes.

To ensure your needs are met, assertiveness allows you to step in and voice your concerns. With assertive behaviour you minimise the chances of misunderstanding and can find win-win solutions in conflict. Most guidance on assertive communication covers the following:

  • Be aware of your body language – Keep your physical stance open; uncross arms and legs Non-Verbal Communication (NVC) – the basics (Video) (
  • Make direct eye contact, but soften your eyes so you’re not challenging
  • Speak clearly and calmly
  • Keep your tone of voice even and normal
  • Use “I statements” to address the issue so that the focus is on your need: “I can’t meet that deadline but would like to help you reach your goal.”
  • Be specific and direct in making your point such as “I will need more time to finish that task. Can you approve this?”
  • Make your request direct instead of non-direct such as “Will you please have that finished by today” instead of “Do you think it will be done by today?”
  • Sum up the main point and your agreement. This helps everyone to be clear about the plan and outcome expected

People are considered effective when they accomplish what they set out to accomplish – so stating your needs and goals, and reinforcing this with the way you explain them is important.

What Are The Six C’s Of Compelling Communication? And Why Should You Care? | LinkedIn (October 2022) suggests:

  1. Clear
  2. Concise
  3. Correct
  4. Contextual
  5. Concrete
  6. Carting

 Assertive communication: The importance of voice

 Most of us recognise the phrase “It’s not what you say, but how you say it” which is based on Albert Mehrabian’s research based on the 7%-38%-55% rule. Yet most people – particularly in these digital visual times – focus on body language or non-verbal communication from posture, expressions and gestures. Yet your voice is responsible for so much of the meaning,

We can consider the impact of voice across several dimensions (the 7Ps of voice):

  • Personality (your voice conveys your warmth and authority)
  • Passion (your voice expresses your energy)
  • Projection (volume is a key indicator of confidence)
  • Pitch (a lower pitch is perceived as more credible)
  • Pace (speaking too quickly might convey nervousness)
  • Pauses (another indicator of confidence – pauses add impact, allow time for key points to sink in or for people to reflect and form a response)
  • Prosody (the rhythm, stress and intonation of your speech might be perceived positively or negatively)

And I wrote about research on how accents are perceived recently Telephone skills for lawyers and accountants (

Tips for sounding more assertive

To sound and be perceived as more assertive, the suggestions are:

  • Use a balanced speech rate – avoid changing to a faster or slower rate as this creates uncertainty
  • Keep your vocal tone consistent – research has found that consistency is important. “Consistency in tone or motion indicates who really knows what they’re doing. When pitching, you could estimate ratings purely by tone of voice” (Pentland, MIT)
  • Avoid upspeak – This is where a statement ends with a questioning up tone. It lacks authority and suggests you are tentative. Raising rate at the end of a statement suggests a question.

 Conversational Tricks to Sound More Confident | The Muse includes the following tips:

  1. Speak more slowly
  2. Use pauses to your advantage
  3. Avoid asides
  4. Lower your vocal range
  5. Improve your posture
  6. Gesticulate
  7. Talk more

 Boundaries for assertive communication

Boundaries define what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in a relationship. We talked about:

Porous boundaries Healthy boundaries Rigid boundaries
Overly trusting of others Takes time to build trust with others Very untrusting of others
Overshares personal information Shares personal information appropriately Very guarded with personal information
HAs difficulty saying No to others Able to say No when needed Says No to others most of the time
Quick to adopt others’ opinions Values both own and others’ opinions Tends to ignore others’ opinions
Avoids conflict by giving in to others Accepts conflict as a normal part of life Avoids conflict by pushing others away
Does not assert personal values Stands by personal values, but can adapt Has inflexible personal values
Communicates passively Communicates assertively Communicates aggressively

Assertiveness reduces stress, anxiety and depression

This year’s mental health awareness week focuses on anxiety.

In a 2016, an Iranian research paper found that assertiveness training was effective at reducing stress and anxiety of high school students.

  • The test found a significant difference between the mean score for assertiveness in the experimental group before, immediately after, and two months after implementing the training program.
  • Two months after the intervention, the mean score for anxiety in the experimental group was found significantly lower than the control group.

The Effectiveness of Assertiveness Training on the Levels of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression of High School Students – PMC (

The following posts focus on depression:

change process – Emotions when reacting to change (

Lost connections – Why you’re depressed by Johann Hari (

art and science of overcoming clinical depression (2021) by Oliver Kamm” (

Tips for making an impact at work

In 10 of the Best Ways to Make an Impact at Work – iConnectEngineers the author offers the following ideas to make an impact at work (many of these ideas are explored further on this blog under the heading of “Be more proactive”)

  1. Initiate new ideas
  2. Update co-workers on your progress
  3. Be positive
  4. Let others count on you
  5. Pay attention to what your co-workers say
  6. Speak up
  7. Go the extra mile
  8. Be a leader
  9. Network
  10. Think ahead

Key takeaways on assertiveness, effectiveness and impact from delegates

During the session on assertiveness, effectiveness and impact we covered many topics. Many of these themes are explored further Assertiveness skills – getting what you want and saying “No” ( The delegates indicated that these were their key takeaways:

  • Be aware of my own perception of people – as this will impact how I interact with them and therefore their response to me (self-fulfilling prophesy)
  • Be clear on your personal goals to support you in being more assertive
  • Assuming the outcome of a conversation is going to be negative is likely to influence that outcome in reality
  • Prioritise what is urgent vs what is important
  • Implement healthy boundaries (during the session we discussed the difference between
  • A key goal is to be more strategic and more assertive so learn how to say “No”
  • Dedicate more time to prepare and brainstorm before meetings
  • Be more concise when I speak
  • Do not underestimate the value of my role
  • Soften ways to say “No” so you still appear positive and co-operative. For example, offer a different time-frame to complete a task so that it is not a hard no
  • Avoid panicking and saying ‘yes’ when you mean to decline Instead say ‘I would love to, but’ when we are too busy
    • I often feel like other departments don’t see the point of what we do in marketing and business development
    • Marketing and business development can sometimes feel like a chore or afterthought for others
    • In the professions, firms are often built on archaic attitudes or legislation, whereas marketing moves very quickly. I often feel out of step in the name of future-proofing our output

Delegate poll results

Which topic is of most interest to you?

  • Impact 14%
  • Assertiveness 64%
  • Effectiveness 21%

On a scale of 1-10, how much impact have you made in the past year?

  • 3 – 7%
  • 4 – 0%
  • 5 – 36%
  • 6 – 21%
  • 7 – 29%
  • 8 – 7%

How confident do you feel in your role? (from 1 to 10) Be more confident and convey confidence – top tips (

  • 4 – 7%
  • 5 – 27%
  • 6 – 40%
  • 7 – 20%
  • 8 – 7%

How clear are your goals? Self-Motivation – Ten top tips (Video) from Kim Tasso

  • Very clear 33%
  • Not very clear 27%
  • Confused and conflicting 13%
  • Constantly changing 27%

Do you think your personality is mostly: Adapting to dog, cat and bear personalities – Better business relationships (

  • Cat 53%
  • Dog 40%
  • Bear 7%

What’s your style?

  • Aggressive 0%
  • Passive 87%
  • Passive-Aggressive 0%
  • Assertive 13%

How persuasive do you think you are (on a scale of 1 to 10) Book review – Persuasion: The art of influencing people by James Borg (

  • 3 – 13%
  • 4 – 20%
  • 5 – 20%
  • 6 – 20%
  • 7 – 20%
  • 8 – 7%

How often do you want to say NO but end up saying YES? Assertiveness skills – getting what you want and saying “No” (

  • Never 0%
  • Sometimes 67%
  • Often 27%
  • Always 7%

How often do you feel stressed: What can I do to beat stress? – Kim Tasso

  • Never 0%
  • Occasionally 60%
  • Regularly 13%
  • Quite often 27%

How much do you think your fee-earners trust you? trust for better business relationships (

  • I really don’t know 14%
  • They don’t know or trust me 0%
  • They trust me on some things 79%
  • They trust me completely 7%

When it comes to time management: 35 tips to improve Time Management for busy professionals (

  • 29% I feel confident about how I manage my time
  • 21% My manager is good at helping me to prioritise
  • 36% Sometimes I struggle to prioritise
  • 14% There are too many conflicting demands on my time

How often do you ask for help? Reinforcements: How to get people to help you by Heidi Grant (

  • Rarely – 21%
  • Sometimes – 36%
  • Often – 43%

How often do you have to deal with arrogant people? Dealing with “difficult” people – Nine strategies for dealing with arrogance (

  • 8% Never
  • 54% Hardly ever
  • 31% Often
  • 8% All the time

Related posts

Assertiveness skills – getting what you want and saying “No” (

Be visible, assert and challenge and remember your goals (

assertiveness, effectiveness and impact – We’re all in the same boat (

improve impact, assertiveness and effectiveness for marketing and BD (

Insights into assertiveness, confidence and effectiveness (

Be more confident and convey confidence – top tips (

Soft skills – Boost your self-confidence and confidence (Video) (

Assertiveness confidence and effectiveness (

Non-Verbal Communication (NVC) – the basics (Video) (

Book review – Persuasion: The art of influencing people by James Borg (

Book review – Brilliant personal effectiveness by Douglas Miller (

Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan (

Reinforcements: How to get people to help you by Heidi Grant (

Resources to help you deal with difficult interactions (

Dealing with “difficult” people – Nine strategies for dealing with arrogance (

trust for better business relationships (

35 tips to improve Time Management for busy professionals (

What can I do to beat stress? – Kim Tasso