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How to be assertive in meetings or negotiations without being agressive or passive

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

Assertiveness is a key skill for confidence building, especially in meetings and negotiations where you need to express your opinions, needs, and interests clearly and respectfully. However, finding the right balance between being too aggressive or too passive can be challenging. Here are some tips to help you assert yourself in meetings and negotiations without being aggressive or passive.

Discover Your ‘Secret Sauce’

Before you enter any meeting or negotiation, it’s important to know your value and what you bring to the table. This will help you communicate your strengths, contributions, and goals with confidence and credibility. It will also help you avoid underestimating or overestimating yourself, which can lead to either passive or aggressive behaviour. To know your value, you can do some self-reflection exercises, (a Personal SWOT Analysis is a good place to begin), and asking for feedback from others who know you well, to identify your unique selling points, achievements, and areas of improvement.

Prepare and Practice

Another way to boost your assertiveness is to prepare and practice your key messages, arguments, and responses before the meeting or negotiation. Anyone you know who is good at being assertive and negotiating, does not leave it to chance. They will prepare to make it look natural. Preparing will help you anticipate potential questions, challenges, and objections, and plan how to handle them effectively. It will also help you avoid being caught off-guard, flustered, or defensive, which can undermine your assertiveness. To prepare and practice, you can write down your main points (keep them to bullet point form to avoid ‘reading from a ‘script’), rehearse them out loud, and seek feedback from a trusted colleague or friend, or record your answers on a voice memo and listen back.

Choose assertive language

The language you use in meetings and negotiations can have a significant impact on how you are perceived and how you influence others. To be assertive, it’s important to use language that is direct, clear, and respectful. For instance, instead of saying “I guess” or “I might”, try saying “I think” or “I believe”. Instead of “I need” or “I demand”, try using phrases such as “I would like” or “I prefer”. Instead of saying “You are right” or “You are wrong”, try expressing your opinion with phrases like “I agree with” or “I disagree with”. And rather than using phrases such as “Thank you”, “Sorry”, or “No problem”, try expressing your appreciation and conveying emotional intelligence with phrases like “I appreciate”, “I understand”, or “I acknowledge”. Make sure to point out the stuff you do agree with, rather than just jumping to the bits you don’t agree with. This can make you sound negative or that you’re totally against everything they’re saying.

Listen and empathise

Being assertive does not mean being selfish or insensitive to the views and feelings of others. In fact, being assertive requires listening and empathising with the other party, and showing that you respect and value their opinions, needs, and interests. This will help you build rapport, trust, and mutual understanding, and create a positive and constructive atmosphere for the meeting or negotiation. To listen and empathise, you can use active listening skills, such as nodding, paraphrasing what you’ve just heard from them, asking questions, and giving feedback.

Be flexible and solution orientated

Finally, being assertive does not mean being stubborn or inflexible to the outcomes of the meeting or negotiation. It means being willing to compromise, negotiate, and find solutions that benefit both parties, without sacrificing your core values and principles (or those of the company you’re representing). This will help you avoid conflicts, resentment, and deadlock, and foster cooperation, collaboration, and win-win scenarios. To be flexible and solution-oriented, you can use problem-solving skills, such as brainstorming, evaluating, and testing alternatives, and agreeing on action steps.

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