You are on page 1of 46

(1) Did you hear about „Assertiveness‟ already before the course?

What aspects were new for you in

(2) What are the ideas of Assertiveness? What does it aim for? Please describe in your own words.

(3) Assertiveness: Does it make sense only on the job? Or also for private life?
Topics we will discuss:

(1) What do you think about the ideas and concepts presented in the module? Have you made
personal experiences with them?

(2) How will you use the content of the module within the next six months?

(3) How can you support others to become more assertive? In which situations should you do so?
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change those I can,
and wisdom to know the difference. Unknown
I had an idea about assertiveness, however, l quite frequently confuse assertiveness with
aggressiveness. I thought being assertive mean being pushy or annoying. Often I had failed to
maintain a balanced attitude and go too far in the process of being assertive and end up being
aggressive or discourteous
Being Assertive
People quite frequently confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness. Being assertive doesn’t mean
being pushy or annoying. Often people fail to maintain a balanced attitude and go too far in the
process of being assertive and end up being aggressive or discourteous. Sharon Anthony Bower’s
quote seems quite relevant in this context as she drew a line between the two by saying, “The basic
difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the
rights and wellbeing of others.” If you are assertive, then it means you are clear and concise and
have a clear idea of what you want to do or what you want to get. It is also an art of drawing what
you want from others, standing up for your own opinions and ideas without being ashamed, and
thus, is a big boon to have in your arsenal. So, if you are always afraid of expressing your opinions,
worried about what other people might think of you and avoid confrontations or give in too easily,
then you lack all the essential qualities of a leader. In today’s world, it is a big drawback not to have
assertive communication skills. So gear up and embrace all the techniques given below to eradicate
such deficiencies in your personality.
Behaviour which enables a person to act in his or her own best interest, to stand up for herself
or himself, without undue anxiety, to express honest feeling comfortably, or to exercise personal
rights without denying the rights of others
Assertiveness Techniques
Comport Yourself With Courage And Confidence
Overcome your fear and shyness. Act confident and courageous. Even if you feel skittish, try to hide
your anxiety as perfectly as possible. Nervous and timid people can’t be assertive. How you project
yourself is important. The communication apparently starts even before a single word is spoken. So,
it’s important to exude the right kind of confidence for the right kind of impression.
Speak Coherently And Calmly
You don’t necessarily have to be loud in order to be heard. Often when people are nervous, they
tend to stammer or make frequent halts while speaking. Get rid of such nervous energies. Speak
coherently and lucidly. Be concise.
Rehearse And Refine
If you have a problem while speaking publicly or to strangers, practice and prepare yourself for such
occasions. Good oration is an art and not many are blessed with it. Nevertheless, practice makes a
man perfect. Rehearse and refine your oratory skills by talking to yourself or addressing yourself in
front of a mirror.
Use “I”
Use “I” while speaking. For example “I feel”, “I believe”. It gives an impression that you are not shy to
voice your feelings and opinions. It is always good for assertiveness to voice your own opinions, how
you feel about something. You must project your own perspective starting your statement with the
letter “I”.
Sound Decisive
Don’t sound confused and tentative. First arrange your thoughts and contemplate what you want to
say for a moment and then speak or ask for what you need. There should not be even a hint of
ambiguity. If you disagree, feel free to express. You don’t have to be rude to express disagreement.
You can simply say that I respect your opinions but they are not same as mine. It will give an
impression that you are decisive and quite clear about your standing.
Make Eye Contact
When conversing, maintain eye contact with the person you are talking to. It is one of the basic traits
of assertiveness. Don’t turn your eyes away frequently when talking to someone. It shows lack of
confidence, and first step towards assertiveness is self-confidence.
Learn To Say No
If you don’t want to something which others want you to do, feel free to say no. It is not necessary
that you have to comply to others wishes. If you least feel like doing whatever they want you to, say
no. However, make sure you decline without hurting anybody. Be polite and clear. It is always better
to say no right away than dilly-dally.
Don’t Be Too Compliant Or Too Complaisant
Don’t try to be too obliging or too pleasing. Don’t smile or laugh too much. Smile occasionally when
you feel appropriate. Do not nod your head too much. Stay composed. Never act subserviently in
order to impress others and gain their favors.
Be Honest To Yourself
Figure out what you want. Be specific about what you want to achieve out of a particular
conversation or meeting. If you are clear, then it is easier for others to know what you want out of
them and you can easily get your job done.
Find Someone Who Is Assertive
Follow someone who is assertive. See how they act and behave. If possible, ask what they feel like.
Study them and try to implement them in your life in your own way. Don’t imitate. Everyone has his
or her own unique style. Often one’s style doesn’t suit the other.
o Assertiveness doesn‟t mean being aggressive.
o Don‟t sound rude or arrogant while trying to be assertive.
o Don‟t feel shy to ask questions or say sorry.
o Don‟t look pushy.
o Don‟t speak too much.
o Don‟t be reluctant to admit that you don‟t know.
o Don‟t let your emotions run too high.
o Make sure you don‟t appear too obliging or too flattering.
It is not possible for a shy and timid person to grow assertive overnight. However, these techniques
will certainly lead one in the right direction to be confident and assertive, no matter how slowly and
steadily the progress is. As the world is getting more and more competitive day-by-day,
assertiveness is becoming an important weapon to have. At the same time, one has to be aware of
the fact that there is a very fine and yet distinguishable line between being assertive and being
aggressive and arrogant. So one must have a clear idea where does he stand. There are some
warnings mentioned above, which must be considered as they quite clearly draw the line between
assertiveness and aggressiveness. Follow and implement the tips to T and you won’t be treated like
a door-mat any more

4. Assertiveness: communicating your own ideas and

The aim of this session is to:
 increase knowledge about assertiveness, and to help people be more assertive in
their communications with others.
Learning outcomes

By the end of this session it is intended that:
 you will understand the roles of submissive, assertive, and aggressive
behaviour in communication
 you will have learned more about the skills of assertive communication
 you will have reflected on your own ways of relating to others and how
appropriate assertive behaviour may be used in your humanitarian work.

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is the capacity to
 make requests,
 actively disagree,
 express positive or negative personal rights or feelings,
 initiate, maintain or disengage from conversations, and,
 stand up for one‟s self without attacking another.

(McCroskey et al., 1986)
All of the above are activities that you employ in your daily life. In this session you
might benefit by reflecting on how assertive you are with your co-workers.

Terms that are commonly used to describe a person who engages in assertive com-
munication behaviours include:
 willing to defend own beliefs,
 independent, forceful, strong of personality,
 dominant,
 willing to take a stand,
 acts as a leader, (and of course),
 assertive.
(McCroskey et al., 1986)

Do you recognize these terms in your work and the work of others?

Many interpersonal encounters will provide an opportunity to practise assertiveness.
Working with other people in refugee settings will not be totally smooth and trouble
free. There will be times when you will experience differences with other people,
maybe even whole groups of people. These may be differences in ideas, thoughts
about the best way to solve a problem, or differences in goals or needs. It may even be
differences in how people perceive the situation they are in and the problems they are
encountering. Opportunities to practise assertiveness occur whenever there is a
conflict of interest between two people or two groups of people.

Assertiveness can be seen on a continuum of behaviour choices. The key word here is
„choice‟. A person can choose to behave using submissive behaviours, assertive
behaviours, or aggressive behaviours. Again it is important to note that different
cultures will have different expressions of these behaviours. They will also have
different understandings of how appropriate these behaviours are. In refugee work and
other humanitarian work you will often encounter all behaviours on the continuum.

An aggressor is someone who tries to get her (or his) needs met, even at the expense
of others ... The aggressive person is usually very controlling. Through charisma or
the naked use of power, she controls others. She gets others to do her bidding. Things
tend to go her way. She is very active in shaping her own destiny. This control is
usually valued by aggressive people.
(Bolton, 1986)

Bolton describes several penalties associated with aggressive behaviours:
 Fear – that is, many people behave aggressively because they are fearful.
Continuing to act using aggressive behaviours feeds that fear.
 Aggression creates its own opposition and fosters its own destruction.
 It often results in a loss of control which is just the opposite to the purpose of
the aggression, which is to keep control. Keeping control over others requires
time and energy, which reduce the energies available to the aggressor for other
 Aggressive people tend to experience alienation from other people.
Can you think of examples of aggressive behaviours that you have encountered in
your work? Describe some of these and the penalties associated with the behaviours.

At the other end of the continuum is submission.

Submission is a way of avoiding, postponing or at least hiding the conflict that is so
fearful to submissive people ... Submission is often a way of trying to purchase the
approval of others ... The submissive person carries a much smaller load of
responsibility than does the assertive or aggressive person.
(Bolton, 1986)

The costs of submission include:
 The individual lives an unlived life; they do not determine their destiny.
 Relationships tend to be less satisfying and intimate because the submissive
person forfeits him or herself.
 An inability by the individual to control their emotions. Emotions are denied or
repressed, and have their outworking in a number of ways.
Kotzman (1989) compares submissive, assertive, and aggressive behaviours in terms
of your behaviour and feelings, and the feelings of the other person towards you and
themselves. Her suggestions are shown in Table 1 (p. 46).

The benefits of behaving assertively

Bolton (1986) suggests that assertive people like themselves. They are in a much
better position to feel good about themselves than submissive or aggressive
individuals. Kotzman (1989) describes the benefits of choosing to act assertively and
among these she lists that:
 assertive people feel better about themselves
 people respond to an assertive person more positively
 the assertive person feels that they are being heard
 the assertive person often gets what they want
 frustration, anger, and resentment are lessened
 the assertive individual is more able to cope with conflict and arrive at mutually
acceptable compromises
 assertive people no longer feel totally annihilated by others‟ criticisms and are
more able to judge them objectively and use them constructively.
How to act assertively

There are a number of different techniques for acting assertively. By far the most
popular is the three-part assertion message. The aim of this message is to convey to
another person your needs and bring about a change in the other person‟s behaviour.
For example, if another person is continually late for meetings made with you, the
three-part assertion message will provide you with the opportunity to let that person
know how this is frustrating you and form the basis of a negotiated solution to this
problem. However, before employing this technique Bolton (1986) suggests that we
assess the situation with six criteria. According to Bolton, to be successful, we need to
chose a method that will meet the following criteria:
 There is a high probability that the other will alter the troublesome behaviour.
 There is a low probability of violating the other person‟s space.
 There is little likelihood of diminishing the other person‟s self esteem.
 There is low risk of damaging the relationship.
 There is a low risk of diminishing motivation.
 There is little likelihood that defensiveness will escalate to destructive levels.
A three-part assertion message begins with a description of the offending behaviour
and includes a description of the consequences on your life and how you feel about
those consequences. For example:

When you are late for our meetings [offending behaviour], I waste time waiting for
you; time that could be spent on other work [consequences or effect]. This is
frustrating for me [feelings]. I would like us to solve this problem.*

* This final sentence adds to the three-part assertion message and leads to seeking a
solution to the problem that has been raised.

The following formula can be helpful for those beginning to use assertion messages:

When you .... [state the offending behaviour non-judgementally],
I feel ... [disclose your feelings]
because ... [state the effect the behaviour has on your life]

For example:

When you pay more attention to the ideas of the men on our committee than those of
the women, I feel angry because it suggests that my contributions and those of the
other women in our group are of little value.

When your
behaviour is:
Submissive Aggressive Assertive
you are likely to be indirect
self denying
self enhancing at
other's expense
appropriately direct
and honest
respectful of self
and others
you are likely
to feel
angry inside
a loser
self righteous
sometimes guilty
a winner
self respecting
sometimes anxious
a winner
the other
about youare likely
to be
sometimes annoyed
the other
about him/herself
put down
self valuing
self respecting
Table 1: Submissive, aggresive, and assertive behaviours


‘Bill of Assertive Rights’

Here is a list of personal rights, some of which you may wish to assert. Think about or
discuss this list. Which rights would you want to assert and under what
circumstances? What would you add to the list?
It is reasonable and proper for me ...
 to be treated with respect
 to hold my own views and have them heard
 to have my own feelings and have them taken seriously
 to arrange my own priorities
 to make mistakes
 to change my mind
 to choose not to answer questions which are personal or intrusive
 to choose if and when to assert myself
 to define and protect the physical space I need
 to refuse without feeling guilty
 to get what I pay for
 to ask for what I want
 to be given information (by doctors, lawyers, etc.) without being patronized
Any right I claim as my own, I extend to others.
Other activities
 Reflect on your behaviour at times of personal conflict. How do you see
yourself behaving in these situations?
 Outline at least two examples of circumstances when you are (or were) likely
not to be as assertive as you would want. Describe each situation and what you
would typically say or do. Write out, or practise with your partner, assertive
messages that you could use in each of these situations.
 What, for you, are the penalties that you pay when you act submissively or
aggressively? What would be some of the benefits to you in acting assertively?
During the next few days, take opportunities to practise some assertive messages.
Take note of what happens. Discuss this with your colleagues in training.
What is "Watzlawick‟s Axiom 1"?
“One cannot not communicate”:
The axiom, “you cannot not communicate”, is based on the idea that even if you don‟t say
anything your non-verbal communication speaks volumes. Every behaviour is a form of
communication. Because behaviour does not have a counterpart (there is no anti-behaviour), it is
impossible not to communicate. Even if communication is being avoided (such as the
unconscious use of non-verbals or symptom strategy), that is a form of communication. Even
facial expressions, digital communication, and being silent can be analyzed as communication by
a receiver. Everything we say, don‟t say, do or don‟t do conveys a message. This means that we
cannot decide whether or not to communicate. Communication is verbal and non-verbal, explicit
and implicit. We should be aware that a raised eyebrow, a turned away posture or a patronising
look also sends (negative) information to the other person. Activity or inactivity, words or
silence all have message value. They influence others and these others, in turn, cannot not
respond to these communications and are thus themselves communicating. A critique of this
axiom is that it does not cater for individuals out there who have an extremely hard time
appropriately interpreting non-verbal communication and this greatly disrupts their ability to
have normal interactions.

Would avoiding a conflict ("remaining silent", not addressing it) help to resolve it? Why / why
Conflict refers to a struggle or contest between people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs,
values, or objectives. Conflict results because of miscommunication between people with regard
to their needs, ideas, beliefs, goals, or values. Conflict avoidance is a method of dealing with
conflict, which attempts to avoid directly confronting the issue at hand. Van Dyne et al. (2003)
define silence as an employee‟s motivation to withhold or express ideas, information and
opinions about work‐related improvements. Remaining silent can help resolve conflict
particularly where the individual/employee is in a low power position and have little control over
the situation, where there is the need to allow others to deal with the conflict, or when the
problem is symptomatic of a much larger issue and one need to work on core issues, then
avoiding the conflict may help resolve it, however, this style is appropriate where the goal is to
buy time, reduce tension or the issues are of low importance. Thus, avoiding conflict is
considered as a useful means of disposing of very minor, non-recurring conflicts whose
resolution would expend excessive amounts of time or resources. On the other hand remaining
silent only makes things worse and causes individuals/employees to feel that there is no hope for
resolution. If individuals/employees lose hope that the real problems will not actually be
addressed and resolved, it can lead to a host of problems for the organization and for the
individual/employee, one of which is continued individual/employee silence, thus remaining
silent/not addressing conflict may not help resolve conflict, particularly, if there are significant
consequences of the conflict, avoidance should be understood as only a short term delay.
The Avoiding Style is when you do not satisfy your concerns or the concerns of the other person. This style is low
assertiveness and low cooperativeness. The goal is to delay. It is appropriate to use this style when there are issues of low
importance, to reduce tensions, or to buy time. Avoidance is also appropriate when you are in a low power position and
have little control over the situation, when you need to allow others to deal with the conflict, or when the problem is
symptomatic of a much larger issue and you need to work on the core issue. To develop skills in this style use foresight in
knowing when to withdraw, learn to sidestep loaded questions or sensitive areas by using diplomacy, become skillful at
creating a sense of timing, and practice leaving things unresolved.
Overuse of the avoidance style can result in a low level of input, decision-making by default, and allowing issues to fester,
which can produce a breakdown in communication between team members. This can inhibit brainstorming sessions from
being productive and can prevent the team from functioning. People who overuse avoidance feel they cannot speak frankly
without fear of repercussions. The overuse of conflict avoidance can often be a result of childhood experiences, past work-
related incidents, and negative experiences with conflict resolution. Behaviors associated with the overuse of avoidance
include being silent, sullen, and untruthful when asked if something is wrong being. A milder form of avoidance behavior is
when the team member procrastinates about getting work done and deliberately takes an opposing point of view
inappropriately during a decision-making situation, or is timid, withdrawn, or shy. Extreme behaviors can occur when
avoidance is overused. A person begins to be negative, critical and sarcastic. Other extreme avoidance behaviors include
becoming passive aggressive by being late and not paying attention at meetings. It also lends a greater importance to this
style as compared to the other styles because you have devoted such a disproportionate amount of time to the style.)
Under use of the avoidance style results in hostility and hurt feelings. In addition, work can become overwhelming because
too many issues are taken on at once, resulting in an inability to prioritize and delegate. When avoidance is underused a
team member may deny that there is a problem and allow their hurt feelings to prevent communication.
(1) Who are your conversational partners through your daily life? What is your present experience when you
communicate with them? How well do you communicate?

(2) What is your present experience in the field of „Social Perception‟ and „Self Perception‟?

(3) How is the relation between your experience and the content of the module? What are the confirmations,
what are the „learning's‟ and what topic did you like the most?
Conflict management is the principle that all conflicts cannot necessarily be resolved, but learning how to
manage conflicts can decrease the odds of nonproductive escalation. Conflict management involves
acquiring skills related to conflict resolution, self-awareness about conflict modes, conflict communication
skills, and establishing a structure for management of conflict in your environment.

Conflict Management
Conflict Styles
The Five Conflict Styles
(Thomas/Killman, 1972 with further descriptions and analysis by Bonnie Burrell, 2001)
The Competing Style is when you stress your position without considering opposing points of view. This style is highly
assertive with minimal cooperativeness; the goal is to win. The competing style is used when a person has to take quick
action, make unpopular decisions, handle vital issues, or when one needs protection in a situation where noncompetitive
behavior can be exploited. To develop this style you must develop your ability to argue and debate, use your rank or
position, assert your opinions and feelings, and learn to state your position and stand your ground.
Overuse of this style can lead to lack of feedback, reduced learning, and low empowerment. This can result in being
surrounded by “Yes-Men”. People who overuse the competing style often use inflammatory statements due to a lack of
interpersonal skills training. When overuse is taken to an extreme the person will create errors in the implementation of
the task by withholding needed information, talking behind another person‟s back (or “back-stabbing”), using eye motions
and gestures designed to express disapproval, and creating distractions by fiddling or interrupting. Overuse of this style
can be exhibited through constant tension or anger and occasional outbursts of violent temper.
Under use of the competing style leads to a lowered level of influence, indecisiveness, slow action, and withheld
contributions. When the competing style is underused some emergent behaviors people exhibit include justifying the
behaviors, demanding concessions as a condition of working on the problem, threatening separation as a way of making
others give in, and launching personal attacks.
The Avoiding Style is when you do not satisfy your concerns or the concerns of the other person. This style is low
assertiveness and low cooperativeness. The goal is to delay. It is appropriate to use this style when there are issues of low
importance, to reduce tensions, or to buy time. Avoidance is also appropriate when you are in a low power position and
have little control over the situation, when you need to allow others to deal with the conflict, or when the problem is
symptomatic of a much larger issue and you need to work on the core issue. To develop skills in this style use foresight in
knowing when to withdraw, learn to sidestep loaded questions or sensitive areas by using diplomacy, become skillful at
creating a sense of timing, and practice leaving things unresolved.
Overuse of the avoidance style can result in a low level of input, decision-making by default, and allowing issues to fester,
which can produce a breakdown in communication between team members. This can inhibit brainstorming sessions from
being productive and can prevent the team from functioning. People who overuse avoidance feel they cannot speak frankly
without fear of repercussions. The overuse of conflict avoidance can often be a result of childhood experiences, past work-
related incidents, and negative experiences with conflict resolution. Behaviors associated with the overuse of avoidance
include being silent, sullen, and untruthful when asked if something is wrong being. A milder form of avoidance behavior is
when the team member procrastinates about getting work done and deliberately takes an opposing point of view
inappropriately during a decision-making situation, or is timid, withdrawn, or shy. Extreme behaviors can occur when
avoidance is overused. A person begins to be negative, critical and sarcastic. Other extreme avoidance behaviors include
becoming passive aggressive by being late and not paying attention at meetings. It also lends a greater importance to this
style as compared to the other styles because you have devoted such a disproportionate amount of time to the style.)
Under use of the avoidance style results in hostility and hurt feelings. In addition, work can become overwhelming because
too many issues are taken on at once, resulting in an inability to prioritize and delegate. When avoidance is underused a
team member may deny that there is a problem and allow their hurt feelings to prevent communication.
The Compromising Style is finding a middle ground or forgoing some of your concerns and committing to other's
concerns. This style is moderately assertive and moderately cooperative; the goal is to find middle ground. The
compromising style is used with issues of moderate importance, when both parties are equally powerful and equally
committed to opposing views. This style produces temporary solutions and is appropriate when time is a concern, and as a
back up for the competing and collaborating styles when they are unsuccessful in resolving the situation. Compromising
skills include the ability to communicate and keep the dialogue open, the ability to find an answer that is fair to both
parties, the ability to give up part of what you want, and the ability to assign value to all aspects of the issue.
Overuse of the compromising style leads to loss of long-term goals, a lack of trust, creation of a cynical environment, and
being viewed as having no firm values. Overuse of compromise can result in making concessions to keep people happy
without resolving the original conflict.
Under use leads to unnecessary confrontations, frequent power struggles, and ineffective negotiating.
The Collaborating Style is when the concern is to satisfy both sides. It is highly assertive and highly cooperative; the
goal is to find a “win/win” solution. Appropriate uses for the collaborating style include integrating solutions, learning,
merging perspectives, gaining commitment, and improving relationships. Using this style can support open discussion of
issues, task proficiency, equal distribution of work amongst the team members, better brainstorming, and development of
creative problem solving. This style is appropriate to use frequently in a team environment. Collaborating skills include the
ability to use active or effective listening, confront situations in a non-threatening way, analyze input, and identify
underlying concerns.
Overuse of the collaborating style can lead to spending too much time on trivial matters, diffusion of responsibility, being
taken advantage of, and being overloaded with work. Under use can result in using quick fix solutions, lack of commitment
by other team members, disempowerment, and loss of innovation.
The Accommodating Style is foregoing your concerns in order to satisfy the concerns of others. This style is low
assertiveness and high cooperativeness; the goal is to yield. The accommodating style is appropriate to use in situations
when you want to show that you are reasonable, develop performance, create good will, keep peace, retreat, or for issues
of low importance. Accommodating skills include the ability to sacrifice, the ability to be selfless, the ability to obey orders,
and the ability to yield.
Overuse of the accommodating style results in ideas getting little attention, restricted influence, loss of contribution, and
anarchy. People who overuse the accommodating style exhibit a lack of desire to change and usually demonstrate anxiety
over future uncertainties. One of their main desires may be to keep everything the same. When accommodating is
overused certain behaviors emerge. Some of these emergent behaviors include giving up personal space, making "me" or
other victim statements, being overly helpful and then holding a grudge, and speaking in an extremely quiet almost
unintelligible voice. Under use of the accommodating style can result in lack of rapport, low morale, and an inability to
yield. When the accommodating style is underused a person may display apathy as a way of not addressing the anger or
hurt, and make statements full of innuendo and double meanings.
Interpreting Your Thomas Killman Conflict Mode Inventory Scores
Usually, after getting the results of any test or assessment, the first question people ask is: "What are the right answers?"
In the case of conflict-handling behavior, there are no universal right answers. All five modes are useful in some situations:
each represents a set of useful social skills. Our conventional wisdom recognizes, for example, that often “two heads are
better than one” (Collaborating). But it also says, “"Kill your enemies with kindness” (Accommodating), “Split the
difference” (Compromising), “Leave well enough alone” (Avoiding), and “Might makes right” (Competing). The
effectiveness of a given conflict-handling mode depends upon the requirements of the specific conflict situation and the
skill with which the mode is used.
Each of us is capable of using all five conflict-handling modes: none of us can be characterized as having a single, rigid
style of dealing with conflict. However, any given individual uses some modes better than others and therefore, tends to
rely upon those modes more heavily than others, whether because of temperament or practice.
The conflict behaviors which individuals use are therefore the result of both their personal predispositions and the
requirements of the situations in which they find themselves. The Thomas-Killman Conflict Mode Instrument is designed to
assess this mix of conflict-handling modes.
To help you judge how appropriate your utilization of the five modes is, we have listed a number of uses for each mode
based on lists generated by company presidents. Your score, high or low, indicates how often you tend to utilize each
mode in the appropriate situation. There is a possibility that your social skills lead you to rely upon some conflict behaviors
more or less than necessary. To help you determine if this is a problem for you we have also listed some diagnostic
questions to serve as warning signals for the under or overuse of each mode.
A. Competing
o When quick, decisive action is vital – e.g., emergencies.
o On important issues where unpopular courses of action need to be implemented – e.g., cost cutting, enforcing
unpopular rules, discipline.
o On issues vital to company welfare when you know you're right.
o To protect yourself against people who take advantage of noncompetitive behavior.
If you scored High:
o Are you surrounded by "yes" men?
(If so, perhaps it's because they have learned that it's unwise to disagree with you, or have given up
trying to influence you. This closes you off from information.)
o Are subordinates afraid to admit ignorance and uncertainties to you?
(In competitive climates, one must fight for influence and respect – which means acting more certain
and confident than one feels. The upshot is that people are less able to ask for information and opinion
– they are less able to learn.)
If you scored Low:
o 1. Do you often feel powerless in situations?
(It may be because you are unaware of the power you do have, unskilled in its use, or uncomfortable
with the idea of using it. This may hinder your effectiveness by restricting your influence.)
o 2. Do you have trouble taking a firm stand, even when you see the need?
(Sometimes concerns for other's feelings or anxieties about the use of power cause us to vacillate,
which may mean postponing the decision and adding to the suffering and/or resentment of others.)
B. Collaborating
o To find an integrative solution when both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised.
o When your objective is to learn – e.g., testing your own assumptions, understanding the views of others.
o To merge insights from people with different perspectives on a problem.
o To gain commitment by incorporating other's concerns into a consensual decision.
o To work through hard feelings which have been interfering with an interpersonal relationship.
If you scored High:
o Do you spend time discussing issues in depth that do not seem to deserve it?
(Collaboration takes time and energy – perhaps the scarcest organizational resources. Trivial problems
don't require optimal solutions, and not all personal differences need to be hashed out. The overuse of
collaboration and consensual decision-making sometimes represents a desire to minimize risk by
diffusing responsibility for a decision or by postponing action.)
o Does your collaborative behavior fail to elicit collaborative responses from others?
(The exploratory and tentative nature of some collaborative behavior may make it easy for others to
disregard collaborative overtures, or the trust and openness may be taken advantage of. You may be
missing some cues that indicate the presence of defensiveness, strong feelings, impatience,
competitiveness, or conflicting interests.)
If you scored Low:
o Is it hard for you to see differences as opportunities for joint gain – as opportunities to learn or solve
(Although there are often threatening or unproductive aspects of conflict, indiscriminate pessimism can
prevent you from seeing collaborative possibilities and thus deprive you of the mutual gains and
satisfactions which accompany successful collaboration.)
o Are subordinates uncommitted to your decisions or policies?
(Perhaps their own concerns are not being incorporated into those decisions or policies.)
C. Compromising
o When goals are moderately important, but not worth the effort or potential disruption of more assertive modes.
o When two opponents with equal power are strongly committed to mutually exclusive goals – e.g., as in labor-
management bargaining.
o To achieve temporary settlements to complex issues.
o To arrive at expedient solutions under time pressure.
o As a backup mode when collaboration or competition fails to be successful.
If you scored High:
o 1. Do you concentrate so heavily upon the practicalities and tactics of compromise that you sometimes
lose sight of larger issues – principles, values, long-term objectives, or company/team welfare?
o 2. Does an emphasis on bargaining and trading create a cynical climate of gamesmanship?
(Such a climate might undermine interpersonal trust and deflect attention away from the merits of the
issues discussed.)
If you scored Low:
o Do you find yourself too sensitive or embarrassed to be effective in bargaining situations?
o Do you find it hard to make concessions?
(Without this safety valve, you may have trouble getting gracefully out of mutually destructive
arguments, power struggles, etc.)
D. Avoiding
o When an issue is trivial, of only passing importance, or when other more important issues are pressing.
o When you perceive no chance of satisfying your concerns – e.g., when you have low power or you are frustrated
by something which would be very difficult to change (national policies, someone's personality structure, etc.)
o When the potential damage of confronting a conflict outweighs the benefits of its resolution.
o To let people cool down – to reduce tensions to a productive level and to regain perspective and composure.
o When gathering more information outweighs the advantages of an immediate decision.
o When others can resolve the conflict more effectively.
o When the issue seems tangential or symptomatic of another more basic issue.
If you scored High:
o Does your coordination suffer because people have trouble getting your inputs on issues?
o Does it often appear that people are "walking on eggshells?"
(Sometimes a dysfunctional amount of energy can be devoted to caution and the avoiding of issues,
indicating that issues need to be faced and resolved.)
o Are decisions on important issues made by default?
If you scored Low:
1. Do you find yourself hurting people's feelings or stirring up hostilities?
(You may need to exercise more discretion in confronting issues or more tact in framing issues in non-threatening ways.
Tact is partially the art of avoiding potentially disruptive aspects of an issue.)
2. Do you often feel harried or overwhelmed by a number of issues?
(You may need to devote more time to setting priorities – deciding which issues are relatively unimportant and perhaps
delegating them to others.)
E. Accommodating
o When you realize that you are wrong (or less experienced or knowledgeable)– to allow a better position to be
heard, to from others, and to show that you are reasonable. 8"
o When the issue is much more important to the other person than to yourself – to satisfy the needs of others, and
as a goodwill gesture to help maintain a cooperative relationship.
o To build up social credits for later issues which are important to you.
o When continued competition would only damage your cause – when you are outmatched and losing.
o When preserving harmony and avoiding disruption are especially important.
o To aid in the managerial development of subordinates by allowing them to experiment and learn from their own
If you scored High:
o Do you feel that your own ideas and concerns are not getting the attention they deserve?
(Deferring too much to the concerns of others can deprive you of influence, respect, and recognition. It
also deprives the organization of your potential contributions.)
o Is discipline lax?
(Although discipline for its own sake may be of little value, there are often rules, procedures, and
assignments whose implementation is crucial for you or the organization.)
If you scored Low:
o Do you have trouble building goodwill with others?
(Accommodation on minor issues that are important to others is a gesture of goodwill.)
o Do others often seem to regard you as unreasonable?
o Do you have trouble admitting it when you are wrong?
o Do you recognize legitimate exceptions to rules?
o Do you know when to give up?
Now that you know a little more about conflict styles and your personal preferences, the goal is to develop skills in all of
the styles so that you can mold conflict into a constructive form. Conflict can be used to help expose important issues,
develop learning and creativity, and can help to develop trust and openness (Brake & Walker, 1995). Once you understand
your styles you can view conflict management through five interrelated issues: source issues, strategy issues, context
issues, reaction issues, and power issues.
Source issues in teams can result from individuals having different values, beliefs, and perceptions of self-interest. Team
members can have conflicting goals and priorities, contrasting methodologies, different perceptions of events, and
disparities in the distribution of work.
Strategy issues arise when people don‟t have the skills to choose the appropriate conflict management style. Conflict can
escalate when incompatible potential solutions to conflicts have not been analyzed and when there is no acknowledgement
of the importance of the issue to individual team members.
Context issues are concerned with where and when the conflict is taking place, which includes culture, environment, and
the history of the conflict. Conflict will escalate because of context issues when there is a loyalty to a specific sub group
within the team, or when one member feels they must support friends within the team; this creates factions or polarized
subgroups. Another context issue that can be cultural is when the team members admire or tolerate displays of anger or
stubbornness; this can result in conflict escalation.
Reaction issues involve the emotions being expressed during the conflict. An example of a reaction issue is when team
members see themselves as under attack. Conflicts can escalate when one or more team members perceive they are
losing the conflict.
Power issues usually involve resources such as money, time, knowledge, skill, information authority, legitimacy, and
networking issues. Conflict escalation occurs in this context when there is a lack of authority to restrain hostile behavior.
Recognizing the different aspects of a conflict and the different manners in which conflict escalates allows you to deal with
situations more effectively. When a conflict has high intensity and detrimentally effects the entire team the plan should be
to narrow the issues down to specific issues so it can be resolved. The SOLVE, the Anger Action Model, allows you to
narrow the issues and settle them.
Most people don't like conflict. A recent study of CEO's found that fear of conflict was one of
the seven deadly sins CEOs won't admit.
The problem is, avoiding conflict doesn't reduce tension, if anything, it escalates it.
Issues become bigger, resentment grows, people become disengaged, and feel powerless to
solve their problems.
A reluctance to deal with conflict is hugely detrimental to business. Good ideas remain
unspoken, people create silos, and leaders don't get the information they need because
everyone is afraid to bring up potentially contentious issues.
The post mortem on any business failure almost always reveals critical information went
unaddressed because somebody was afraid to discuss it.
Avoiding conflict also wreaks havoc on relationships. Have you ever been around someone
who was frustrated or angry, but doesn't want to talk about it? They ooze resentment.
Here are three big reasons people avoid conflict and tips to overcome them:
1. False assumptions about surface information
My friend and client Judi Bruce at Deloitte says, "It's like the classic orange story." Two
people are fighting over an orange. They both want the whole thing. But when asked why
they want the whole orange one replies, "I need all the juice to make my cake." The other
replies, "I need all the zest from the peel to make my frosting."
What seems to be a conflict might not be a conflict at all. Just because someone says they
want something doesn't mean that you have a full understanding of their goals. Dig for a
little more information. Neutral questions like, "Tell me a bit more about how you envision
this" or "Help me understand where you're coming from" often reveal an easy win/win.
2. Mistaking determination for rigidity
Just because someone is enthusiastic, or even firm, doesn't mean that they're not open to
other suggestions. I have this problem a lot. I get so excited about something. I start talking
a mile a minute and people often assume that I'm unwilling to consider anything different.
Confronting a dominant personality doesn't have to be combative. Simply ask: Are you open
for feedback on this? If they say yes, which most people will, start off saying, "I tend to think
of these things from a different perspective." It keeps the conversation neutral. You're not
attacking their point of view; you're just sharing yours. High-energy people move quickly
and enthusiastically. They might wind up loving your idea and embracing it with the same
zeal they do their own.
3. Lack of confidence
The biggest reason people avoid conflict is because they don't see a clear way to bring up an
issue and resolve it peacefully. They doubt their ability to guide the conversation or put
forth a compelling case. They assume it's going to be an argument and they'll lose.
But disagreements don't mean death; they're just disagreements. You don't have to be afraid
of them. Human beings are human beings. There is always going to be conflict. It doesn't
have to be contentious or ugly.
It's ironic, when you accept conflict as an inevitable part of business and relationships; you
wind up with less of it. The more confidence you have in your ability to handle
disagreements, the quicker you resolve them.
Handling a conflict isn't the worst thing in the world. But letting one go unresolved can
cause you big problems
+233 (0)302 429 150
Communicating Strategically
Chapter Learning Objectives
 Recognize the common sources of misunderstanding that can sometimes lead to
 Understand how conflict arises in a business organization, and
 Learn methods of communication designed to resolve misunderstanding and
conflict in productive ways.
Steps toward Conflict Resolution
When groups of people work together, misunderstandings and conflict are inevitable. In a business
organization, both misunderstanding and conflict can lead to serious problems. Misunderstanding can
cause expensive mistakes and business failures, while individuals engaged in internal conflict have less
time and energy to spend on working toward the organization’s goals. On the other hand, both
misunderstanding and conflict are valuable tools for reaching the authentic understanding that allows a
group of people to collectively accomplish a task. Misunderstandings allow the group to locate topics
where clearer, more complete, or more detailed communication is needed. Similarly, conflicts are a
signal that some kind of problem exists, which must be corrected if the group is to remain productive.
Very few people enjoy misunderstanding or conflict, of course, and most people will go out of their way
to avoid dealing with either one. In a business organization, however, ignoring, avoiding or dismissing
either one can create even more problems for the organization. If misunderstandings are dismissed as
“personal problems” between individuals, the group can miss an opportunity to clarify and solidify its
shared understanding. Similarly, when the causes of a conflict are ignored, the organization is in danger
of ignoring dangers that could lead to serious consequences if they are not corrected.
Preventing Misunderstanding
Without a doubt, most conflict in the workplace is caused by misunderstandings of one kind or
another. If these misunderstandings can be prevented in the first place, or resolved before conflict
develops, communication has been used to its very best advantage. Sometimes we think only of
communication when it seems to have “broken down,” failing to notice just how often a good
communicator checks for misunderstanding and repairs the message so that the overall
communicationdoesn’t break down.
Communicators should always try to avoid misunderstanding by using a clear, concise business style, of
course, and following expected communication formats. Even the best communicators will sometimes
find themselves misunderstood, though, or find that they sometimes have trouble understanding
others. The best communicators will not simply create or listen to a message and assume that it has
been understood exactly as intended. The choice of communication channels, personalities of the
individuals involved and the organizational environment itself can all play a role in the final quality of
Understanding the communication processes that accomplish these goals begins with an understanding
of conflict itself. Many definitions of conflict emphasis the degree to which problems arise due
to perceptions of divergent interests or goal incompatibility (Lulofs & Cahn, 2000 3). When
communication focuses first on uncovering the sources of dissimilar perceptions of a situation, a
problem can often be prevented or solved before it ever escalates to the level of conflict. When
communication does uncover incompatible goals, conflict is often defined in terms of competition for
scarce rewards or resources within interdependent relationships (Lulofs & Cahn, 2000 4). Participants
can resolve the underlying causes of many conflicts by shifting the focus of their communication away
from immediate material goals toward the more fundamental issues of maintaining the long-term
relationship. Finally, conflicts are sometimes characterized asinterpersonal when individuals are
distressed by the methods others use to gain even common goals (Lulofs & Cahn, 2000
5). Communication that is sensitive to the personal preferences, culture and resources of participants in
the relationship will allow individuals to work more productively toward their common goals.
Communication Channels
Selecting the most effective channel of communication is, of course, an aim of quality communication
processes, but sometimes, participants don’t realize they haven’t made a good choice until
misunderstandings have occurred and caused a conflict to erupt. When your message doesn’t seem to
have received the result you expected, one of the first things to ask yourself (or your conversation
partner) is whether the message has somehow been garbled in transmission.
Email has become such a convenient tool of communication that we sometimes forget that it is not the
best way to communicate everything. Conflicts can easily erupt when people don’t get all the
information they need. It might take a whole series of emails to cause and unsuccessfully clarify a
misunderstanding that could easily be cleared up in just a five-minute phone call.
Even more dangerous is the possibility that people will read the wrong emotions between the lines of
short, cryptic email messages. If a positive relationship does not exist, email is especially bad for
problem solving communication, since people will tend to take things more negatively. Even in positive
relationships, email that is meant to be nasty is often misread as neutral (Davidhizar, Shearer, & Castro,
Finally, email is so simple that people sometimes do not recognize it as an important act of
communication. When what you say doesn’t matter quite as much as the act of saying it, email might
not do the job. Apologies, for example, are rarely as effective in email as they are in person (Davidhizar
et al., 2000), and a thank you note is always more impressive when it comes as a “real” document.
Conversations are such common, everyday occurrences that people sometimes forget how important
they are in the creation and maintenance of positive work relationships. Good conversation structure
and careful word choice are important for making each person’s meaning clear, of course, but so are the
facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures used to accompany those words.
When individuals adopt the straightforward, assertive problem-solving tone of “businesslike discussion,”
disagreements are more likely to be understood as a routine aspect of organizational like. Conflict is
more likely to be resolved when the conversation remains conversational, with both parties maintaining
a friendly and communicative tone of voice, pleasant facial expressions, and open body position (Zivin,
1982 63-98). On the other hand, approaching the conversation as a supplicant, a critic, or a complainer
is likely to elicit negative responses, giving rise to interpersonal conflict as a consequence.
Conflict is nearly always handled most productively in a face to face conversation. Groups that
have tried to use email or decision support systems usually find the lack of non-verbal cues
makes resolving the issues painfully slow, if not impossible.
Communication and Interaction Styles
Many workplace conflicts are not, in the strictest terms, conflicts at all. Resources are sufficient and
goals are shared, but people nevertheless seem to be at cross-purposes. For most people,
communication styles are such an important part of their own personality that how a job is done is at
least as important as the job itself. Working effectively with others can thus depend on communicating
effectively with those who have different communication styles.
Everyone has his or her own communication style, and misunderstandings frequently occur simply
because people expect others to prefer the same style of interaction. Individuals who seem to be
engaged in conflict without any real misunderstanding or different in goals will sometimes explain that
they just have a “personality conflict.” While it is quite true that individuals with very different
personalities can annoy each other, and even disagree about the best way to do things, allowing these
differences to escalate into conflict will jeopardize the organization’s success.
Differences in Communication Styles
At the first sign of conflict, it is a good idea to consider how differences in communication style might
have created a misunderstanding. In general, the most important differences in communication style
involve differences in orientation toward change and basic preferences for task or social concerns. This
is a highly simplified way of looking at people, but just trying to understand how others might be
different from you can provide a start toward developing a better relationship.
First, people have a general relationship with their own environments that can be described on a
continuum from “adaptive” to “assertive.” An adaptive orientation is one that seeks out ways to change
oneself to meet the conditions of the environment. An adaptive community, for example, might move
its houses after a flood, realizing that the river is going to be around forever and fighting it seems rather
silly. An adaptive individual might learn and carefully follow the rules of his or her own company,
trusting them to be relevant and useful. In many ways, an adaptive orientation involves social
sensitivity, but it should be more broadly understood as willingness to change to fit the environment,
whether social or physical or ecological.
Conversely, an assertive orientation seeks ways to change the environment to fit the desires or values of
the person. So, an assertive community would get together and raise money, if necessary, to build a
levee to protect the town from the river. An assertive individual might figure out ways to change the
rules of his or her own company, recognizing that the rules might be arbitrary or outdated for present
conditions. In some ways, an assertive orientation can be resistant to social mores, but should also be
more broadly understood as a willingness to change the environment to gain whatever goal a whole
community might have.
Next, you can ask how a person prioritizes the task or the relationship. Whether it is because they have
a generally thing-oriented outlook, have learned to focus on business, or are uncomfortable with
strangers, some people will make task completion a priority in their lives. Others, perhaps because they
have just grown up liking people, or maybe because they don’t have a lot of interest in the task at hand,
will find relationships with people to be more important.
With these two dimensions, it becomes possible to predict how others around you might react to
situations, making your life a little easier when you need to communicate with them effectively.
People who are interested in getting the task done and willing to play by the rules, might turn out to be
great “detail” people. Task focused people who lie farther toward the assertive end of the scale, on the
other hand might be more willing to look for ways to proactively solve a problem by changing the way
things are done.
The adaptive person who values relationships, on the other hand, might find him or herself working
hard to integrate everyone’s views to achieve harmony in the group. A people orientation in an
assertive personality, on the other hand, might create a leader who is willing to promote change but
sensitive to the effect of that change on others.
Communicating with people with various styles and priorities can be more fruitful if you remember that
not everyone is in the same section that you are. If you are a detail person in the top left, you might feel
that “getting the job done right” is the most important thing in any situation; you might respond
positively when someone hands you an award for doing a perfect job on a traditionally difficult
task. That doesn’t mean, however, that your co-worker, an assertive, people oriented leader, will thrive
on the same kind of compliment. Hand her a comparable certificate and she might stomp off, insulted
that no one has noticed her ability to lead people toward new, more creative work!
Getting to Know Your Own Style
On top of these general difficulties, college students are just getting acquainted with their “adult”
personalities. While you might have begun the process in high school, you probably are still in the midst
of figuring out what motivates you, how you work best and how you prefer to communicate.
Probably, you have not yet developed a working vocabulary to discuss your work and communication
preferences. Maybe your mother called you a “dreamer,” or your best friend says you’re “lazy.” Maybe
you’ve noticed you aren’t happy when you have to stay cooped up inside. Maybe you only seem to feel
happy when your desk and room are arranged just so. But, how would you explain all of this to the
strangers in your new work group? You might not even be comfortable talking about these things with
your mother or best friend!
Communicating with Opposites
The principles involved when a team balances its members’ individual work preferences and resources
can help individuals communicate as well. It is important to recognize that people communicate
differently, of course, but a real key to avoiding conflict is communicating in a way that accommodates
another’s preferences. This is one of the few situations in which the Golden Rule can create more
problems than it solves: talking to others as you would like to be talked to is not a guarantee of perfect
Orientation toward Interaction: A basic difference between extraverts and introverts involves the
amount of energy involved in oral, face-to-face communication. Extraverts gain energy from
conversations, finding them not merely easy, but stimulating. Introverts, on the other hand, need to
work harder to maintain a conversation, and typically would not engage in one for “fun.” Approaching a
situation with opposite assumptions about whether conversation will reduce or increase the workload,
the stress of the situation, or the individual’s peace of mind can have significant negative impacts. The
introvert finds an extravert’s suggestion to “get together and talk through the problem” as a worsening
situation, while the extravert interprets the introvert’s suggestion to “take some time apart and think
about things” as a refusal to deal with the problem.
Each person needs to consider how the other is likely to feel about interaction as a mode of resolving
misunderstanding or conflict. When dealing with an opposite, it’s best to reach a comfortable mode of
communication before trying to tackle a difficult topic.
Sensory or Intuitive Information Once a conversation has begun, the parties will need to agree on its
content. Unproductive communication is often described as people “talking past each other” as they
seem to miss each others’ points completely even though they both think they are talking about the
“same” thing. When individuals who attend to different types of information attempt to communicate,
they sometimes fail to recognize each others’ points or evidence. A person who focuses on the facts—
what can be seen, touched, tasted or felt—might think she has provided all the evidence simply by
listing the critical variances in the latest test batches and is growing increasing impatient with her
coworker’s hypothesizing about why the variances might have occurred. Meanwhile, her conversation
partner is pressing to get on to the “real” information of causes instead of looking for more and more
Although each person’s information is necessary to the final solution, opposites can appear to each
other to be doing nothing useful. Conflict can be avoided when the problem is defined in terms of both
the hard data of facts and figures and the conceptual information of relationships, causes and
Analytical or Integrative Thinking The degree to which an individual makes decisions in a linear,
focused, analytical way or as a holistic pattern match can similarly affect communication choices. For a
person who believes that problem solving ought to involve carefully locating and assessing each element
of data and comparing them in a careful process of analysis, conflict can be avoided by methodically
assessing the interests, resources, individual needs and so on. The very “messiness” of a situation is
often presumed to have created the problem. A holistic thinker, on the other hand, can become
irritable and frustrated when all the pieces of the puzzle can’t be evaluated in context. It is missing the
interrelationships among the bits of information that is often presumed to cause difficulty.
Deciding to Decide A common cause of conflict occurs when co-workers reach the stage of making a
decision. Some individuals are comfortable with the judgment process and look forward to the point
when the research and discussion is over. Their opposites would prefer to gather more ideas, more
perspectives, more information, and no decision is ever be so final that it can’t be revisited if the
situation changes. When these two people work out their differences, conflict can arise simply because
they can’t agree that the time is right to decide.
Often an external force breaks the impasse; a deadline or customer expectation forces the issue, but the
underlying “personality” conflict remains. Or, the decision is made but the situation does change and
personalities clash over whether changes can or should be entertained. In the long term, both deadlines
and change are a reality of organizational life, and these opposites are often best served by “taking
turns” as their own preferences best meet the needs of the situation.
Overall, individuals need to consider the approach the other would find most helpful in resolving the
conflict. The goal when working with an opposite is to find a way to approach the problem that utilizes
both analytical and integrative thought processes, recognizing that a better solution will be found with
both perspectives.
How to Start a Fight…
Sometimes effective communication is just common sense. Don’t start a fight when you’re
trying to resolve conflict! On the other hand, people don’t always respond in the way you
expect. Conflict can sometimes be made even worse by communicating in a way that makes
others uncomfortable.
…with an extravert: Offer to help him concentrate on the job by turning off his phone and
keeping out visitors who might distract him.
…with an introvert: Schedule some extra meetings to discuss the importance of the job and call
frequently to offer suggestions.
...with an analytical thinker: Insist on hearing his “gut reaction” without allowing him to explain
his “extraneous” thinking process.
…with a global thinker: Ask for an objective assessment of each element in the proposal
without rambling on in an “unfocused” discussion of the whole thing.
Communicating in the Work Environment
Whenever individuals are uncomfortable about engaging in some communication event, there is a
tendency to see it as a source of conflict. The normal anxieties of stage fright, for example, are
interpreted as concern about the way an audience might react to the speech, and the speaker begins to
see the event as a source of potential conflict. Similarly, the writer of a memo considering the
audience’s reaction to a negative decision might begin to focus on the potential conflict of the situation
rather than the strategic elements of the message itself.
The reality is that much workplace communication occurs because there is some kind of disagreement
or concern about resources, goals, or lack of information. Any communication under these
circumstances has the potential to either resolve the issue or produce conflict. The good communicator
does not avoid communication because it might produce conflict; he engages in communication in a way
that the issue is resolved without creating additional conflict.
Anger, Frustration and Worry
When communication occurs in response to some kind of negative event—credit has been denied, sales
are down, quality criteria have been missed—the participants are often angry, frustrated or
worried. Communicators in these situations need to be careful to consider the emotional impact of any
messages, and to pay particular attention to the ways in which communication can reduce the effect of
negative emotions.
 Recognize first that emotional reactions to perceived danger are normal and healthy. The
uncomfortable “hot” sensations are the body’s way of getting the mind to pay attention to an
issue that poses a potential threat.
 Human physiology automatically primes the body for “fight or flight” when danger threatens,
but shuts down the systems best suited for “cool-headed” rational thinking. Engaging in
“businesslike” communication is virtually impossible until all participants have emerged from
that emotional danger-response stage.
 If participants are still angry, which can easily be the case in an oral communication event, begin
with a quiet “rest” stage. Once breathing returns to normal, the body “shuts off” the emotional
response system and the “thinking” brain can take over again. Deliberately take a few deep
breaths to signal to the body that all is clear before trying to think carefully about a situation.
 Once everyone is ready to communicate, take care to create messages that foster problem-
solving and long-term relationship goals. Although an event has triggered an emotional
response, the point of the communication should be to uncover and resolve its root causes, not
to dwell on the event itself.
 Naturally, any communication should carefully avoid loaded language or defensive responses
that might trigger additional emotional responses to the situation. Communicate with the
assumption that everyone is attempting to act with good will, not intending to do evil, and allow
everyone to save face. Focus on the things people are doing well, rather than dwelling on
whatever dumb, rude, or wrong behaviors called up the emotional response.
The number one reason people get fired is anger, and the number one problem people have anger at
work is not being “heard and respected” (Anderson)
Communicating Under Stress
Emotional outbursts can be frightening and upsetting to everyone in the organization, but the long term
condition of workplace stress can have even more damaging consequences. Without an immediate
event to trigger emotional reactions and thus bring attention to the problem, people can suffer from
stress without even realizing that their mood, thinking patterns and work productivity are being
undermined. Communication can seem to produce even more tension and ultimately conflict, but an
immediate cause of the problem is not apparent unpleasant personalities, poor communication skills, or
lack of skill with the job are presumed to be the source.
Even the friendliest of co-workers can become snappy and mean when they are under stress. Clear
thinking can be difficult, and people can begin to focus on information or relationships that are not
relevant to the task at hand. In general, people who are stressed tend to do more of what they already
know they do best. So, the detail person who is under pressure really digs into those details, and the
problem-solver tries to put all her problem-solving skills to work at once.
The result, however, can be a case of overkill. The integrator is out there on the edge trying to get
everyone to approve of his efforts, whether approval really makes any difference at all. The natural
leader who is under pressure to perform might start to do nearly “anything” to get others’
attention. Stop for a minute and ask yourself whether the “difficulty” the person is exhibiting is actually
the very same strength or talent that you value highly most of the time. If it is, you might look for
source of stress (either your own or the other’s) and solve that problem instead of thinking you “can’t
communicate” with the person.
Difficult People
Many situations in which people seem to be behaving badly can be the result of emotional responses or
stress reactions, but sometimes there seems to be no cause at all. Whether because of long term
psychiatric issues, medical conditions, or just plain nastiness, there will always be a few individuals who
are consistently difficult to communicate with. Communicating in these circumstances calls for
particular attention to the context and to the long term relationship.
Difficult Coworkers
Sometimes organizational policies or employment law create a situation in which a person is kept on the
payroll even though he or she is unable or unwilling to interact productively with others. Sometimes a
supervisor is able to assign such a person to a private area or highly individualized tasks in order to
reduce his or her impact on others, but often there will be at least minimal contact as work is passed
from one person to another.
Working with such a person can be frustrating, but everyone in the organization will benefit when co-
workers work together to minimize the negative impact.
 Be realistic. Don’t expect a difficult person to improve or to respond to strategic attempts to
influence his or her behavior. If there were not underlying issues, “normal” communication
would already have been effective. Try to work within the parameters of what the person is
able to handle in terms of relationships, job assignments or working conditions.
 Be kind. Even difficult people are made unhappy by their own difficulties and many will
appreciate the effort others have to make to work with them. Even those who are oblivious to
your efforts, however, will be easier to get along with if they are not also subjected to ridicule,
anger or gossip.
Difficult Customers
At least 80% of entry level workers will be dealing with customers in some capacity , and unless the
position is in sales or marketing, most of those customers have a problem of some kind. While there
might be a legitimate reason to be angry or stressed by the situation. Preventing conflict by building
solid relationships can be more difficult with customers, since most interactions are with individuals
you’ve never met before.
When responding to a complaint, make two assumptions: that the complaint has some merit, at least in
the customer’s mind, and that any hostility is atypical for the person and merely caused by the
situation. From this perspective, it will be easier to communicate with the tone of a friend.
 Thank the customer for taking the time to initiate communication. After all, most unhappy
customers don’t bother to complain, so the situation does offer your company some valuable
 Keep tone personal, intimate, and conversational. Even if you can’t solve the problem yourself,
as the “first contact” you become the customer’s advocate with the company. Show sympathy,
if not empathy, and explain the company’s actions or position in human terms, not bureaucratic
In addition to accounting for emotions and stress reaction, but some attention to positive ways
of interacting with strangers can help. The Importance of Customer Relationships For obvious
economic reasons, good communication with customers is crucial in any business. Of customers
who no longer do business with a company, 68% said it was because business representatives
were indifferent to their needs, but research also shows that 96% of unhappy customers will
never voice their complaints (TARP). For every one complaint there are likely to be 26 silent
ones—six of which are “very serious.” [White House Office of Consumer Affairs, cited by
Lloyd, #2603]. They simply don’t come back (TARP). They will, however, tell their friends—8
to 10 of them—all about their problems (The Customer Connection). The good news, though, is
that 82% of customers with major difficulties will remain loyal if the customer service contact is
handled satisfactorily and quickly (TARP). It costs six times as much to acquire a new customer
than it does to retain a current on (Customer Communications Group), and one company
determined that retaining 5% more customers boosted profit by sixty percent over five years
(Positive Directions, Inc.).
humor You need not be a comedian to appreciate the humor of the human condition, and humor in
communication exchanges can be an incredible relationship builder. One business traveler describing
the unusual but appreciated humor and personality in the routine legalese of airline safety instructions
remarked “For a few moments we let down. We laughed together, and as we laughed we were
reminded of our common humanity” (Wilbers, 1998).
“you attitude” This principle is stressed with “frantic enthusiasm” in customer service
training (Baldwin), but extra effort in understanding the other person’s perspective is important when
communication with a stranger. Neither you nor the customer has any knowledge of the other’s
personality or background and you are both relying exclusively on language cues. Be particularly careful,
then, to use language that does not imply your company’s needs are more important than the
Just saying “you” more than you say “we” is not enough. Consider these two choices:
“you have misused your product”
“we are sorry the instructions were not clear”
Nor is it acceptable to express the customer’s side of the story with a patronizing tone that belittles his
or her apparent business sense:
“Your inability to pay this bill is understandable. Get back to us when you can.”
The point is to recognize the customer’s benefit, desires, needs and to put them ahead of your
own. Always respond promptly, which sends the message that you value the customer’s time, and
create a message that is longer or more formal than the one you received, which is a sign of respect. A
customer who expends a large amount of energy crafting a long letter is likely to be offended by a two
sentence email response, even when the answer is positive!
Difficult Supervisors
Perhaps the most difficult of difficult people is a worker’s own supervisor. Not only is the relationship
unpleasant, but it can have serious economic and career repercussions if not handled well. Naturally,
emotional responses and stress can have an impact on supervisors, just as they do for colleagues and
customers. Although we all have a desire to work for an “ideal” boss who is never angry and never
overwhelmed, that is simply an unrealistic expectation. Patience, kindness, and an assumption of good
will can help avoid conflicts with supervisors, just as they do for othersIf it’s any consolation, angry
people die earlier and neurotic managers earn at least $16,000 per year below the average of their peer
An additional source of difficulty often arises, however, because of the hierarchical relationship between
a supervisor and the employee. Each person might have a different expectation of how that power-
relationship ought to be handled. Typically, the boss expects more compliance on the basis of his or her
position, and employees resist, demanding more information, more explanation, or simply more
personal attention before obeying a directive. Communication with a difficult supervisor must thus take
into account not only the interpersonal aspects of the relationship, but its hierarchical aspects as well.
 Assume that the supervisor does have more information about a topic than you do, and that
divulging that information to you might not be an option. Any communication should be
structured to indicate that a position is built on the basis of available information; rigid positions
and categorical statements should be avoided.
 Separate the person from the position, communicating as appropriate with each. Sometimes
the difficulty arises when a supervisor seems to shift without warning from “friendly team
leader” to “mean, nasty administrator.” Recognize that his is also a signal to you—even if a
heavy-handed one—that it is time to shift as well from the “playful peer” role to that of
“respectful worker.”
 Recognize the threat implied by your own success. No matter how concerned a supervisor is
about your own career growth, your success necessarily means you might be promoted out of
the department, leaving a hole to be filled. In some cases, a supervisor might even see you as
potentially taking over his or her own job. Whether well-founded or not, such fears can lead to
difficult communication, and it is best to steer clear of boasting, criticism of others, visions of
“what I would do around here,” or any other immodest messages that suggest you really are
after someone else’s job.

New Workplace Tip:
Communication norms are a major component of an organization’s “culture.” If you’re the new
person in the organization, it becomes your responsibility to learn and use the priorities, time
management techniques and conflict resolution tools that are used by your coworkers. Try to
find someone who seems to be particularly effective and productive, and follow his or her
example. Every individual has a different personality, but you need to make sure that your own
personality starts to “fit” within the expectations of your new organization.
Discovering Causes of Conflict
Sometimes conflict seems to come out of nowhere. Certainly, most people find arguments, hard
feelings, and disagreements to be unpleasant and stressful, and many individuals will avoid dealing with
problems at all in order to avoid the unpleasant prospect of conflict. Had they seen conflict coming, of
course, most people would have taken steps to correct a misunderstanding before it created a real
problem, but all too often they are suddenly facing an angry colleague with no idea how the situation
has developed. The first step in productively resolving a conflict is thus to understand how it developed
in the first place. Although many people think of conflict in terms of the negative emotions of a fight, a
more careful definition emphasizes the source of conflict as an interaction of interdependent people
who perceive there to be some incompatibility in their goals, aims or values, and who see the other
party as potentially interfering with achieving these goals, aims or values (Folger, Poole, & Stutman,
2001; Frost & Wilmot, 1978; Putnam & Poole, 1987). That is, there wouldn’t be any thing to fight about
if people didn’t feel they were in each others’ way in some concrete way.
Simply avoiding the fight does not resolve the underlying conflict, and can sometimes turn a small
incompatibility into an insurmountable barrier. The varioussymptoms of emotional distress that we
associate with conflict are not healthy behaviors in the workplace. Arguing, animosity, criticism, and
defensiveness are maneuvers people use to get their own way without communicating about the issues
directly, and should be avoided. A good communicator will do more, however, learning to evaluate a
conflict situation and thus discover effective ways of resolving the underlying problem.
Each situation is unique, and there can be complicated overlaps, but the sources of conflict are generally
divided between substantive goal conflicts that have to do with the work task itself, process conflicts
that occur when participants disagree about how to go about working on the task,
and emotional conflicts that relate to personal responses to situations (Nicotera, 1997).
Goal Conflict
With all the emphasis on reducing misunderstanding with communication, it’s important to realize that
some conflicts come about because we understand each other perfectly: we want different
things. More importantly, we want different things that can’t be obtained simultaneously. The simple
fact that business organizations are comprised of multiple functional areas virtually guarantees that
conflicts will arise.
Conflicting Demands and Responsibilities
The business goals of various departments and divisions of a company are likely to be different, and can
be oppositional at the level of individual or group tasks. Even though everyone might recognize their
goals are designed to achieve a common organizational goal, the structure of the organization requires
A sales group is charged with increasing market penetration in its territory, with appraisals and annual
bonuses tied to increasing gross sales of its overall product line. Meanwhile, the marketing department is
given a budget for its activities in each territory, with appraisals tied to keeping costs within
budgets. Production, on the other hand, has discovered that the increasing costs of labor have made a
decrease in production the most effective way to meet its performance goals.
The complexity of most businesses also positions individuals within multiple groups, sometimes crossing
department lines or organizational boundaries, which can also have conflicting goals or
interests.(Nicotera, 1997)
The executive assistant to the production manager has been asked to take part in a cross-departmental
team devoted to building employee within the plant, and she has been assigned to work with the human
resources department to assess worker satisfaction with various company benefits. Although her own
manager understands the importance of such activities, he is not able to release her from any of her other
duties, and now she is getting angry responses from several of her team colleagues because her reports are
consistently late or incomplete.
The Problem of Scarce Resources
In any business organization, resources are limited, and some issues arise when there is not enough
time, money or material to meet everyone’s needs, or when meeting one person’s need causes harm of
some kind to another business unit.
With each round of budgets, a fight seems to break out over the allocation of funds for facility
upgrades. Many employees are anxious to build a covered parking garage, but others think the addition
of lunch rooms at each production plant should take priority, and many of the first-line supervisors think
upgrades in production equipment should always take precedence over “frills” that “don‟t add anything to
the bottom line.”
Process Conflict
In any large organization, the diversity of cultural backgrounds and personality types will inevitably lead
to some conflicts about how communication ought to be done. Conflict is less frequent when a group
shares underlying rhetorical norms about who ought to participate in decisions, what the basis for those
decisions ought to be, and how the decision-making process should work (See Chapter One). Similarly,
individuals who share a cognitive style will find themselves to be more “compatible” because they
prefer to communicate about goal conflict in generally the same way (See Chapter Ten).

Many process conflicts have their root in the values that communities or individuals place on their own
preferred ways of doing things. Either because of their own success with a given method, or because
they’ve internalized the norms in terms of “ethical” or “smart” or “decent” behavior, differences can
seem highly important.
A highly extraverted Midwesterner learned the value of patient relationship building growing up in his
small agricultural community. Putting those values to work as a customer service representative was
easy. Endless conflict seemed to arise, though, when he had to deal with the introverted and highly
educated techies in the engineering department, who just seemed to have no concern for people.
Emotional Conflict
Relationship Goals
Each individual enters any interaction with an expectation of the relationship, and misunderstandings of
each others’ intentions or incompatible goals for the relationship can create conflicts.
A new auditor, for instance, might view a more senior colleague as a potential mentor and expect to be
given detailed explanations about an upcoming assignment. Meanwhile, the senior auditor is anticipating
a promotion and looking forward to becoming less involved in day-to-day tasks now that a new auditor is
on board. As the audit unfolds, friction can easily develop as the new auditor has her questions ignored,
asks for more clarification and is ever more strongly rebuffed by her now frustrated colleague.
Identity and Status
Most people are strongly affected by threats to their self-esteem and positive identity. Nobody likes to
look foolish, immature, weak, or incompetent, and situations that create a negative image can easily
give rise to emotional conflict.
Over the course of several months, an accounts payable clerk had learned to complete the weekly check
run by himself. Not much else was going well, but he was beginning to feel quite capable on that part of
his new job. At the weekly staff meeting, then, he was mortified to hear that due to “multiple errors” on
the past few check runs, he was being asked to have the controller review the final run before printing
“The influence of of workplace diversity on reactions of prospective and current white employees is
moderated by their diversity experiences in the communities in which they live”(830). In a study of
negative reactions to group/organizational diversity can be predicted by previous interaction with
diverse (black) community and previous ethnic conflict (Brief et al., 2005).
Change and Surprise
Virtually any detour on a person’s path toward a goal is likely to evoke an emotional response of some
kind. Virtually any change from the normal routine or an unexpected outcome can lead to anxiety,
frustration or anger.
In an effort to improve the monthly sales report, a retail store‟s assistant manager began asking her
salespeople to tally up their daily sales at five in the afternoon as well as at store closing. It seemed like a
simple request for information, but the salespeople were irritated that they had to take the time to do
“busywork” just as the store‟s daily rush began.
Sometimes the rules of a process change, the stated rules aren’t the rules it really lives by, or the
rules can change over time without anyone in the group paying much attention. One claims
department manager set a certain standard of behavior, allowing her adjustors to settle claims
on their own. Without ever talking about it, she and her staff follow a rule that gives them great
freedom and personal responsibility in their interactions with claimants, the legal department,
and each other. Then, in the last two months of the year, when corporate reserves are reaching
their budgeted limits, all the rules seem to change! The department manager suddenly starts
micromanaging every file, requiring pre-approval and disciplining folks for things that were
okay in October—and might be okay again next July. Her people’s feelings might be badly hurt
before they finally realize that there are different unstated rules at the beginning and end of the
fiscal year. --L.G. Muller
Resolving I ssues Productively
Regardless of the underlying issue, its resolution will depend on a communication process to locate a
solution and take steps to avoid the same issue in the future. Simply avoiding the symptoms of conflict
by refusing to address issues does nothing to resolve the issue; everyone in the business is put at risk
when problems are left unsolved. Similarly, calming people’s emotions with supportive behaviors or
empty promises to solve the problem is an unproductive and dangerous way to “resolve” conflict.
There are three basic ways to address conflict: avoidance, defusion and confrontation. Avoidance can
be appropriate when there are negligible consequences or when one or both parties are unable or
unprepared to confront the issues at that time. If there are significant consequences of the conflict,
avoidance should be understood as only a short term delay.
Defusion involves minimizing the effects of the conflict—placing difficult topics on the meeting agenda
late so that people won’t have energy to fight; transferring a person to another shift so that interaction
with others is limited—but similarly fails to address the underlying issues that have caused the conflict.
Confrontation does not imply a “fight” but honest communication about the issues that give rise to the
conflict. Good conflict resolution procedures require a willingness to resolve the underlying issue, not
merely address the emotional symptoms. A few basic rules of problem-solving communication can
make the process most productive.
The lack of available resources or failure of a system to accomplish organizational purposes might seem
to be an objective “cause” of conflict, but these environmental factors don’t become conflict without
communication, which defines the issues as conflict, fosters the emotional climate in which the issues
must be resolved, and directs the pattern of interactions among the parties to the conflict (Putnam,
1988). People “create their conflict experience as they communicate”(Collins, 2005 3), and attention to
the communication can turn a situation with significant potential for harm into an opportunity for
organizational development.
Following Common Procedures
Nearly anyone who works extensively with conflict and conflict resolution will recommend that a
specific conflict resolution procedure be followed. Many companies have instituted specific procedures
to follow, and some will provide training to their employees on how conflicts ought to be resolved. For
example, your company might use consultant Patricia Gulbranson’s model, assigning an “issue
coordinator” to coordinate problem solving efforts, keeping “issue log” to insure that everyone’s
concerns are heard, and following specific rules and time limits for discussion of the issues (Gulbranson,
The supervisory communication flow chart is another procedure for making sure that an issue is
completely explored before disciplinary action is taken against an employee.

This procedure requires participants to resolve the issue in a step-by-step manner:
Step One: Make sure all parties are aware that an issue-resolution conversation is taking place. The
conversation need not be held in a private office to be effective, although you should seek privacy if
emotions are running high or the issue is very sensitive.
Step Two: Clearly state the expected event or situation, and the actual event or situation. Do not
introduce emotions into the conversation at this point, or create defensiveness by expressing criticism
or judgment. Start by making sure that everyone knows exactly what behavior had been agreed on, and
exactly what behavior actually occurred. Be careful to state the issue in terms of observable, concrete
behaviors rather than statements about feelings or vague goals, which are likely to create
 Right: Josh, I thought your note said you’d meet us by 7 pm, we waited until 7:30 but you still
hadn’t shown up.
 Wrong: Josh, I’m really upset about the way you blew us off last night.
 Wrong: Josh, I really wish you’d start being more responsible about meetings.
A clear statement of the issue also avoids any judgment or evaluation. Don’t try to put words in the
other person’s mouth or make the other person feel guilty. Just state the situation.
 Right: Sarah, this batch of invoices is missing the balancing tapes that are supposed to be
 Wrong: Sarah, I know you’ve been really upset about your boyfriend lately, but I think it’s
making you lose track of some requirements of the job here.
 Wrong: Sarah, you forgot the balancing tapes again and now I’m going to be late in getting this
check run completed.
Step Three: Identify the reason the expected situation did not occur. Was there a misunderstanding of
the expectations? If so, clarify them for the future. If everyone involved understood the expectations in
the same way, the conversation should proceed to an exploration of the causes for the actual
situation. Did someone choose to do something different? Did some barrier exist which prevented
people from doing as they had intended? What one person saw as a barrier might look like a choice to
someone else, and this conversation can resolve the issue by identifying resources or procedures to
prevent future discrepancies.
Step Four: If a choice was made and others disagree with the allocation of time, money or energy
resources, the issue has reached the stage where decision-making communication must begin. Whether
this is a unilateral decision on the part of an employee to comply with company procedures, or a
company-wide decision to reallocate scarce resources, what appeared to be a conflict has not become
an opportunity for productive decision-making.
Taking Time to communicate
Issue resolution doesn’t always take a long time, but it might. Often, people avoid resolving their
conflicts because they simply don’t want to invest the time and energy in a long, uncomfortable
conversation. If you are unwilling to address an issue, at least admit that to yourself and your
colleagues. It’s not businesslike, but it’s honest.
Communicating Expectations
Perhaps the most common cause of an issue is a difference of opinion about how things were
“supposed” to happen. The underlying cause might be a true misunderstanding, or it could be the
failure of one person to comply with the issue of the other. In all cases, though, the communication
must begin with a clarification of what was expected and what actually happened.
Expectations are often framed in terms of responsibilities not met (“My co-worker did not provide the
data when she promised.”), but they can also relate to role expectations (“My intern is not showing the
polite behaviors I think interns should demonstrate.”) or communication styles (“John never smiles in
the morning like a normal, friendly worker should.”).
An issue is any condition or situation that is not as you expected, or not as you wish it to be. It is
perfectly normal and healthy for people to disagree about how things ought to be, to express those
disagreements, and to seek ways to work together in spite of them. In fact, good business decision-
making depends on the ability of people to think about all the different ways things could be, before
they take action. Being able to recognize an issue and discuss it with others is an important part of being
an effective businessperson.
Communicating without Defensiveness
Any issue resolution procedure can degenerate quickly if individuals allow themselves to indulge in the
emotional symptoms that make conflict so unpleasant. Sometimes a few deep breaths and waiting a few
moments for the anger or disappointment to subside are enough. More often, though, good
communication habits are the product of practice in conflict reducing techniques.
Giving and Receiving Criticism
Delivering negative appraisals of another person’s work, decision-making, or planning procedures is
never a pleasant task. The situation is often made more complicated by a lack of training. Many people
were taught as a child, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” and they have simply
never learned how to say anything that might be construed as “not nice.” A productive workplace
depends, however, on the ability of co-workers to warn each other when things are not going well.
Delivering bad news
In a business situation, negative information is virtually always being delivered within a long-term
relationship where your personal image, credibility and goodwill are important. This is not a situation in
which you can “tell someone off” and walk out of his or her life. Your conversation (or document)
should begin by defining the situation as a positive one. Establish the relationship carefully, positively
but honestly. Don’t try to sneak bad news into a letter, for instance, “sandwiching” the bad news in
between the “nice things” that you’ve tried to think of. It is far better to call someone up and say, “I like
you John, but I’ve got to tell you some bad news.”
 Be clear about the bad news. Whether you are delivering negative information, criticism, an
unfavorable decision, or a statement of the negative consequences that are about to result because of
the listener’s previous choice or error, be clear. In particular, be clear that the news is bad. People will
misinterpret information in the most ore favorable way they possibly can. Don’t hint, hide or allow for
misinterpretation. The result might sound blunt to you, but it will be more effective communication.
A person‟s mind takes 48% longer to understand a negative statement than a positive one. –Dr. Wayne
Dyer, William Morrow & Co.
 Give the reasons. The body of the message should provide the facts, reasons and explanations
in an appropriate mix, to adequately explain the negative situation. If you have made a decision, explain
why. If you disagree with another person’s goals or priorities, explain what yours are. If you feel
important information was ignored, explain what it is, and explain the goals you are trying to
reach. When you are trying to move from conflict to decision-making, it becomes even more important
that you lay all the cards on the table.
 Offer choices. Regardless of the issue, those who are engaged in resolving it probably face a
variety of possible actions. Good criticism of one action will offer a constructive repair, a choice of
options, or an alternative action. Your critical communication should invite the other person to choose
another option that is more productive.
 Build the relationship. Finally, even the most severe criticism should close with a constructive,
relationship building action step. The point of giving the constructive criticism is to build the business
relationship, and that should be the ultimate focus of the communication.
Creating productive messages
Remember that your communication is designed to foster communication, never to cut it off. This
means you should create a message that diffuses anger and defensiveness, and avoid doing things that
cause others to feel threatened or demeaned.
 Speak to the right person. Don’t delivery your criticism to a person who has no authority to
change the situation. This would be termed “bitching” and is not appropriate in a business
environment. Complain only to those who have the ability to make some kind of change. Of course,
once a person has indicated that he or she is unwilling to comply with your request, continued criticism
is also unacceptable. That would be “nagging” and is equally unacceptable.
 Stick to the facts. Don’t offer unsupported judgments of another person’s attitude or
choices. The focus should always be on the facts of the situation—the agreed upon procedures, the
actual outcome or the information that supports your case.
 Give positive signals. Take care that your non-verbal communication does not subvert
whatever message you might be creating with words. The non-verbal “willingness to communicate”
signals will mean far more to the other person than your words.
Responding non-defensively
Naturally, sometimes you will be on the receiving end of criticism. Whether it is justified or not, and
whether or not the person delivering it does a good job, you should respond in a way that focuses on
the issue to be resolved, not on you own defensive reaction.
Of course, you would never want to respond with a criticism in return, or with an emotional outburst. A
more subtle defensive response, that is equally unproductive, is to respond with an excuse or a
denial. Unjustified responses to criticism that place change beyond the possibility of correction are a
form of defensiveness (e.g.. “I couldn’t help it.”)
Instead of communicating that he or she is putting up defensive walls, the good communicator will send
a message that encourages further interaction:
Listen carefully, without interrupting but instead using active listening skills of questioning, paraphrasing
and feedback. That alone will send the message that you are willing to continue the communication,
but your goal is also to determine the speaker’s underlying intent, which might be buried under a few
layers of anger or fear.
Acknowledge the speaker’s message in some way, looking for a way to agree with something or find a
place where you have some common interest. You might agree that the situation appears negative, or
that certain events did take place. This does not mean to simply agree with the criticism, especially if
you intend to ignore it. You must actively find a point to begin constructive communication about the
Acknowledge means letting the other person know that you’ve heard the message. Acknowledging is
not agreeing. Acknowledging is not yielding. Apologizing or promising to “do better” next time does not
resolve the conflict at all. That merely adds to the wall of misunderstanding between two people and
over time makes the conflict worse.
Respond with a constructive comment or question. Never, ever respond with an excuse or explanation,
which is merely a defensive wall that attempts to redefine the other person’s complaint. Instead, ask
for additional information or clarification. You might ask for clearer criteria for future work, or for more
facts about the situation. You might find some aspect of the problem that you can agree with, or at
least with a perception of the problem that needs to be corrected.
Anger Management
Often criticism comes from an angry co-worker or customer. Productive communication can’t
occur while emotions are running high. Before trying to resolve the issues, focus first on
calming emotions.
Stay calm. When someone is yelling at you, it’s instinctive to yell back or to withdraw
completely, either of which is almost guaranteed to make the angry person even
angrier. Instead, project a calm, pleasant and open expression and posture, sending the
message that you’re ready to listen.
Make a List.
Responding to Others’ Criticism
Finally, recognize that interpersonal communication includes much more than the messages you
send. Good communication in the business world depends equally on your ability to respond
appropriately to the words and signals of others. Most of the time, the appropriate response is simply
to provide the information requested in a concise, clear and useful format. Sometimes, though, people
are not simply requesting information. They are also expressing normal human emotions, which might
not even have anything to do with the business purposes of the communication.
 Your boss requests some statistics, thinking about the big trouble she is going to be in if the
report isn’t to her manager in time. Instead of a simple request, she snarls at you.
 Your co-worker, recently broken up with his girlfriend, forgets to give you all the details about
the afternoon’s meeting, forcing you to ask several questions to clarify his instructions.
 A customer calls, angry and confused about a product, and starts the conversation by yelling, as
though you had something to do with the problem.
People’s emotions can’t ever be separated from life in the business organization, but your success will
often depend on bringing the conversation back to the business topic at hand. You can’t reduce your
boss’s stress, help your co-worker with his relationship issues, or fix the customer’s product. You can
communicate in a way that lets them know you are willing to do what it takes to work productively
together anyway.
Defusing Emotions
The stresses of business will inevitably create tensions, and people will inevitably become angry,
frustrated or unhappy while they are at work. People express their emotions in a variety of ways; some
control the outward signs until they can punch a pillow at home. Others yell at co-workers without
thinking, but quickly apologize and maintain good relationships overall. Some stay very quiet, but their
emotions simmer for days or weeks.
Regardless of how people express their emotions, task related communication is generally more
productive after the emotions have subsided. You can’t control how another person handles emotions,
but you can see that your own response reduces their effect on the communication:
Control your body language. Your own response to another person’s emotional state will serve as a cue
for the appropriate next action.
An angry customer throws her defective purchase on the counter, subconsciously watching your
non-verbal reaction to know whether she must escalate her anger even further to get what she
wants. If you stiffen and turn red, looking like you’re “ready for a fight,” she might continue
with some loud yelling and strong words. If you turn to face her, though, with a calm expression
and your hands upturned, she is likely to recognize the cues of someone who is “willing to listen”
and simply tell you what her problem is.
Refocus attention. Once emotions come to the surface, they become the focus of attention, but
productive solutions need to focus on the underlying problem.
Your co-worker is ranting and raving about how unfair the boss is to make your department
work overtime. If you respond to his comments about the unfairness, you’ll encourage him to
find even more to say about it. You might even find your own emotions drawn into the situation
as you discuss the boss’s behavior. Instead, ignore the emotional response itself, and ask factual
questions about the project, the overtime or the boss’s reasoning. You’ll defuse the emotions by
focusing on topics that require some calm thinking and direct the communication toward
productively solving the original problem.
Take a time out. If you find that another person’s emotions are causing your own emotions to rise, you
might need to delay the communication until you can both proceed more calmly.
Your assistant delivers the news that she can’t complete the important report you’ve assigned
her because she is having “emotional problems” at home and starts to cry. As your anger rises
over this continuing saga of poorly handled relationships, you should realize that your own
emotional response might not be the smartest one. Instead, offer to “let her relax a bit” before
you discuss the situation, while you count to ten. You might even ask her to come back later,
knowing that you’ll need a while to calm down (and perhaps gather the facts about her
Once you have moved the conversation out of the realm of emotions and into a rational, objective
discussion of your work, you’ll find that you can begin to collaborate on finding a real solution to the
Responding Non-Defensively
Criticism is another fact of life in the business organization. Of course, you can’t expect to do everything
perfectly all the time, and some of your decisions might be wrong. Still, it never feels good to hear the
criticism, even when it’s deserved. Just as often, you’ll be criticized for doing things that you thought
were correct. After all, people seldom set about to deliberately make mistakes! Even when you are
doing the best job you possibly can, you’ll discover that you’ve used incorrect or incomplete data, or
made invalid assumptions, and others will find a reason to criticize you. Sometimes others are simply
having a bad day themselves and looking for things to complain about.
Whether the criticism is justified or not, your response should always indicate a positive willingness to
reconsider your information, assumptions and decisions to improve the quality of the organization’s
work. You should give all the cues that indicate your willingness to communicate about the issue, rather
than display the verbal or non-verbal defenses that block further discussion.
Ask for more information. The most direct way to indicate that you are willing to discuss the situation is
to answer the attack with a question. Clarify the details of the complaint or the expectations the other
person has of you.
A customer calls to tell you that your sales department “stinks” and she’s never seen such a
poorly designed website. You might be tempted to ignore her; after all she’s never programmed
an electronic fulfillment system! However, you can find out more about all your users’ needs
(and help make a sale to this one) if you start by asking her what she has experienced while
using the site.
Agree with something. You don’t need to agree with the criticism to be able to agree that the person
has a problem! You can agree that the facts of the situation are correct, that the other person has
perceived the situation in a certain way, or that others will interpret things negatively.
Your co-worker begins to complain bitterly about the quality of your work, which you just spent
all night completing. It would be easy to become angry about his lack of understanding, but
your communication will be more effective if you start by acknowledging that he is concerned
about how the boss will react.
Stay on the subject. Criticism is unpleasant. It can be tempting to change the subject to something
else, but that simply sends a message that you don’t want to address the issue. Launching into a list of
reasons you made the decision, criticisms of the other person or denials are guaranteed to prolong the
argument and make solving the actual problem even more difficult.
As your boss begins to point out the errors in your analysis, you launch into a list of the people who
refused to give you information during the project. Rather than listen carefully to you and solve your
problem, the boss now decides that you have no talent for working collaboratively with others! You’d
be better off to acknowledge that you were concerned about some of the numbers and would like to
discuss ways of getting better quality information next time.
Once you have responded in a way that indicates your willingness to communicate, you can proceed to a
discussion of the underlying situation. You can eventually explain your reasoning, clarify the facts of the
situation or even discuss any criticisms you might have of the other person. These should always come
after you have responded non-defensively and indicated your willingness to communicate productively.
Active Listening
Regardless of the issue, or of the other person’s ability to communicate productively, excellent
communication in a conflict situation always includes excellent listening skills. Listen for the other
person’s intended meanings, not simply what he or she says aloud. Check for your own understanding,
asking questions and paraphrasing to determine the other person’s actual knowledge of the situation,
personal involvement, and emotional response.
Creating Common Ground
Simply understanding each other’s positions is not enough to resolve a conflict between two people. If
there are not enough resources to do what both want, or if they value different things at a cultural or
personal level, the conversation will have to turn toward finding an alternative action that is acceptable
to both. This path might not meet all the needs of either person, but it will be “good enough” to allow
them to work together toward a common goal.
Very often, only one person in the conflict is willing to communicate about common goals. A person in
the business environment who is unwilling to compromise or negotiate is generally considered a
“difficult” person to work with. A business organization is unable to function when its members do not
work collectively, so the obstinate and uncooperative person will often be left out of the decision
making process as much as possible.
Nevertheless, it is sometimes necessary to persuade such people to go along with others’ desires in spite
of their opposition. Guiding the conversation through three steps of reconciliation can sometimes
create enough common ground to get things rolling(Brinkman & Kirschner, 2002):
 Spend a significant part of the conversation listening carefully. Use active listening skills to
discover the values, presumptions and emotional connections the obstinate person has to his or her
 Thinking in terms of underlying personality goals and values, redefine the situation in terms of
values or goals you both share.
A “problem solver” and a “detail person” see themselves as having major conflicts over an upcoming
project. The detail person, prone to perfectionism, feels that getting the report “perfect” is the most
important value to uphold. The problem solver, on the other hand, wants to take control of the situation
in order to assure success and becomes fixated on “doing it my way.” Rather than focusing on their
conflict over doing it “perfectly” or doing it “my way”, either person could direct the conversation toward
a discussion of the common goals they apparently share: creating a report that meets a target audience‟s
high standards.
 Finally, guide the conversation toward directing the other person’s natural tendencies and
emotional energy toward the common goal.
Realizing that both detail people and problem solvers share a fundamental orientation toward completing
tasks, either person in this conflict could redirect the conversation toward defining the exact requirements
of the report task. Once the two people get past defining the goal as “perfect” or as “my way” and begin
to talk about the audience‟s expectations, they will find they share a much more important common goal
in keeping that audience happy.
Chapter Notes
Anderson, K. (2001). Keeping Cool While Under Fire. Retrieved 17 Oct, 2001,
Baldwin, L. The You Attitude: Is It Sound or Silly? In Hudson, McGuire, Selzler & Chabolla (Eds.), Business Communication:
Concepts, Applications, and Strategies (pp. 143-145): Roxbury Publishing.
Brief, A. P., Umphress, E. E., Dietz, J., Burrows, J. W., Butz, R. M., & Scholten, L. (2005). Community Matters: Realistic Group
Conflict Theory and the Impact of Diversity. Academy of Management Journal, 48(5), 830-844.
Brinkman, R., & Kirschner, R. (2002). Dealing with People You Can't Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Thier Worst:
Collins, S. D. (2005). Managing Conflict and Workplace Relationships. Mason, OH: South-Western.
Davidhizar, R., Shearer, R., & Castro, B. (2000, Feb). A Dilemma of Modern Technology: Managing E-mail Overload. Hospital
Materiel Management Quarterly, 21, 42-47.
Folger, J. P., Poole, M. S., & Stutman, R. K. (2001). Working Through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups and
Organizations (4th ed.). New York: Longman.
Frost, J. H., & Wilmot. (1978). Interpersonal Conflict: Wm. C. Brown.
Gulbranson, J. E. (1998). The Ground Rules of Conflict Resolution. Industrial Management, 40(3), 4-7.
Lulofs, R. S., & Cahn, D. D. (2000). Conflict: From Theory to Action. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn &Bacon.
Molinsky, A., & Margolis, J. (2005). Necessary Evils and Interpersonal Sensitivity in Organizations. Academy of Management
Review, 30(2), 245-268.
Nicotera, A. M. (1997). Managing Conflict Communication in Groups. In L. R. Frey & J. K. Barge (Eds.), Managing Group Life:
Communicating in Decision-Making Groups (pp. 104-130). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Putnam, L. L. (1988). Communication and Interpersonal Conflict in Organizations. Management Communication Quarterly, 1,
Putnam, L. L., & Poole, M. S. (1987). Conflict and Negotiation. In F. M. Jablin, L. L. Putnam, K. H. Roberts & L. W. Porter
(Eds.), Handbook of Organizational Communication (pp. 549-599). Newbury Park: Sage.
Wilbers, S. (1998, 13 Feb). Humor Travels Far When Sending a Message. Triad Business News, p. 12.
Zivin, G. (1982). Watching the Sands Shift: Development of Nonverbal Behavior in Children.

Be Assertive, Not Aggressive
Posted by Amitabh Shukla on December 2, 2009 in Getting into Roots
Assertiveness is very essential in our daily lives. We can get things done if we are assertive. Of course,
we must ensure that we are not aggressive. Whatever has to be said has to stated in clear and matter-
of-fact terms and not in an abusive manner.
Why one must be assertive?
In all spheres of our professional lives, we have to be assertive. It is a competitive world today. One
faces many challenges in one’s work arena. Also one has to deal with all kinds of people. Some may be
helpful and cooperative and others may not be so helpful. It may not be very easy to convince some
people. At times your views may not be acceptable to the other person. Only if one is assertive can one
get one’s way.
Difference between assertiveness and aggressive
When one is aggressive one tends to be rude and can also use abuse language. Being assertive, on the
other hand, means being polite and firm. If one is rude one gets nowhere. Nobody likes an abusive
Sweet conversation appeals to a person. A person will be convinced if he or she is spoken to politely,
but firmly. He or she must feel that other person is not forcing him or her to do anything, but giving
him or her choice to decide whatever is best for him or her.
A firm “Yes” or ” No” can mean a lot in one’s association with other people. How one says it matters.
Advantages of being assertive
 One is able to get one’s way.
 One can convince the other person very emphatically.
 Business deals can often be settled.
 Reflects confidence.
 Indicates decisiveness.
Disadvantages of being assertiveness
 At times if not properly conveyed, then one considers it to be rudeness.
 It can also reflect over-confidence.
 Can prove to be counter-productive.
 One may appear to be arrogant.
It is essential for a person to be assertive in one’s life or else everybody will trample upon him or her.
One has to be firm about things and not give easily to everything that another person wants him or her
to do
Assertive communication is the ability to effectively communicate viewpoints without bothering much
about what others might think or say. Assertive behavior should not be confused with aggressive
behavior; a person who is persistent in expression definitely prefers calling a spade a spade but also
takes enough effort that he doesn't harm others in the process. He never will find it hard to decide
between yes or no answer to a particular question. Most of us have faced this situation in the past
when we actually wanted to say no, but ended up saying yes. You would agree that this tendency
leads to mental disturbance within, later. Not being able to say what you ideally wanted to say can
lead to passive aggressive behavior and internal conflict that troubles the mind and also hampers our
performance. Thus, being assertive is the key to lead a stress free life. Apart from this there are many
other benefits, and they have been discussed in detail in the coming paragraphs.

The Pros of Being Assertive

Freedom from Internal Conflicts
Picture the situation; you have a severe headache and want to spend some time alone, resting. But a
good friend of yours calls and says that he wants to talk to you. In the mind, you have the thought to
avoid him as you are not in the mood to talk or listen to someone. But you end up chatting with your
friend for hours, in the process augmenting your headache and doing what you didn't want to do. Also
one thing is sure, you couldn't give your hundred percent to the talk because it was in your mind to
end the communication as soon as possible. Had you been assertive enough to refuse your friend you
could have spent time resting and recovering, or do what you actually wanted to do. When being
persistent about one's beliefs, a person says what he believes in, but in a polite manner without
hurting others around him.

It also helps a person give hundred percent to a task as he doesn't have any conflict or confusion in
the mind. In the example given above, you could not give your best while communicating with your
friend and it was a halfhearted effort. Thus communicating assertively helps you focus on one task
and also keeps you free from stress.

Confidence Boosting
Yes, it boosts your confidence, as you confidently voice your opinions. If you are assertive, people
would also appreciate it as you are true in voicing your thoughts and prefer giving free and frank
answers. The appreciation and respect from people definitely boosts the confidence of the person. He
always has a high self-esteem as he never will feel submissive in the communication process. There
are no 'ifs and buts' in the language of an assertive communicator. He comes across as a confident
person with established views.

Helps Manage Stress
Being assertive in communication makes a person less subject to stress. In most of the cases, he
doesn't have to face any regret in the future as he never gives up to a situation and speaks what he
wants to. A person who is persistent in expression is always a happy person with fewer regrets in life.

You Stand up for Your Opinions
An assertive person always stands up for his viewpoints and it doesn't bother him much about what
others have to say. He is usually a happy and confident person, who has his own take on life and
beliefs. People can never take advantage of a person with persistent behavior or make use of him for
fulfilling their motives. People generally take advantage of people with submissive behavior as they
are the ones who readily accept the suggestions of others for the reason that they don't want to hurt

While being assertive is always an advantage, there are also some disadvantages. People can confuse
you as a brash, rude and careless person. The key is thus, managing the talk in a way that it doesn't
hurt others; at the same time you should also maintain your individuality. Hopefully, this article has
helped you understand the basics of being persistent while communicating. If you are not an assertive
person you can practice inculcating this behavior; it is truly possible with time and some behavioral
Read more at Buzzle:
Assertive communication - what is it and why use it?
Yet being trained in assertive communication actually increasesthe appropriate use of this sort of
behaviour. It enables us toswap old behaviour patterns for a more positive approach to life.I've found
that changing my response to others (be they workcolleagues, clients or even my own family) can be
exciting andstimulating.

The advantages of assertive communication
There are many advantages of assertive communication, mostnotably these:

* It helps us feel good about ourselves and others* It leads to the development of mutual respect with
others* It increases our self-esteem* It helps us achieve our goals* It minimises hurting and
alienating other people* It reduces anxiety* It protects us from being taken advantage of by others*
It enables us to make decisions and free choices in life* It enables us to express, both verbally and
non-verbally, a wide range of feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative

There are, of course, disadvantages...

Disadvantages of assertive communication
Others may not approve of this style of communication, or may notapprove of the views you express.
Also, having a healthy regardfor another person's rights means that you won't always get whatYOU
want. You may also find out that you were wrong about aviewpoint that you held. But most
importantly, as mentionedearlier, it involves the risk that others may not understand andtherefore not
accept this style of communication.

What assertive communication is not...
Assertive communication is definately NOT a lifestyle! It's NOT aguarantee that you will get what you
want. It's definately NOT anacceptable style of communication with everyone, but at leastit's NOT
being aggressive.

But it IS about choice

Four behavioural choices
There are, as I see it, four choices you can make about whichstyle of communication you can employ.
These types are:

direct aggression: bossy, arrogant, bulldozing, intolerant,opinionated, and overbearing

indirect aggression: sarcastic, deceiving, ambiguous,insinuating, manipulative, and guilt-inducing

submissive: wailing, moaning, helpless, passive, indecisive, andapologetic

assertive: direct, honest, accepting, responsible, andspontaneous

Characteristics of assertive communication
There are six main characteristics of assertive communication.These are:

1. eye contact: demonstrates interest, shows sincerity

2. body posture: congruent body language will improve the significance of the message

3. gestures: appropriate gestures help to add emphasis

4. voice: a level, well modulated tone is more convincing and acceptable, and is not intimidating

5. timing: use your judgement to maximise receptivity and impact

6. content: how, where and when you choose to comment is probably more important than WHAT you

The importance of "I" statements
Part of being assertive involves the ability to appropriatelyexpress your needs and feelings. You can
accomplish this by using"I" statements. These indicate ownership, do not attribute blame,focuses on
behaviour, identifies the effect of behaviour, isdirecdt and honest, and contributes to the growth of
yourrelationship with each other.

Strong "I" statements have three specific elements:

1. Behaviour2. Feeling3. Tangible effect (consequence to you)

Example: "I feel frustrated when you are late for meetings. Idon't like having to repeat information."

Six techniques for assertive communication
There are six assertive techniques - let's look at each of themin turn.

1. Behaviour Rehearsal: which is literally practising how youwant to look and sound. It is a very useful
technique when youfirst want to use "I" statements, as it helps dissipate anyemotion associated with
an experience and allows you toaccurately identify the behaviour you wish to confront.

2. Repeated Assertion (the 'broken record'): this techniqueallows you to feel comfortable by ignoring
manipulative verbalside traps, argumentative baiting and irrelevant logic whilesticking to your point.
To most effectively use this techniqueuse calm repetition, and say what you want and stay focused
onthe issue. You'll find that there is no need to rehearse thistechnique, and no need to 'hype yourself
up' to deal with others.


"I would like to show you some of our products" "No thank you,I'm not interested" "I really have a
great range to offer you""That may be true, but I'm not interested at the moment" "Isthere someone
else here who would be interested?" "I don't wantany of these products" "Okay, would you take this
brochure andthink about it?" "Yes, I will take a brochure" "Thank you""You're welcome"

3. Fogging: this technique allows you to receive criticismcomfortably, without getting anxious or
defensive, and withoutrewarding manipulative criticism. To do this you need toacknowledge the
criticism, agree that there may be some truth towhat they say, but remain the judge of your choice of
action. Anexample of this could be, "I agree that there are probably timeswhen I don't give you
answers to your questions.

4. Negative enquiry: this technique seeks out criticism aboutyourself in close relationships by
prompting the expression ofhonest, negative feelings to improve communication. To use ifeffectively
you need to listen for critical comments, clarifyyour understanding of those criticisms, use the
information if itwill be helpful or ignore the information if it is manipulative.An example of this
technique would be, "So you think/believe thatI am not interested?"

5. Negative assertion: this technique lets you look morecomfortably at negatives in your own
behaviour or personalitywithout feeling defensive or anxious, this also reduces yourcritics' hostility.
You should accept your errors or faults, butnot apologise. Instead, tentatively and sympathetically
agreewith hostile criticism of your negative qualities. An examplewould be, "Yes, you're right. I don't
always listen closely towhat you have to say."

6. Workable compromise: when you feel that your self-respect isnot in question, consider a workable
compromise with the otherperson. You can always bargain for your material goals unless
thecompromise affects your personal feelings of self-respect.However, if the end goal involves a
matter of your self-worth andself-respect, THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE. An example of
thistechnique would be, "I understand that you have a need to talkand I need to finish what I'm doing.
So what about meeting inhalf an hour?"

Assertiveness is a useful communication tool. It's application iscontextual and it's not appropriate to
be assertive in allsituations. Remember, your sudden use of assertiveness may beperceived as an act
of aggression by others.

There's also no guarantee of success, even when you use assertivecommunication styles

"Nothing on earth can stop the individual with the right mental attitude from achieving their goal;
nothing on earth can help the individual with the wrong mental attitude" W.W. Ziege