One critical skill in the complicated mess of conflict resolution is assertive communication. As I speak, write, coach, and train on the application of assertive communication techniques and strategies, I get many questions related to this topic. One of the most common questions relates to the potential risks of choosing to communicate assertively.
The question takes many forms, but it generally comes down to this:
When is it safe to speak assertively with another person?
This is a great question because it acknowledges the potential risk of confronting another person's behaviors. The conflict resolution process is full of various kinds of risks. There are usually relational risks. Sometimes there are financial risks. And occasionally there are physical risks.
I understand the risks. I see the risks. And I have to deal with the risks when I find myself in a real or potential conflict situation. To manage or mitigate these risks, I have developed three questions I ask of myself before I make the choice to communicate assertively.
- Is there a way to act assertively that minimizes the risk of retaliation?
The starting point for mitigating the risk begins with taking a close look inwardly to see if there is a way I can adjust my behaviors to make it safe for the other person to receive what I have to say. With this question, I hope to find a way that I can deliver my message in a non-threatening manner.
- Do I trust the other person to respond honorably and without retaliation?
If the answer to this question is yes, then I proceed with the assertive communication. If the answer is no, then I ask myself the third question.
- Am I willing to accept the consequences if they do not?
This question reveals some additional risks raised by the question: Can Every Conflict Be Resolved? If I am willing to accept the consequences, then I proceed. If I am not willing to accept the consequences, then I look for another path to resolution.
These questions do not address every variable and every situation you might face in working to resolve a conflict. They are pretty good guidelines for making decisions about how to proceed in a conflict situation.