by Miranda Wilcox, Tenshey Executive Coach

If the purpose of communication is to share ideas and negotiate relationships, we can likely all agree that many an idea and relationship have suffered as a result of our limited ability to communicate effectively. At work in particular, we struggle to present ourselves capably, trying to navigate the murky space between dominant and demure.

The interpersonal and gender communication expert Deborah Tannen cleverly warns that, “Smashing heads does not open minds.” Yet sometimes in our efforts to communicate with power we resort to aggressive communication tactics: attacking, labeling or attempting to control the other person. The resulting alienation extinguishes our message and tarnishes our reputation.

At the other extreme of our interpersonal exchanges lies passive communication. While women who aggressively communicate tend to prompt backlash, passive communicators reinforce a “good girl” stereotype in which women avoid, mask or withdraw from the issue at hand. Flipping the I-win-you-lose approach of aggressive communication, passive communicators yield to the other party by being silent or vague, while still (futilely) hoping or (falsely) assuming their message is received.

Between these two extremes lies an approach for building engagement and understanding: assertive communication. Assertive communicators garner immediate respect because they are direct, honest, thought-driven, and respectful of others without sacrificing themselves. Here are four keys to speaking assertively:

Separate reality from fiction

Isolate the indisputable facts of the situation and take ownership of any embellishments you may be contributing. Those internal narratives often sabotage our success.

Avoid emotional hijacking

Speak from a place of thinking rather than feeling. It can be effective to describe your feelings, just do so calmly and after consideration.

Make your message strategic

Think of what you are trying to accomplish and share only what will advance your efforts. Asking, “how will this serve me?” can be a helpful way to vet your messages.

Create mutual purpose

Identify something the other party wants and address it, while balancing what’s best for you. It’s possible to find a shared interest in even the most adversarial situations.

In every communication we are negotiating relationships; intentionally or not, we are telling people how to view and interact with us, and setting expectations for future situations. Assertive communication demonstrates confidence in self and respect toward others, helping advance goals and strengthen relationships. And that’s a win-win.

Want to know more about using assertive communication? Join us on June 18 as Miranda delivers the webinar Speak Like a Boss: Mastering Assertive Communication, as part of Tenshey’s collaboration with Fairygodboss.


Miranda Wilcox is a fierce advocate for improving personal happiness, professional impact, and team performance. As a Professional Certified Coach, instructor, mentor, speaker, and entrepreneur, Miranda helps emerging leaders, executives, and organizations actualize potential and thrive. Driven by her mission to empower and develop others, Miranda delivers informative and engaging presentations related to personal and professional leadership. She brings more than 25 years of business and communication experience, having served as an adjunct communication professor as well as a leadership certificate faculty member. Honored for her contributions to women’s leadership, Miranda speaks directly, listens reflectively, and connects wholeheartedly. She is the founder and lead coach of Thrive Potential, LLC and an executive coach for Tenshey, Inc