How to Stay Assertive in Discussions 

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A good discussion is often part of our personal and professional lives and provides interesting insights. However, it sometimes results in a never-ending conversation or challenging situations. In the worst case, it is no longer possible to maintain your assertiveness because you feel absorbed in the point you are trying to make or belittled by the other party. So, how do you remain balanced as an assertive debater to bring your argument across respectfully while keeping the relationship intact? 

Someone makes a statement, you argue (or vice versa). Carefully at first, you will let the other person know you disagree. After the initial politeness, it becomes clear that a disagreement has arisen. The arguments go back and forth, usually involving raising voices and becoming more frustrated – until one of the parties gives up or gives in, and the atmosphere between the two sides remains grim. 

What is a better and healthier way to have a discussion? One where both parties, or at least one, adopt and maintain an assertive stance. The key to having a healthy debate is nothing more than making good arguments. Judging your opponent and telling them that they are “seeing it wrong” will certainly not produce a great result. They will feel attacked as a result, and it will not make the conversation more pleasant or constructive.

The essential first rule of any discussion is always to keep the relationship with the family member, friend, or colleague in mind. With this basic rule as a starting point, you can do everything to turn the discussion in your favor.

Rule 1: Be respectful & acknowledge each other

Acknowledge the other person’s arguments before moving on to the facts you would like to share. Whether in a public setting or not, people want to be recognized for their intelligence and contribution. Acknowledging can be done by summarizing what your opponent has said to show that you heard what they said before moving on to your argument. This can help prevent miscommunication and is particularly beneficial if you speak and think fast.

Rule 2: Keep your facts straight

Be careful not to label anything as the ultimate sacred truth unless you know for sure. If it turns out that you were not speaking the truth, it makes your position in the discussion shaky and you can be seen as unreliable. 

Rule 3: Stick to the Topic

Perhaps the most challenging part of a discussion is how to stick to a debate topic. If you or your conversation partner introduce an entirely new topic, it becomes more difficult for follow up. In addition, bringing in a different subject can be your opponent’s tactic; it might signify that they feel that they are in danger of losing. 

Rule 4: Stay Calm 

It happens all the time, your conversation partner continuously repeats their point of view. They will raise their voice to reinforce the argument. Do not participate in that competition. It is better to stay calm and conduct the discussion with focus. Remaining calm will give you more time to think, which helps to bring forward good points to reinforce your arguments. Not the loudest person, but the person with the most convincing points of view wins a dialogue.

Rule 5: Body Language

Assertiveness during an argument means being able to calmly and clearly express your thoughts and feelings. This also applies to non-verbal communication. For example, take an open and upright stance, trying not to make the non-verbal gestures too expressive so that it comes off as aggressive. Additionally, it is essential to maintain eye contact with the other person and listen to what they say before responding. Be mindful of your body language, listen to the other person and react calmly. 

Rule 6: Seek first to understand, then be understood

It can be helpful to ask questions about the other person’s point of view, rather than immediately inserting your opinion or repeating your arguments. Try to understand what the other person is conveying. When you ask critical questions, it may already be apparent that the other person does not have strong arguments. 

Pro tip: The core difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness is staying aware of the other. Know your timing, assess the other party’s response, and assess the effectiveness of your responses. Why does the other say this? Why do you think that? Focus on “why” instead of “what.” In addition, use silence. Give the other person the opportunity to respond after you make a point. While listening to your opponent, you have time to think about your subsequent response. Using silence might also lead to the conversation ending naturally as well. 

Final note

These tips help to maintain an assertive discussion with your colleagues. Remember to think about the relationship during the conversation. It forms the foundation of any personal and professional dialogue. However, if you continually find yourself triggered by certain people, it might be helpful to read more about challenging personality types. See Dealing with Difficult PeopleAero Crew News, April 2021.

SOURCEAero Crew News, March 2022
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Reini Thijssen is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHCA) and certified life coach specializing in working with aerospace professionals. She has been a writer for Aero Crew News since 2019 and covers various topics related to aviation concerning life- and career changes, relationships, and overall mental health. Reini is in private practice at Emerald Mental Health. She offers online mental health support to adult individuals and couples coping with a wide range of challenges such as anxiety, burnout, grief, and stress. For more information and questions, contact reini@emeraldmentalhealth.com

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