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Chapter 13. Assertiveness > Nonverbal Aspects of Assertiveness

Nonverbal Aspects of Assertiveness

How you say what you say is just as important as what you say—that is, the body language you display has a profound effect on how your words will be interpreted and on the responses you will get. No matter how well-crafted your assertive response may be or how appropriate your words, if your nonverbal behaviors are not congruent with your verbal communication you can totally sabotage your message and greatly reduce the likelihood of getting the reaction you seek. If your nonverbal behaviors reflect passivity, deference, self-effacement, timidity, or lack of confidence, you will undermine your message and invite others to discount your words. On the other hand, if your words are assertive and appropriate but your demeanor is intimi-dating or aggressive it will also detract from your message. Other people will respond with fear or resentment rather than accommodation.

Basically, you want to present a demeanor that is consistent with assertiveness. It is neither timid nor aggressive, but rather forthright, confident, and matter-of-fact. One of the most effective ways to present a confident demeanor is to maintain eye contact. When you look directly at someone's eyes while talking to him or her it conveys confidence, self-assurance, and that you mean what you say. A passive stance usually involves minimal eye contact or looking down, which conveys lack of confidence or uncertainty about your position. An aggressive stance often involves staring a person down, which is not what we mean when we suggest making eye contact. Sometimes it is hard to maintain eye contact, particularly if you have trouble being assertive, because it may make you uncomfortable. Despite this, we encourage you to force yourself to do so for several reasons: (1) it will make your assertive responses more effective, and (2) keeping eye contact gets a lot easier once you practice doing it.


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