Intercultural communication: the importance of being assertive

We arrive in our adoptive country with luggage full of different social rules and expectations. We have all been raised using communication skills that, until we migrate, make perfect sense in our native environment and cultural background.

Relocating to a new country and encountering new communication styles can cause confusion and disorientation. With time, these differences become increasingly noticeable, as do differing behaviors and values.

When being different becomes overwhelming

Amid this cultural confusion, many people tend to develop difficulties communicating, either at work, or with family, friends and partners, be they from a different culture, or your own. Some people may also feel misunderstood, insecure or angry when relating to others.

Such communication problems often result in repeated and frustrating conversation patterns, where you may be thinking:
 Why do problems arise again and again when I have to deal with my supervisor?

 How does a simple conversation about house chores turn into a discussion about how unappreciated I feel in our relationship?

 Why do I always end up feeling like a victim when my friends get upset about something I said?

This article provides some insights into how assertiveness can play a big role in improving your multicultural communication skills.

The power of assertiveness

Over the last couple of years, with the impact of an increasing amount of migrants relocating, you might have heard professionals putting more emphasis on the importance of assertiveness. But what does being assertive actually mean?

What is assertiveness?

Being assertive is a synonym for being genuine with respect towards others; it means saying what you think in a direct, open, non-judgmental, informative and tactful way.

In short, being assertive means:
 Daring to say “no” and to set the right boundaries
 Being yourself without hurting others
 Saying what you think in respecting your own needs and the ones of others

The problem is that people are often scared to put their relationships at risk by saying or acting as they really are, but in reality they are doing the exact opposite by denying their real self.

How to practise assertiveness

The following tips will help and encourage you to dare to be yourself and assert your needs in a respectful and non-judgmental way.

Evaluate where you are now

As a general rule, if you have a goal, you also need to know where to start. Is there a specific situation when you have the feeling that you are ignoring yourself, or undermining what’s really important for you?

Is there a certain person (perhaps your spouse, your boss, a friend) with whom you feel a tension build up after a few minutes’ conversation? Write it down, as it’ll help you clarify the areas where you have the most communication difficulties.

Define your needs

Seek out and define your needs that are not being met whenever communication goes wrong:
 Are you seeking confirmation?
 Or looking for appreciation or acceptance?
 What are the recurrent thoughts in such situations?

Thinking of being worthless, vulnerable or disrespected, for example. Negative emotions are a mirror of unfulfilled needs, which are connected with self-esteem and assertiveness.

Think about what you achieve or lose

Think about what you are achieving and what you are losing in your relation with others when you are not being assertive. For example:
 Do you achieve calmness?
 Do you lose vitality?
 What are the long-term consequences?

One possible scenario is that by not being assertive at work you end up feeling unfulfilled because you are not acting in line with the person you want to be.

Take responsibilities. It’ll empower you!

Think of specific situations when the communication went terribly wrong. Think now about the impact you had on it. You cannot change others, but by being assertive, you can improve the situation!

For example, if you feel that your parents didn’t allow you to build strong self-esteem, this you cannot change. What you can change, however, is to take responsibility for your actions now and in the future in order to overcome your insecurity. In short, transform paralysing thoughts in actions.

Grow cultural awareness

Remember, individuals are capable of drawing nourishment from cultural differences and similarities. Becoming more sensitive to differences and acquiring the communication skills of your second culture will allow you to become more independent and capable of using the right skills to express yourself.

The same is applicable to difficult situations with people from your own cultural background who have different personalities.

The benefits of assertiveness

In conclusion, becoming assertive will allow you to be more expressive, humorous, creative and capable of putting meaning into situations and to apply the right communication skills in the most diverse environments.

This is a learning experience that you can incorporate slowly into your identity, allowing you to build bridges instead of burning them.

– This article is also published on IamExpat at: