Assertive communication

Assertive communication is an essential skill for dental practitioners. It empowers practitioners to be ‘heard’, ensuring that others take notice, and to advocate for those in their care. And, like most skills, it requires practise to get right.

If you want to know more about how to become an assertive communicator, call our confidential 24/7 support line on 1800 377 700 or you can request support via email.
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Assertive communication is when the speaker expresses their needs, rights and opinions effectively and in a manner that is respectful of others.

It targets problems rather than people, with a mutual goal to solve a concern or crisis. This communication style has been found to neutralise incidents of workplace bullying, reduce stress in complex situations and boost self-empowerment.

As a student on clinical placement or a recent graduate, assertive communication may help to improve your confidence to communicate with others when working in a new environment.

How to be an assertive communicator
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Being an assertive communicator may not come naturally.

To improve your assertive communication skills:

  • know what you want to say – use ‘I’ statements
  • respect the opinions of others (even if you don’t agree
  • get to the point and keep it simple
  • choose the right moment to assert yourself
  • be confident, not arrogant
  • be firm but polite
  • don’t be aggressive or raise your voice
  • speak in a neutral tone
  • actively listen to what people have to say
  • ask people to listen – you have something valuable to say
  • ask questions to understand different views
  • know your limits and boundaries – what you will and won’t accept, and
  • look for areas of compromise – win-win is a good outcome.
Say ‘no’ assertively
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Saying ‘no’ can be difficult, especially when on clinical placement or just starting your career as a recent graduate.

The alternative – saying ‘yes’ all the time – can result in you feeling overwhelmed, overworked, stressed, and put you at risk of burnout. It is important to have boundaries to avoid an ever-increasing workload that means you are always running late, working through breaks or doing overtime.

When to say ‘no’:

if tasks are outside your scope of practice or position description

  • when a request is unreasonable
  • if you feel unsure or not confident
  • if saying ‘yes’ will have a negative impact on patient care
  • because you don’t want to (overtime, shift swaps), and
  • if the request is not consistent with the values of the organisation.
What can I do next?
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Find out more about:

Our service provides free and confidential support to dental practitioners and students Australia-wide. If you would like to speak to someone call us 24/7 on 1800 377 700 or you can request support via email. If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through accessing support.

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