Assertiveness is information in action. The information part is just as important as the action part. Asking for information is an assertive act. So is listening for the information requested, to be sure that you receive it correctly. One of the ways that listening can be assertive has to do with the environment in which the assertive listening takes place. After having asked, the assertive listener will show that he or she means it, really wants an honest answer, by focusing fully on the other person. Background noise and distractions should already be minimized by having asked in a quiet setting, and any background noise or distractions that continue should be ignored – unless there is a sudden emergency, of course! – with the listener continuing to stay focused on what the other person is saying. What the listener sees is as important as what the listener hears. Watch for fleeting, momentary expressions, a look in the eyes, a quick smile or momentary frown, as well as for hand gestures and whole-body changes of position. The face and gestures help to convey the meaning of the message – they’re a part of the message – and a person’s change of position can signal whether he or she is comfortable with the subject, or with you, or both. A sudden movement to get up and leave, even if not followed by an immediate, “I have to go now,” can show the person’s discomfort, uneasiness, or even fear. The person’s decision to stay, anyway, and see it through, shows character, caring and determination. The actual words heard are also very important, and for that it might be necessary to take some time to reflect, maybe a few days, or at least a day or so, before really responding. The phrases, “Thank you for telling me all that,” and “Let me think about this,” are helpful here. People usually appreciate hearing either or both of those two phrases, and most people would rather have a thoughtful, well-thought-out response than just an initial reaction. People like knowing that someone will be thinking about what they said. That also buys you time to really think about what was really said. It could be that you think you heard something, but a day or two later the actual sentence that was said separates itself out from the person’s tone of voice, and you might find yourself thinking to yourself, “Oh! It sounded like that, but he didn’t actually say that. He said…” When that happens, go with the actual words used. Usually a person means what they say, even if their facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language aren’t fully congruent. An extreme example of that is when asking a possible sexual partner if he or she would like to go further. If you hear the word, “no”, go with that, no matter what other messages you may also be receiving. A common mistake that assertive listeners sometimes make is, if they don’t understand something, to ask. It seems like such a natural thing, to ask for clarification, or for more information, when you don’t understand something that someone has said. But the other person may not be able to express themselves any better, or they may not really know. Rather than ask an immediate question, a lot of times it’s better just to think and analyze for a few days, or even longer. You might not have the life experience to understand. But it could happen that, much later, maybe years later, you have some experience, and after it you say to yourself, “Oh! That was what he meant! Now I see why he said that.” Questions and answers right at the time can’t help with things like that. Only further life experience will help with those, and you don’t always know, at the time, that it’s a life experience thing. However, even if everything is not fully understood, assertive, effective listening explores the questions and gathers in as much information as possible, so that further thinking and analysis on the part of the assertive listener will be able to lead to effective, assertive action when the listener is ready to take that action. Assertive, effective listening gives the assertive person the best chance of success – keeping in mind, of course, that, in assertiveness, success is measured by how well the assertive person has expressed his or her position, NOT by whether or not his or her recommendation was accepted and implemented. That part falls within the assertive rights of the other person, the right to accept or refuse your request. But you can be satisfied, happy, and proud of yourself if you have just presented yourself effectively and well – and that’s lots more likely with good information backing up whatever position you take! Next column: Learning as much as we can – the third step in developing the skill of assertiveness.