Assertiveness is an effective tool for communicating your ideas, observations and evidence within a multidisciplinary team. It is the best communication tool for advocating for your patients. It is also an important tool in difficult situations.
Nurses are usually members of any number of different multidisciplinary teams, whether they work in a hospital or in a community setting. The function of these teams or organisations can range from patient care issues, to environmental response initiatives in disasters.
Sometimes, as a nurse, you may feel left out of the dynamics of a group; you may not feel confident in expressing your knowledge within a multidisciplinary team or a committee without feeling self-conscious.
Being assertive allows you to act instead of react, and learning how to substitute self-consciousness with self-assurance is the starting point to achieving this outcome. Teams and committees are formed in order to solve problems, find solutions and create new opportunities. Knowing how to participate by being assertive will contribute to the overall strength and success of the team.
Here are ten tips for being assertive in multidisciplinary teams. Many of these techniques take practice but will result in you becoming a stronger person, and more professional:
- Be organised
Educate yourself on topics to be discussed; have the necessary facts and resources to support any comments or proposals. This reduces the possibility of being passive, which may allow others to infringe on you.
- Be motivated
A team is only as strong as the motivation and belief of each member in the cause in question. If you are unable to find the motivation, then it would be more professional of you to allow another to take your place on that team.
- Know your role as a team member
The key word to remember is ‘team‘. To make things work and flow efficiently, every member will have a specific role. Each should know their responsibilities as well as understand those of the other members.
- Be willing to learn, be open minded
This is not easy for some individuals but learning new ideas or new methods will always result in growth, both for the team and the individual.
- Always remain calm and professional
If you are feeling angry, do not answer or offer an opinion for a few moments. Gather your thoughts and respond only when you are in control. Aggression in meetings accomplishes little but the creation of bad feelings.
- Learn to truly listen – not just hear
Be willing to let another speak and finish what they want to say before interrupting with your own thoughts or comments. Sometimes people have difficulty expressing what they mean clearly and concisely. If you listen long enough, you may realise what they were trying to say is exactly what you were thinking, or perhaps you will see a new point of view.
- Don’t ridicule others’ opinions, reasons or suggestions
Express your opinions – stand up for your point of view – but respect those of others.
- Keep the best interest of the group in mind
Keep to topic. What is this meeting about? Remain focused on the best outcome. Support the reason for the team and ultimately those whom it helps.
- Use ‘I‘ and avoid ‘you‘ statements when speaking
For example, say, ‘I disagree‘, not ‘You’re wrong‘. ‘You‘ messages often create defensiveness.
- Learn to say no
It is perfectly acceptable to stand your ground on ideas or circumstances in which you truly believe. Simply agreeing to everything because you are afraid to ‘rock the boat’ will ultimately only hurt the strength of the team. It will also defeat the purpose of the meeting, which is not to let one person dominate, but to achieve the best possible outcome.
If you’re not already doing so, try putting some of these tips into practice over the next few weeks.
Being assertive takes practice. It is neither helpful nor respectful to your professional contribution to be passive or aggressive. Assertive communication makes you a stronger team player and can help the team better meet its goals and improve patient outcomes in a more timely and effective manner.
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- Jarboe, E 1999, ‘Speaking Up: How to Be More Assertive’, Pioneer Thinking, viewed 24 November 2016, http://pioneerthinking.com/home/speaking-up-how-to-be-more-assertive/
- Mayo Clinic Staff 2014, ‘Being Assertive: Reduce Stress, Communicate Better’, Mayo Clinic, viewed 24 November 2016, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/…4
Zoe Youl is a Critical Care Registered Nurse, Nurse Planner and Event Education Manager at Ausmed Education. In this role, she manages Ausmed's Event Education Team, which coordinates the content development for Ausmed's 300+ conferences and seminars run nationally around Australia for nurses and midwives. Before commencing at Ausmed Education, Zoe worked as a Critical Care Registered Nurse in Intensive Care at a large private hospital in Melbourne. She values the ability of education to enable personal and professional growth, is a passionate teacher and has experience as a Sessional Academic teaching undergraduate nursing students. Zoe is a member of the Australian College of Nursing (ACN), the Australian College of Critical Care Nurses (ACCCN), the Australian Nurse Teachers Society (ANTS) and the Association for Nursing Professional Development (ANPD). She holds a postgraduate qualification in Clinical Nursing (Intensive Care) and is currently undertaking a Master of Nursing (Leadership and Management). Zoe is committed to improving the health and lives of all people through the development of effective and meaningful education whilst also promoting the impact of unique nursing roles.