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How assertive are you? Do you feel confident and able to develop positive interpersonal relationships with colleagues and patients? Every physician and nurse asked similar questions at least once in their professional career. The fact is that interpersonal relationships are considered one of the foundational pillars of effective health care. The quality of relationships between physicians and between them and patients further predetermines the quality and efficiency of health care delivery. Patients need to trust their physicians. Physicians need to trust their colleagues and nurses. Interpersonal relationships should be continuous, caring and comprehensive (Saultz & Albedaiwi, 2004). Underlying the philosophy of health care is effective communication, which strengthens and improves interpersonal relationships. Effective communication is the process of sharing information, which ensures that the message is received and understood the way it was intended. In the health care industry, effective communication and quality interpersonal relationships increase the value of care, streamline treatment processes, and result in the delivery of patient-focused, coordinated and efficient care (Dlugacz, 2009). Effective communication plays the major role in explaining the patient’s health and emotional state. Effective communication reduces the risks of medical errors and makes it easier for the patient to articulate information which is not found in medical documents and records (Dlugacz, 2009). Effective communication lays the groundwork for the development of sustained collaborative ties among health care professionals.

Which type of relationships do you choose? Do you consider yourself supportive or defensive? Answering this question honestly is the key to your professional success in health care. Supportive professional climates rely on empathy and problem orientation, equality and provisionalism, as well as description and spontaneity (Cheesebro, O’Connor & Rios, 2010). Supportive environments enable health care professionals to communicate their feelings openly and articulate their needs to others (Cheesebro et al., 2010). In supportive relationships, health care professionals have greater opportunities to confront the existing problems in a collaborative and cooperative manner. Sincerity in communication, honesty, respect and understanding add value to supportive relationships. It is no wonder that, in health care environments, supportive interpersonal styles are more preferable than defensive attitudes. Defensive environments, with their know-it-all worldviews, closeness, certainty and control cannot reflect the complexity of processes and decisions in health care (Cheesebro et al., 2010). In health care and nursing care, emotions play not the last role, and supportive relationships present a better way to deliver quality care to patients.

Supportive environments favor assertiveness, or the ability to state what you feel, want, think or need in ways that respect other people’s needs and wishes (Cheesebro et al., 2010). Through assertive communication health care professionals can communicate important information respectfully and honestly; assertive relationships build trust, create conditions needed to meet the most important needs, and prevent conflicts (Cheesebro et al., 2010). All health care professionals should regularly assess their assertiveness. The results of these self-assessments will pave the way for the development of more appropriate and effective communication styles. I used a self-assessment of assertiveness provided by Cheesebro et al. (2010) and found myself to be reasonably assertive in some areas and nonassertive in others. For example, I know I can speak openly in group settings but I cannot always express sadness and disappointment without placing blame on others. Several important communication areas definitely need improvement. If you feel like being nonassertive or do not know how assertive you are, all you need to do is to ask yourself, whether you can say “no” to others without feeling guilty and express negative emotions and feelings without damaging the quality of professional relationships with your colleagues and subordinates. The answers to these questions can become the basic measure of your assertiveness, no matter what health care profession you choose. Be open with yourself and others, welcome learning opportunities, and do not hesitate to express your concerns, hesitation or anger without threatening or blaming others. These simple steps will enable you to become more assertive and successful in your profession.

Effective communication guarantees that the message is received and understood the way it was intended. Effective communication is crucial to the success and effectiveness of health care delivery. Assertiveness enables health care professionals to communicate their fears, feelings and concerns openly and honestly. To become assertive, health care professionals need to be open with themselves and others, welcome learning opportunities, and express negative feelings without blaming others. These are the main steps to become more assertive in health care. 

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