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How to Be Assertive

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 3

The Assertiveness Workbook

Learning how to be assertive is a desirable communication trait. The definition of assertive as defined by thefreedictionary.com is "confident and direct in claiming one's rights or putting forward one's views". If you are not a natural then it takes practice to hone these communication skills. A person who is assertive speaks and acts in a way that takes responsibility for his or her actions. Someone who has learned how to be assertive wants to respect and be respected.

Things You Will Need


Step 1

Learning Assertiveness Skills

Figuring out how to be assertive first means you need to find your current communication style. The four most common are assertive, passive-aggressive, aggressive, and passive. A passive person avoids conflict, has a hard time saying "no" and puts other people's needs ahead of their own. This builds silent resentment. Aggressive behavior is intimidating, disrespectful and uses conflict. This person is forceful verbally or even physically by crossing your boundaries. Passive-aggressive people gravitate between the two states. They may sulk and feel sorry for themselves, procrastinate, and use forgetfulness as a means of control.

Step 2

Assertive Statements

Use "I" statements. This is very empowering and also frightening. In conversation people tend to use the word "you" a lot even when they are referring to themselves. "I" statements are one relatively easy place to start learning how to be assertive. Follow these examples:

I feel _____ when _____ and what I want is _____.
Example of granddaughter to grandma: I feel scared when you get on the stool and what I want is for you to ask me to help you. This is received much better than "get off the stool!"

I feel _____ when _____ because _____.

Both assertiveness examples can be used when you want to convey your feelings.

Step 3

Communicate Openly

Distinguish between a feeling and a thought. This will change your life and the way you hear other people. Think about how many times you've said to someone "I feel like you're not listening" or something similar. In that statement you are not telling the person at all what you are feeling. Apply assertiveness and you'd say, "I feel ignored, unheard, unimportant, small, misunderstood, stupid...." Do you see the difference in the message?

Feelings are best defined as something we can find and sense in our bodies. They tend to cause something physical such as sweaty hands, increased heart rate, drop in your stomach, salivating, changes in breathing, upset stomach, smiling, dilated pupils, and more. Some basic feelings are sad, mad, happy, disappointed, excited, anxious, etc.

Thoughts are your opinions, judgments, and beliefs about an event or situation.

Step 4

Assertive Communication Scripts

Watch blame statements. When you use blaming statement you will almost immediately put the other person on the defensive whether it is the intention or not. Part of learning how to be assertive is taking responsibility for your feelings and actions and holding on to your personal power. Avoid statements like "YOU make me feel ____." When you do this you are putting the responsibility for your feelings on the other person.

Start sentences with I. Instead of the blaming statement say, "I feel ____". For example, I feel hurt when you don't listen to me. It is easier to tell others how they affect you than to take responsibility for feelings in a more personal way. Telling someone they made you do anything is putting it all on them and is rarely what happens. Most interactions are more that just one person's behavior. The truth about behavior and feelings is that it all comes down to perception. When you perceive someone is dismissive then you feel hurt. Your perception defines thoughts and feelings. This is one of the hardest things to grasp when you are learning to be assertive. Eventually you will change your communication style and pick up passive aggressive statements in others.

Avoid apologizing when it isn't necessary. Remember to say "no" when it is what you're feeling.

Step 5

Assertive Body Language

Pay attention to your body language. Use eye contact, listen to the tone of your voice, and be aware of your posture. Body language speaks volumes. An assertive person is congruent in their statements and their physical actions. Use open body language such as not being stiff or folding arms.

When someone is using aggressive body language you know almost immediately. It's as though the air in the room changes. Those who use assertiveness skills in their communication will also develop a way of using body language. As you learn how to be assertive you will also have to pay attention to what your body language is telling the other person. If you are crossing your arms and raising your voice while telling someone that you feel calm it gives a mixed message. Working on assertive body language skills is one of the most important aspects of developing assertive communication.

Step 6

Practice Assertive Communication

Practice these skills with people you don't know. Sometimes it's easier to learn how to be assertive outside of the house instead of with a partner or a friend. One great place to practice your new skills is at a restaurant or coffee shop. Ask the waiter to take back your food if your meal tastes bad or you get the wrong thing. It can be easier sometimes to practice assertiveness with strangers than when big feelings are on the line.


Tips & Warnings

Don't get down on yourself if you don't see changes right away. Learning how to be assertive and changing old patterns is a lifetime event. It can help to read books on assertiveness and communications skills. There are also some great assertiveness workbooks, like The Assertiveness Workbook.



Dec 14, 2009 1:13pm
There is a fine line between assertive and aggressive. It is important not to cross that line, as well.
Dec 14, 2009 6:08pm
Hi kp, thanks for the comment. I agree. I think it is natural for people to cross through the various communication styles when they are learning how to assert themselves, especially when it is an ingrained pattern. I've found people sometimes think folks who are assertive are actually aggressive because of the directness. Certainly, demanding your wants and needs is not an assertive behavior.
Dec 14, 2009 8:50pm
Many assertive people can get things done with the help of others, often without 'seeming assertive'....that is a true talent and sign of a very person who doesn't need his ego stroked.
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