How To Be Assertive

Hi all,

What if I told you that you could learn how to communicate better so you, in turn can get or at least try to get what you wanted in all aspects of your life while also being respectful of others wishes and wants? This means not feeling guilty saying no when someone asks if you want to go out when you’d rather have a relaxed night in at home or being able to politely decline a project at work when your work plate is already full.  Sounds like a lot, right? 

For today’s post we are talking about what being assertive really means, the differences between being passive and aggressive, and strategies you can actively work on to help you become assertive.

So what does being assertive exactly mean? It falls somewhere in between being passive and aggressive. Let's actually first talk about the differences between passive and aggressive and then we can get to ways you can practice being assertive.

Passive Communication Style

The best way to describe someone who is passive is to think of a “people pleaser.” Essentially you go with the flow and sometimes, at the expense of your own wants and needs. You say yes to everyone while saying no to yourself every time. Your overall goal is to avoid confrontation at all costs.

Over time persons who are passive are more likely to resent others (assumption that others will know what they really want), have increased stress, feelings of anxiety, anger, and inadequacy (you feel that your opinions don’t matter), and a decreased self-worth, self-esteem, and low confidence. This happens from taking on too much responsibility or partaking in activities that you’re not really into all because of a fear of saying no because of how other’s may or may not evaluate you. 

Aggressive Communication Style

For this type of communication style, one put’s their own wants first even at the expense of someone else’s wants.

Over time, persons with this style are less likely to maintain friendships because others tend to feel disrespected.

Passive Aggressive Communication Style

Many people often use the words passive aggressive when describing others but what does it really mean? Here’s an example:

Your boss assigns you a new project when you’re already maxed out on other projects. So instead of politely declining the new project you instead call out sick the next day at work. Essentially you wanted to say no but in efforts to avoid confrontation you act out in an aggressive manner.

Assertive Communication Style

You value other's wishes and feelings but, most importantly, you value your own! This will prevent you from being taken advantage of but it will not be at the expense of someone else’s feelings or wants.

It is important to note that this takes active practice. So if you’ve had another communication style for most of your life, don’t expect to change overnight. Also, while you may be communicating your wants, always remember this doesn’t guarantee that you will get what you want 100% of the time but I can tell you that you won’t wonder what if you had tried.

Practicing being assertive has also been found to help build self-esteem/self-confidence/ and self-worth and can improve your overall mood.

Strategies To Become Assertive

First, you need to become aware of your communication style.

Know your limits of what you feel comfortable doing and want.

Mindfully, think before speaking.

Have empathy - reflect on how the other person may feel in the situation.

Be confident and calm in your delivery.

Stick to facts and avoid expressing opinions.

Lastly, reward yourself for practicing these skills, it’s hard work.

If you’re Passive:

Pay attention to how your body language may be coming off.
-Try to avoid looking down when speaking and speaking softly. The goal is come off confident even if you don’t truly feel it.
-Lean forward if sitting down.
-Maintain eye contact.

Stop and think before speaking. Ask yourself: am I putting someone's needs in front of my own?

Refrain from apologizing.
-Apologize only if you hurt someone’s feelings, did something wrong, or forgot to do something.  

Start small and gradually move up to more difficult scenarios once you feel more comfortable with one. For example, it may be easier and better to first practice asking a host at a restaurant to move to another table than it is to ask your boss for a promotion. But first, try writing down a list of scenarios that are difficult for you and rank them in order from least difficult to most difficult and move up after mastering one.

Practice coping statements (i.e., “I got this,” “I can do this,” “It’s okay to say no,” “The answer will always be no in less I try”) in response to unhelpful negative thoughts (learn how to catch these unhelpful thoughts here).

When saying no, suggest an alternative for the other person. For example, “Thank you for asking me out! I’m actually staying in tonight but I know Julie has been wanting to see that movie, how about asking her?”

If you’re Aggressive:

Pay attention to your body language.
-Be mindful if you notice that you’re clenching your fists.
-Keep arms open and steer away from crossing arms.
-If you notice yourself becoming upset, take a break (time-out, deep breathing, other relaxation strategy) and come back when you are in control of your emotions again and are calm.

Steer clear from blaming, sarcasm, and threats.

Avoid interrupting others.   

Use “I” statements and steer clear from "you" statements. These increase defensiveness in the other person and you will be less likely to get what you want.
-For example, “I understand that you'd like for me to take that project on since I'm already familiar with the account. I'm currently working on X and Y so it'd be difficult for me to do so; instead how about asking Mary, she's been wanting to work with this client for some time.”

Lastly, remember that it is more effective to ask for what you’d like instead of complaining.

As always thank you for reading! If you’d like to learn more about assertive training and effective communication, seek out a licensed psychologist.

P.S. Always remember that you matter! Don't minimize your own wants, they're important!


Dr. C


Disclaimer: Information being provided on this page is general in nature and is not intended to replace or serve as therapy. Should you be experiencing emotional distress or difficulties at school, work, or with relationships, it is encouraged that you contact your insurance health provider to locate a mental health professional in your area. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or others at your nearest emergency room.