Being assertive means balancing a concern for others with a concern for ourselves. This is a skill that makes our communication clear and effective. It means we respect the rights of others and ourselves to say NO; to receive respect; to express views, thoughts and feelings in a manner which does no harm to anyone else or ourselves; the right to make mistakes; the ability to take responsibility for our actions; the right of all of us to set priorities and boundaries for ourselves; the right of all of us to consider our own needs to be as important as those of others; the right not to feel guilty when being assertive!


One way for us to achieve this position is to build up a positive relationship with ourselves and especially to speak to ourselves in a kind and loving way. It is easier to be assertive if we change some of our self criticisms to self encouragement and self support. Remember that we deserve to be able to express ourselves honestly, openly and assertively.


In order to accurately assess what is assertive communication, it might be useful to focus on the extremes of passive and aggressive communication, and find that middle place between those two. Is is important to consider body language, spoken and writen communication.

Passivity is when someone is denying their own rights and is self-effacing. It can include body language such as: shifting of weight; downcast eyes; hand wringing; steps backwards; shrugs; a hunched body posture; a hesitant, giggly, quiet or whining voice. Non-assertive words can include words and phrases such as: perhaps…; maybe…; I wonder if you could…; only…; just…; would you mind very much…; I can’t…; or fillers such as: you know; well; uh; um. Also, common passive statements are: it’s not really important; never mind; I mean; it’s all right; don’t bother.

Aggressive communication is when someone is denying the rights of others and is typically angry, hostile or loud. It can include body language such as: glaring eyes; leaning forward; pointing a finger; thumps of the fist; a sharp, sarcastic, angry, loud or dominating tone of voice. Aggressive words can include threats such as: you better…; if you don’t…watch out; or discounts such as: come on; you must be kidding; and judgemental comments such as: I thought you would know better; this is your fault; don’t be stupid; you’re joking; and lots of ought’s, should’s and must’s.

Indirect aggressive communication is when people use the language of the passive combined with body language from the aggressive communication.

Assertive communication involves body language which matches the spoken message: an assertive person would establish good eye contact; a good upright, comfortable posture, without anxious fidgeting; a strong, clear, steady voice, neither shouting nor mumbling. Being clear about specific details with regard to time, place, context and reference etc.

Assertiveness involves careful and active listening, without mind-reading, assumptions and judgements. There is a process of checking out and clarifying that what the person understands corresponds with what was intended so that both parties share an understanding of the communication.

Assertive words include ‘I’ statements such as: I think…; I feel…; and I want…; as well as co-operative words such as let’s…; we could…; and empathetic statements of interest such as: what do you think; how do you feel;


The first stage of changing anything is to notice what we are doing now, so I we may need to take a step back from ourself and from others and notice how we are talking to people and how we respond. Notice how other people treat us and how they respond to us, taking into account the information above. Also, notice our energy around other people, who do we feel comfortable with, who gives us energy. When we are giving or receiving aggressive or passive behaviour it can be quite a drain on our energy levels. Self protection is important and there may be occasions when walking away is the best solution to avoid a situation escalating into violence or bullying.

Assertive communication and behaviour feels good, mature, equal, is a very straight way of communicating with other people. It is mostly energising because there is an equal exchange of energy which leaves neither person drained. This style of behaviour and communication is most likely to leave us feeling positive about ourselves and about the other person.

After a time of “noticing” we can make a choice to change something about our communication or behaviour, one step at a time. We can choose to focus on being particularly assertive for one hour of the day, or with a particular person, or over a particular event or occasion. Change is better tackled in small “bite size pieces” at first . We need to enable ourselves to notice and feel good about any changes we make.

If we have a particular situation in mind where we want to be assertive it can help to do a role play. Set up two chairs and role play, in turn, being both ourself and the other person. Notice what it feels like to give and receive assertive communication. We can ask a friend to help us. Role plays are empowering and are an excellent way of being prepared.


A useful phrase, if we are invited to do something is: “I’d like to come/help but I need to think about it and/or check my diary – I’ll get back to you tomorrow/next week/ later today/ in a while”. This gives us time to think through our response.

It is useful to change words like should, must, ought to the freedom of could.

It may be necessary to politely and calmly repeat what we want more than once, especially if someone is being manipulative or argumentative – we need to stick to our point of view, without getting side-tracked.

Calmly acknowledge to any critic, that there may be some truth in what he or she is saying. This allows us to remain our own judge of what we do. Equally, we may need to accept someone else’s criticism. What is important is that we can receive criticism comfortably without agreeing or not agreeing with them, without becoming defensive or explaining ourselves. This way we stay empowered without disempowering the other person.

Actively ask for criticism in order to use the information (if helpful) or reject it (if manipulative). This helps our critic to be more honest or assertive and less manipulative or aggressive and hence improves communication. Again we keep our power and empower the other person. We can offer a workable compromise to the other person as long as our self worth or self respect is not in question.

Part of being assertive is for us to feel okay about asking other people for help and being able to offer help to others. It is important for us to feel okay about giving and receiving compliments or thanks.

When we feel irritated by someone or something, we may need to take a deep breath and pause before we react. Choose whether we want to use our energy on this or not. We need to save our energy for important issues.

Useful phrases if someone is attempting to escalate the conversation into a full scale argument or wanting to leave us feeling guilty might be “That’s interesting”; “I hear what you say”; “I’d like time to think about/consider what you are saying”. We do not have to explain ourselves and to do so can sometimes be a discount of us. Remember other people can invite us to feel discounted or manipulated but we have a choice as to whether we agree with them and how or even whether we respond.

The main point about assertive communication is that we and the other person both remain “winners” and “okay”.



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