How to be assertive

Communication is more than just words. It is a skill that requires practice for it to be effective. Firstly, an individual needs to be clear on what they are thinking, feeling, and wanting or needing to effectively communicate this in a concise, open, and honest way. Effective communication ensures that the person maintains their self-respect while maintaining good and respectful relationships with others. 

However, effective communication is difficult for many. How many times have you said “I’m fine”, when really you haven’t been fine? Or how many times have you said “yes I’ll do that for you” when all you wanted to say was “no, I actually need some time out for myself”. 

Good communication skills go a long way for healthy relationships, but it also goes a long way for healthy bodies and healthy minds. But first we need to distinguish between the different communication styles.

The four styles of communication

1. Assertive communication involves standing up for yourself and your rights and expressing your thoughts, feelings and needs in a direct, honest and respectful way without violating the other party’s rights. 

2. Aggressive communication involves expressing your rights in a direct but disrespectful and inappropriate manner that violates others’ rights. This may include shouting, yelling, and threatening and intimidating language and behaviour.

3. Passive communication involves violating your own rights by not honestly expressing your thoughts, feelings, wants, or needs. Passive communication can also be characterised by you expressing your views in a manner that disregards them.

4. Passive-aggressive communication is when you express your thoughts, feelings, wants, or needs in an unclear and confusing manner. This approach typically leaves the other person feeling confused and frustrated. 

The many benefits of assertiveness

Being assertive is one way to build on effective communication skills. Being assertive has many benefits for the self, others, and relationships. It can reduce unpleasant emotions like stress, anxiety or resentment, while improving self-esteem and self-confidence and increasing your chances of getting what you want out of life. Assertive communication displays that you value your own needs and rights while also remaining compassionate and respectful of other people’s. 

However, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it! Being assertive can be very difficult and very frightening for many people as they worry that they will come across as aggressive or their request gets rejected. Being assertive doesn’t actually mean that you will get what you want; sometimes you will, sometimes you won’t, and other times you may need to reach a compromise. 

Knowing what you want and how to say it

Firstly, it is important to decide what you want and how you plan on stating it. Remember to keep your statements simple and brief. Here’s a basic formula many people have found helpful:

I feel…

When you…


I want/need…

For example, Mary is a 40-year-old woman who is asking her colleague, John, to do his own work rather than offload it to her. Mary decides that she would like to tell her colleague to do his own work assertively. This is what Mary says to John. 

John I would like to speak with you about something. I feel overwhelmed when you hand me over your work because it means that I need to stay back and finish it. I want you to do your own work and if it is not finished, please do not hand it over to me”. 

Things to keep in mind

  1. It’s always a good start to begin practicing this communication skill in situations where your emotions are not running high. 
  2. Remember to keep in check your non-verbal communication such as your body language as this can shift what you’re saying from assertive to either passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive.  
  3. Keep your voice calm, the volume normal, pace even, and maintain good eye contact. Also try to keep your physical tension low.

Other helpful hints

    Prepare well and practise

  • When you are practising how to be assertive for the first few times, write down what you would like to say and revise it. 
  • Rehearse the statement a couple of times to yourself. This will also help you build confidence. 
  • Try to visualise if you were the other person receiving the news you are going to be saying
  • Remain calm and mindful of your verbal and non-verbal communication 
Kerry Norton, an Australian actress, rehearsing a 2GB radi… | Flickr

Choose your words carefully

  • Start the conversation with something positive. People tend to get defensive if the conversation started with a critical statement. 
  • When speaking, try to avoid using emotionally loaded words like “disgusting” or “horrified” 
  • When expressing yourself, use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. For example, I don’t agree” instead of “you’re wrong”.
  • Try to be clear and concise about what you are asking. Even if you don’t get what you want while being assertive, attempt to remain respectful. Avoid critical or negative statements like “I wish you would be more appreciative”. 

Careful how you frame consequences

  • When communicating consequences, attempt to remain positive when it is possible. Relaying negative consequences can sometimes come off as threatening. For example, “Tomorrow I would appreciate it if you did your homework. Afterwards, we can spend time together at the park.” instead of “You better do your homework or you’re not spending any time with me at the park”. 
  • Avoid statements that are not realistic or that you will not enforce. For example “You’re grounded for life” or “Since you’re not coming home for dinner tonight, I’m never cooking again.

Speak up to communicate your feelings

  • Most importantly, speaking up for yourself when the issue has just come up will be helpful for effective communication. Avoiding communicating after a problem has come up can lead to a build up of emotions and can result in a more aggressive or passive-aggressive response.

These are some helpful tips on becoming more assertive. Please check out “Effective communication- 10 tips on communicating more effectively” for more information.