being assertive


Everybody communicates in one way or another, but few deliver messages as well as they can. Assertiveness is often seen as a desirable way to get our message across effectively to another person. Get it wrong, and you could be too passive or too aggressive. So how can we ensure we are communicating assertively?

Being Effective

Communicating should be a two-way process.  We communicate to ensure things get done, send and receive information, make decisions, obtain joint understanding and build relationships.

Effective assertive communication happens when both parties are fully aware and understand what is being said or presented.  How we communicate, though, can be very individual and some are better communicators than others.

Being Clear

Often poor communication happens when the messages sent from one person to another are unclear or mixed.  To ensure clarity when communicating you need to:

·       Be mindful of what you want to communicate
·       Deliver a concise message
·       Make sure that your message has been clearly and accurately understood
·       Ensure you say what you mean
·       Fully comprehend any feedback


Assertiveness is commonly linked with being effective.  Assertive people seem to project a reassuring image of someone who can be trusted, whose opinion matters and are often people to reckon with.  This is usually because an assertive person has the ability to enhance the chances of obtaining the right results through positive communication.

Assertive people know how to communicate with others, and it is thought that people with a high degree of assertiveness are normally more likely to be successful than those who communicate in a passive or an aggressive manner.

Assertiveness is all about: –

·       Being honest with yourself and others
·       Being confident
·       Trying to find solutions
·       Listening to and understanding the other point of view
·       Expressing what you want, need or feel


3 Steps to Assertive Behaviour

There is a very simple, easy-to-remember technique on how to put assertiveness into practice. There are three steps:­

STEP 1: Show you listen and understand

STEP 2: Say what you think or feel 

STEP 3: Say what you want to happen


What assertive communication is not…

Assertive communication is not some kind of lifestyle! It does not guarantee that you will definitely get what you want and it is not a suitable communication style to be used with everyone. It is also not something that is easy to master.

That said, assertive communication is definitely about choice.

Four behavioural choices

There are four choices you can make about which style of communication you can employ. These types are:

  • direct aggression: bossy, arrogant, intolerant, opinionated and overbearing
  • indirect aggression: insinuating, sarcastic, deceiving, manipulative and ambiguous
  • submissive: moaning, helpless, indecisive, passive and apologetic
  • assertive: honest, direct, accepting, responsible and spontaneous

The importance of “I” statements

An important part of being assertive involves the ability to comfortably express your needs and feelings. You can accomplish this by using “I” statements. These indicate ownership, do not attribute blame and focus on behaviour.  They communicate a style that is direct, honest and confident, and will contribute to the growth of your relationship with the other party.

Effective “I” statements have three important elements to them:

  • Feeling
  • Behaviour
  • A tangible effect (consequence to you)

Example: “I feel frustrated when you pass work onto me with tight deadlines when you have had it for some time – it is unfair pressure.”

The table below contains examples of both verbal and non-verbal communication styles.  It demonstrates clearly what we need to do and say, to ensure we are communicating in an assertive way.

Non-Verbal Aspects of Assertion, Non-Assertion and Aggression

Non-Assertive Assertive Aggressive
Voice Sometimes ‘wobbly’.
Tone may be ‘sing song or whining’.
Often dull and monotone.
Quiet often drops away at the end.
Steady and firm.
Tone is middle range, rich and warm.
Sincere and clear.
Not over-loud or quiet.
Very firm.
Tone is sarcastic and sometimes cold.
Maybe shouting, rises at the end.
Speech Pattern Hesitant and lots of pauses.
Sometimes jumps from fast to slow.
Frequent throat clearing.
Fluent, few awkward hesitancies.
Emphasises keywords.
Steady, even pace.
Fluent, few awkward hesitancies.
Often abrupt and clipped.
Emphasises blaming words.
Often too fast.
Facial Expressions ‘Ghost’ smiles when expressing anger, or being criticised.
Eyebrows raised in anticipation.
Quick changing features.
Smiles when pleased.
Frowns when angry.
Features steady, not wobbling.
Jaw relaxed.
Scowling when angry.
Eyebrows raised in amazement/disbelief.
Chin forward.
Contact Avoiding, looking down. Firm but not a stare down. Tries to stare down and dominate.
Body Movements Hand-wringing.
Hunching shoulders.
Stepping back.
Covering mouth with hand.
Nervous movements.
Arms crossed low for protection.
Open hand movements (inviting to speak).
‘Measured pace’ hand movements.
Sits upright or relaxed.
Stands with head held up.
Finger pointing.
Fist thumping.
Sits upright or leans forward.
Strides around (impatiently).
Arms crossed high (unapproachable).


Verbal Aspects of Behaviour

Non-Assertive Assertive Aggressive
Long, rambling statements. Statements that are brief, clear and to the point. Excess of ‘I’ statements.
Fill in words (e.g. ‘maybe’). ‘I’ Statements: ‘I’d like’. Boastfulness: ‘My’.
Frequent justifications. Distinctions between fact and opinion. Threatening questions.
Apologies and ‘permission seekers’. Suggestions not weighed with advice. Requests as instructions of requests.
Few ‘I’ statements (often qualified). No ‘shoulds’ or ‘oughts’. Heavily weighted advice in the form of ‘should’ and ‘ought’.
Self-put-downs eg.  ‘I’m hopeless’. Questions to find out the thoughts, opinions and wants of others. Assumptions.
Phrases that dismiss own needs eg. ‘not important really’. Constructive criticism without blame or assumptions. Blame put on others.

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