Being assertive

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Assertiveness is the ability to stand up for your rights and express your needs and concerns without infringing on the rights of others. Assertiveness is often confused with aggressiveness, but they are two very different approaches.

Aggressiveness means intimidating, threatening, blaming and generally stepping on people without regard for their feelings - both approaches seek to address your own needs, but assertiveness does it without infringing on the rights of others.

Why is assertiveness important?

If you cannot assert yourself you might experience:

  • Resentment - You may feel anger at others for manipulating or taking advantage of you.
  • Frustration and self-loathing - You may feel frustrated and disappointed with yourself that you have let people take advantage of you.
  • Emotional blow-outs - If you can't express anger and other emotions appropriately, it can build up until it is released in a strong emotional outburst.
  • Anxiety - Rather than confronting the situation you may avoid it because it causes you anxiety. If you avoid confronting it, the anxiety persists.

3 elements of an assertive statement

  1. State the problem/situation - Clearly state the problem/situation that you are referring to e.g. "When I am yelled at in front of others", "When work is delivered late". Make sure you keep it about the problem and not the person.
  2. State the impact - Clearly state what impact that has on you e.g. "When I am yelled at in front of others, I feel embarrassed", "When work is delivered late, my work gets delayed".
  3. State how you'd like it to be - Clearly state what you want or how you'd like it to be e.g. "When I am yelled at in front of others, I feel embarrassed. I'd like to be able to discuss things calmly", "When work is delivered late, my work gets delayed. I need to be kept informed of any delays".
conflict management being assertive

"I" statements

A key part of being assertive is being able to state your case without attacking the other person and arousing their defences. "I" statements are an excellent way to do this because they allow you to say how it is for you without blaming the other person or telling them what they should or shouldn't do. It is the difference between saying...

  • "I'd like to be able to speak without interruption"
  • "You need to stop interrupting me"


Instead of starting with...

  • "You should..."
  • "You always..."
  • "You never..."

Try using...

  • "I feel..."
  • "I would like..."
  • "I want..."
  • "I need..."

Non-verbal assertive behaviours

It is important that when asserting yourself, your non-verbal behaviours (e.g. body language, eye contact, tone of voice) show that you are calm, confident and in control.

  • Eye contact - Look at the other person when addressing them. Don't look around or look at the floor.
  • Posture - Stand or sit up straight and maintain an open posture (i.e. don't cross your arms and legs).
  • Tone of voice - Your tone of voice should be warm and relaxed but firm.
  • Gestures - Use slow, relaxed gestures. Don't fidget, and don't finger point or clench your fists.

Learn more

Next: Pre-emptive conflict management