A lot of people struggle with being either aggressive (too assertive) or passive (not assertive enough). Assertiveness is the solution to both of these common interpersonal problems, helping people find ways of communicating more effectively while still respecting themselves and others. Becoming more assertive can improve your relationships and communication in all areas of your life.
This article will help you identify your communication style and will also provide tips and assertive communication examples that can help you communicate better, reduce stress, and improve your social skills.
- What is assertiveness?
- How to be more assertive: 10 steps
- The 3 communication styles
- Benefits of assertive communication
- Common questions
Assertiveness is a social skill that involves being direct, open, and honest with people while still demonstrating respect for their feelings, wants, and needs. Like all social skills, assertiveness isn’t something people are born with but is instead something that is learned and mastered through practice.
According to early descriptions of assertive communication, there are 4 main elements of assertiveness, including:
- The ability to say no to people or refuse their demands
- The ability to openly ask for what you want and need from others
- The ability to talk honestly about your feelings (both positive and negative) with others
- Knowledge about how to start a conversation, maintain it, and end it
Assertiveness is a must-have skill that can help you communicate in a more direct, clear, and effective way. With time, practice, and some assertive communication examples and tips, you can master the art of assertive communication. Below are 10 steps to take to begin working on developing a more assertive communication style.
Your communication style can vary depending on the situation, person, and context. For example, you might be a very assertive person in your professional role as a manager but then be a pushover or treated like a doormat in your personal life. Your communication style might also change during times of stress or conflict.
Identifying your communication style (including how you communicate in conflict) is important because it will help you know what needs to change. A passive person will probably need to work on developing different skills than someone who communicates aggressively. Below are some of the assertiveness skills that passive vs. aggressive communicators may need to develop.
|Passive communicators may need to work on:||Aggressive communicators may need to work on:|
|Standing and speaking up for themselves||Active listening skills and not interrupting|
|Setting clear personal boundaries||Respecting the boundaries of other people|
|Communicating in a more direct manner||Communicating in a more calm manner|
|Learning how to address (vs. avoid) conflicts||Conflict resolution without anger or hostility|
|Learning to be more confident with others||Learning to be more humble with others|
|Taking the initiative or being more decisive||Cooperating and collaborating with others|
|Prioritizing their own feelings and needs||Emotional intelligence and respect for others|
Studies have shown that your body language is even more important than the actual words you say, so assertiveness also involves using confident body language. Nonverbal cues like how much eye contact you make, your posture, expressions and gestures, and the tone and volume of your voice are all important aspects of assertiveness. When you speak assertively but have passive body language, others are less likely to see you as assertive.
Here are some nonverbal assertive communication examples:
- Assume an assertive stance: Find a comfortable upright position or posture when standing or sitting to talk to someone. Don’t be too rigid or stiff, but also make sure not to slouch. Also, avoid fidgeting or shifting around a lot, which can be a sign of social anxiety or insecurity. Also, try to keep your body language “open” by facing the person you’re talking to and not crossing your arms or legs, shrinking, or leaning away.
- Make good eye contact: Passive people tend to avoid eye contact, while aggressive people may be too intense with their eye contact. The key to good eye contact is to hold eye contact with someone during a conversation without making them uncomfortable. For example, look at them when they’re speaking, but occasionally glance away to avoid seeming like you’re staring at them.
- Use expressions and gestures wisely: Facial expressions and gestures are an essential ingredient to communicating clearly, which is one of the main goals of assertiveness. Your expressions and gestures should match the tone or emotional vibe of what you’re saying (e.g., excited, serious, silly, etc.) but should be neutral or positive. For example, making a fist, pointing your finger, or making angry facial expressions is more likely to be interpreted as aggressive behavior vs. assertive behavior.
To communicate effectively and assertively, others need to be able to hear and understand you. Naturally soft-spoken or quiet people may need to speak louder or more clearly. Projecting your voice, using more emphasis, and using an assertive tone can help ensure that your voice is heard by others.
If you’re more of a loud, outspoken, or bossy person, you might need to scale back and speak more quietly, or speak with less emphasis. Talking too loudly or with too much emphasis can overwhelm or even intimidate some people. Depending on the situation, it can even be interpreted as aggressive or hostile, making conflicts more likely to occur.
Assertive people are people who more freely express their thoughts and opinions, but they do so in a tactful way. Staying calm, controlled, and non-defensive is the key, especially when you’re expressing a strong opinion or feeling.
In these moments, it’s important to keep your emotions in check. Otherwise, other people are likely to get defensive or upset, and it becomes more likely that people will misunderstand you or what you’re trying to say.
- Make sure to pause and give the other person or people in the conversation a chance to respond to what you said or share their feelings or opinions
- Try to relax tension in your body when you feel yourself clenching up or getting tense, which can help to cue a more calm emotional state
- Take a break or change the topic if things are getting too heated by saying something like, “Let’s shift gears” or asking, “Can we talk about this another time?”
“No” is an easy word to pronounce, but it can still be really hard to say to someone who’s asking you for help, a favor, or your time. Saying “no” is one of the more difficult assertiveness skills to use, but it’s important to develop it. Being able to say “no” without feeling angry or guilty is one of the main ways to keep relationships reciprocal, balanced, and healthy.
Sometimes, telling someone “no” will upset or anger them, no matter how assertively or tactfully you go about it. Still, there are some strategies you can use when saying “no” that can protect your relationship, spare the other person’s feelings, and prevent conflicts. Here are some examples of phrases you can use to say “no” assertively:
- Express regret: Try saying something like, “I really wish I could but…” or “I would love to but unfortunately I can’t” or, “I hate to let you down but…” Expressing regret lets them know that you want to help but are just not able to this time.
- Explain why: Consider explaining why you’re declining a request by saying something like, “I’m swamped at work” or, “I’ll be out of town next week,” or, “I have family visiting.” This can help others context as to why you’re saying no to them.
- Give a partial yes: A partial yes is a tactful way to say no to someone while still offering some help. For example, saying, “I can’t do the whole thing, but I can help with…” or, “I am free for a couple of hours but can’t stay the whole day” are examples of this strategy.
- Delayed response: If you’re a person who’s too quick to say yes and overcommit, it might be a good idea to use delay tactics when someone is making a request of you. For example, if a friend asks you to dog sit or drive them to the airport at 5 am, tell them you need to double-check your schedule. This buys you time to think about whether or not you want to say yes or no.
- Hard NO: A hard or firm “no” or “stop right now” is sometimes necessary, especially when polite attempts to refuse are ignored or when someone is disrespecting or violating you in some way.
Both passive and aggressive people tend to bottle up their emotions in ways that can lead to blow-ups and bigger conflicts later on. Avoid this issue by addressing issues, problems, and conflicts in relationships when they first arise. When you do, you can often get ahead of the issue and prevent it from damaging your relationships.
Also, addressing issues or conflicts early on can make it easier to do so in a calm, even-toned manner. Here are some self-assertiveness examples that can be used to address small issues or problems with a friend, at work, or in a relationship:
- Confront flaky friends who cancel or back out of plans last minute by letting them know it bothers you, asking for more advance notice, or explaining how it affects your ability to make plans and stay organized with your schedule
- Assert yourself with a gossipy coworker who is talking bad about you or others by asking them not to drag you into the drama, explaining that it stresses you out, or telling them that what they’re saying isn’t nice
- Be sexually assertive with a new partner by letting them know what turns you on or off, what you like and don’t like in bed, and any sexual boundaries you don’t want them to cross
An I-statement is one of the most popular and well-known assertiveness skills and earns its spot on this list because of how versatile it is. An I-statement can be used to express feelings, wants, needs, or opinions, and it can also be used for conflict resolution or setting personal boundaries. I-statements usually follow a formula that goes something like this: “I feel ___ when you ____ and I would like ____.”
Unlike statements that begin with “you” (e.g., “You made me so mad” or “You always…”), I-statements are less confrontational and more respectful. They’re less likely to trigger a person’s defenses and are designed to help people be more tactful during a difficult conversation. Some variations of I-statements you could use in different situations are:
- To a roommate or live-in friend or partner: “I really don’t like it when you leave the dishes in the sink overnight because it makes them harder to clean. I would love it if you would make a habit of washing them before going to bed.”
- To a manager at work: “I understand we’re short-staffed, but I really need some additional help on this project. I really want to do my best work but can’t when I have this much on my plate.”
- To a friend or family member: “I know you don’t mean to be hurtful when you say things like that, but they really do bother me. I’ve always been a little insecure about that and would really appreciate it if you could not make those kinds of comments.”
Conflict can be uncomfortable, emotionally charged, and has the potential to damage or even end a relationship, so it makes sense that so many people want to avoid it. The problem is that avoiding a conflict can sometimes make the conflict bigger, causing more damage to the relationship in the long term.
- Focus on the problem and not the person: During a conflict, try to address the issue or problem (i.e., something that was said, done, or not done) rather than the person. For example, instead of saying, “You promised to come to pick me up and then left me there for 5 hours!”, you could say, “I was in a really bad situation because you didn’t show up.” Keeping the discussion focused on the problem reduces defensiveness and helps to actually address the conflict rather than resorting to personal attacks.
- Don’t make consensus the only resolution: Not all arguments need to be ‘won’ by getting the other person to agree with you or your point of view. Sometimes, the best resolution is a compromise or just agreeing to disagree. Unless consensus is actually the only solution, be open to other forms of resolution. For example, learn to accept and be ok with accepting that a partner or friend has different beliefs or opinions than you.
- Learn to fight fair: In your closest relationships (e.g., significant other, spouse, family, or roommate), conflicts are inevitable. The key to keeping these relationships strong and healthy isn’t to not fight but instead to learn how to fight fair. Avoid low blows, name-calling, or personal attacks and insults. Take breaks when things get too heated. Also, be willing to own up and apologize for your mistakes in an effort to repair things and make them right when you didn’t fight fair.
Assertiveness is a skill that can only be mastered with time and consistent practice. When you’re just starting to develop these skills, it can be easier to practice using them with the people in your life you’re closest with. These might include a best friend, significant other, or a family member that you feel you can be completely authentic and genuine with.
Let them know that you’re trying to work on assertiveness skills so they’re not confused about why you might be interacting differently with them. This way, you can also get their feedback and even get a chance to “re-do” or role-play certain assertiveness skills, especially the ones that are hardest for you to master. Research shows that these kinds of role-plays and practice opportunities do help people develop a more assertive communication style.
In an ideal world, you could set a boundary, say “no,” stand up for yourself, or address an issue just one time and not have to do it again. In reality, there will probably be many times when you need to re-assert yourself with someone, even when you just did so recently with someone. For example, you might need to remind a friend or partner not to do or say certain things you’ve asked them not to before you see lasting changes.
This will be a lot less frustrating when you start the process with realistic expectations. For example, think of assertiveness as an ongoing change in the way you interact with people rather than a one-and-done conversation. This change involves being more open, direct, and honest about how you feel, think, and what you want and need.
Assertive communication is one of three main styles of communication and is considered the healthiest and most effective of them all. The two other communication styles are passive and aggressive, which involve either being not assertive enough (passive) or too assertive (aggressive). Assertiveness is the middle ground between passive and aggressive communication styles and is the most effective way to communicate, especially during a conflict.
Most people have one primary communication style they use most often, but this can change during times of stress or conflict. Below are definitions of the 3 different communication styles with explanations and examples to describe each.
Subjugates own feelings, wants, and needs for others
Equal regard for own/others’ feelings, wants, and needs
Overrides feelings, wants, and needs of others to meet their own
|When you communicate passively, you’re saying:
My feelings/wants/needs are less important than your feelings/wants/needs
|When you communicate assertively, you’re saying:
My feelings/wants/needs are just as important as your feelings/wants/needs
|When you communicate aggressively, you’re saying:
My feelings/wants/needs are more important than your feelings/wants/needs
|Passive communication examples:
*Being called “too nice” or being treated like a doormat or pushover
*Apologizing frequently, even when they did nothing wrong
*Not speaking up when they want or need something from other people
*Not being able to stand up for themselves when being disrespected
*Giving in to the demands, expectations, or directives of other people
|Assertive communication examples:
*Being described as confident but also humble and kind
*Speaking up and sharing ideas in meetings at work
*Talking openly in a relationship about your wants and needs
*Being able to say no and set healthy boundaries
*Standing up for yourself when others disrespect you or violate your boundaries
|Aggressive communication examples:
*Being told you’re abrasive, rude, bossy, or intimidating
*Becoming loud and making demands of others
*Being dominant or competitive (always trying to one-up or get the last word)
*Having a bad habit of interrupting or talking over other people
*Making threats, cursing, name-calling, or insulting someone
Becoming more assertive requires time, intention, and consistent effort, but it tends to pay off in many areas of your life. Studies have shown that assertiveness training can improve your life and relationships in many ways, including:
- Improving your confidence, self-esteem, and self-concept
- Reducing mental health issues like depression and anxiety
- Improving your overall satisfaction with your life
- Developing healthier and more reciprocal relationships
- Preventing the buildup of anger and reducing conflicts
- Reducing stress related to interpersonal conflicts or drama
- Finding win-win solutions and compromises in conflicts
Assertiveness is a healthy style of communicating that’s direct, honest, and respectful. Saying no, expressing thoughts and feelings openly, and asking for the things you want and need are all examples of assertive communication.
With regular practice, these skills begin to feel more natural and comfortable, and you won’t have to work or try as hard to use them. At this point, you will probably also notice several positive changes in your life and relationships that are a direct result of learning to assert yourself.
Assertiveness is hard for a lot of people. A lot of people worry that if they’re too direct or honest about what they feel, think, want, or need, other people will be offended or upset. While this is sometimes true, assertive communication helps to keep relationships strong and healthy.
There is some truth to the stereotype that men tend to be more assertive, often because many women are socialized to be more passive or submissive. However, gender norms are constantly evolving, and there are many men who also struggle with assertiveness.
Assertiveness is the most effective communication style because it is direct and clear while still respecting the feelings and rights of the other person. Assertiveness can help you express your feelings, wants, needs, and opinions in ways that other people are most likely to hear and receive.