Learn to be assertive

        without diminishing others.

We’ve all had situations where we meant to talk to someone in a calm and direct way, but it didn’t come out that way. We may want to be assertive over the alternatives of being passive or aggressive, but knowing the differences between the three can be tricky.

Being assertive means taking into account the needs of both parties in a situation while being able to stand up for your own needs, wants, and feelings in a respectful and confident manner.

Learning to be assertive is important because it allows you to express your thoughts and feelings in a controlled manner while respecting yourself at the same time. Communicating passively or aggressively is actually prioritizing the wants and needs of only one party to the situation – yourself or the other person – which creates an unbalanced communication dynamic.

Here are five ways to implement healthy assertive skills into your everyday situations rather than being stuck in a passive rut or an aggressive attitude.

1.    Learn to say “No” in a healthy way.   There is nothing wrong with saying “yes” to someone, doing a favor or two, or taking responsibility for something, but keeping a balance in life sometimes requires the need to say “no,” and that is okay. One way to do this is to decide your position on the situation before you speak; if you are not sure of the answer, give yourself time to think. Along with reflection, be careful with the words you choose as a way of being concise with your message; do not leave the other wondering what you really mean. Be ready to strengthen your position and the possibility of becoming a broken record if they do not understand your answer.

Start by asking yourself what you really would like to see happen …

2.    Learn to make appropriate requests. Making requests of others can seem intimidating or daunting, but reminding yourself that you are perfectly capable of asking for what you want can build your confidence. Start by asking yourself what you really would like to see happen in this situation, and what would be reasonable if you need to compromise. Do not apologize for asking or put yourself down for making the request; frame the request positively while being clear and brief. By using “I” statements, you are able to take responsibility for your actions, emotions, and thoughts (follow link for more information about “I” messages).

3.     Offer corrective feedback. Corrective feedback provides information to an individual or group about how their behavior, actions, styles, and/or strategies are being perceived by and affecting others.2  This type of communication is important to relationships because it can help build trust, validate feelings and provide human connection. The challenge with corrective feedback is the risk of putting the other person on the defensive. Keeping your words positive will help reduce that risk. Remember to talk one on one with the individual, be precise and clear about your feedback, think before you talk, and choose your timing. If you focus on the action, rather on why the person did what they did, it will seem less like a personal attack and more like feedback for future (positive) improvement.

4.   Wisely cope with criticism. We all have to deal with individuals that love to give negative feedback. The key is to handle this feedback in a mature and positive way, and show the other that their attempts to crush you will not be effective. If you know the negative criticism is approaching, be prepared to relax your muscles, wait, and listen. When you hold back your impulsive responses, you are less likely to retaliate while buying yourself time in how you want to respond. If it seems like their feedback has some truth but was delivered “wrong,” acknowledge the truth, or ask for clarification. By becoming curious and engaged, it shows you are genuinely concerned for improving your performance.

5.   Dealing with anger. Being assertive can be perceived as a confrontation that can quickly get heated. The best response when you notice yourself getting angered is to acknowledge it as soon as possible. Ask yourself why you are angry and if it is justified and then share with the other individual how you are feeling. Disclose what you would like this interaction to look like in the future to prevent anger or resolve the scenario all together. When you recognize the other is becoming angered, start by acknowledging you can see they are angered and that it happens to all of us. Then make a move to deal with the issue constructively, be calm and listen intently, and do not be afraid to apologize if you feel you truly did make a mistake.

At its most basic level, assertiveness is about becoming deliberate in how you communicate in a particular situation.  Each of the five areas build skills that you can learn and begin to implement individually.  After you feel confident in one area, move on to another and before you know it you will have become an assertive person!


About the author…

Nicole Maxwell, MA is a doctoral candidate in the clinical psychology program at Midwestern University.  She recently completed an internship at the Center as part of the CACTC program.

1 Definitions provided by Therapstaid.com

2 Definition provided by The Community Tool Box, a service of the University of Kansas, Center for Community Health & Development