Assertive communication is an effective way of getting our needs met and rights respected while also respecting the rights and needs of others. Some people view assertive behaviors as bossy or pushy, but assertive communication respects and benefits everyone when done correctly.
Assertive communication doesn’t always come easy. It takes practice, and some people even go to assertiveness training groups or engage in role-playing to increase their confidence and ultimately be more assertive.
If assertiveness is something you struggle with, then this article is for you. Below we will explore what assertive communication means, how it can benefit your job, your relationships, your social life, and how to get started with being more assertive.
What is assertive communication?
Assertive communication is the honest and clear expression of your feelings, needs, or beliefs in a given situation. It involves confidently saying what needs to be said and lies in the ‘goldilocks’ zone of communication, with passive communication being too cold and aggressive communication being too hot.
According to research, assertive communication is ‘the ability to speak and interact in a manner that considers and respects the rights and opinions of others while also standing up for your rights, needs, and personal boundaries.‘
Assertive communication skills ‘create opportunities for open discussion with various opinions, needs, and choices to be respectfully heard and considered to achieve a win-win solution to specific problems.’
Furthermore, assertive communication ‘can strengthen your relationships, reduce stress from conflict and provide you with social support when facing difficult times.’
When you share your opinion with an assertive communication style, you allow for other people’s opinions, too. You don’t judge or harshly criticize how another person feels just because it doesn’t make sense to you, but you still let them know that you disagree.
“To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.” – Edith Eva Eger
You stand up for yourself when you need to, but standing up for yourself is not about putting other people down. Assertive behavior does not involve impoliteness or disrespectful comments.
Whether you need to chat about something important with your partner, a coworker is getting on your nerves, or a family member is doing something that hurts, assertive communication can help. It is an inclusive, authentic communication style that can solve conflicts effectively.
Assertive Vs. Aggressive
Being assertive means clearly communicating a your opinions and needs while respecting how other people view things and what they need. In contrast, being aggressive means trying to place others under your control often this is because an aggressive person values what is good for themself and disregards other people’s opinion or what impact it has on others.
Being assertive also involves listening to other people’s concerns and showing empathy toward them, while being aggressive connotes being demanding without listening to other people’s perspectives. In the worst case, if a person is aggressive, it may lead to constant bullying as aggression does not adhere to healthy boundaries; it frequently causes emotional pain and can affect the mental health of the victims.
Hence, being assertive is a positive trait that can produce a favorable outcome for you and others, while being aggressive is a negative characteristic that can cause issues and conflict for all parties involved.
Characteristics of assertive communication
Maintain eye contact with the other person to let them know you’re present and listening.
The posture you hold as you speak impacts how others will receive your message. If you’re in a meeting and you want to look and sound confident, a tall yet relaxed body posture will work best. If a friend tells you about something sad that happened to them, try to tilt your head slightly to the left to show sympathy.
The tone of your voice when you share a message says a lot about the message. Being mindful of your tone can help you get your message across more effectively. Speak with a calm, warm, but firm voice when you want people to listen and respect what you’re saying.
Examples of assertive communication
If you’re not sure what assertive communication looks like, consider the following examples. Note in the examples that the responses are not aggressive and not passive. They involve mutual respect, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
Assertive communication at work
Your boss knows that you do great work in an efficient and timely manner. You always meet your deadlines and take pride in the quality of your work. Several times over the past couple of months, your boss has asked you to take on some of your coworkers’ work because they have been falling behind and underperforming.
You took on the extra work the first time because you wanted to be a team player, but now the extra work is tiring you out and affecting how you do your own work. Once again, your boss approaches with the question. This time, however, you’re going to assert yourself.
‘This is the sixth time in the past couple of months that I’ve taken on this extra work. I like being a team player, and I want to help as much as possible, but the extra work is making me feel overworked, and I’m afraid that’s going to have a negative impact on my performance.’
You’ve been polite, respectful, and honest. Ideally, your boss will understand that you’ve been working more than usual and that it wouldn’t be fair to make you carry someone else’s work too.
You’ve had to stay late at the office to finish some work that’s due on Friday. A coworker is in the same position. You want to get your work finished because if you don’t, you know that you’ll have to stay late on Friday, but you’ve already made plans to meet friends who you haven’t seen in months.
Your coworker keeps distracting you, sending you YouTube videos, playing loud music, and trying to engage you in conversation, despite you clearly not wanting to talk. Assertive communication in this scenario would look like this:
‘I know you want to talk, but I really need to get this work finished, and talking to you would make me feel stressed because finishing this work is my priority, and I don’t have much time to spare. I’m happy to talk another day when I feel less stressed and time-bound.’
You haven’t disrespected the other person or been aggressive towards them; you’ve simply let them know what’s going on with you.
Assertive communication with a partner
You plan a dinner with your partner for Thursday at 8 pm. You finish work at 7 pm, so you’ll go straight to the restaurant after work and meet them there. Now it’s 8.30 pm, and you’re sitting alone in the restaurant.
You’re reminded of the fact that they’ve been late to meet you several times in recent weeks, and you feel frustrated and a little embarrassed. It’s 8.40 pm, and they walk in the door.
‘Did something happen to make you late? I notice that you’ve been late to meet me a lot lately, and it makes me feel frustrated. If you’re going to be late, I’d really appreciate it if you’d let me know. Waiting for you so often makes me feel anxious and as though you don’t respect me. Is there something we can do to fix this?’
You love to cook, so you’re happy to make delicious meals most nights of the week for you and your partner. They don’t really like to cook, so you don’t mind doing it for both of you.
Still, they never seem to give you a hand with washing the dishes afterward. You’ve asked them a couple of times, and they’ve done it after some procrastination, but you don’t want to have to keep asking.
‘I love to cook for both of us, but I’d really appreciate it if you could give me a hand with the washing up. I’ve asked you several times, but I don’t want to keep asking because I feel like I’m nagging you. I’d appreciate it if you could take the initiative and help after dinner.’
Assertive communication with a friend
Your friend wants to hang out, but you’re tired and just want to take some time for yourself to rest, have a bath, cook a nice meal, and get an early night.
You tell them you’re not available, but they keep calling and texting. They stop by your house to try to convince you to come out to the bar.
‘I love hanging out with you, but when I tell you that I’m not available, I need you to respect that. If you keep calling, texting, and stopping by, it makes me feel like you don’t respect me, and it makes me want to hang out with you less.’
You and your housemate get along really well. The only problem is that they never clean up after themselves. They leave dishes, clothes, and take-out boxes around the house, even when you have other friends or family members coming over for dinner.
‘When I see that the house is messy, I feel frustrated. I always clean up after myself because we both share this space. I would appreciate it if you could do the same. If you keep leaving a mess around, I feel like you don’t respect me and our shared space.’
Why choose assertive communication?
Assertive communication takes a bit more conscious effort than passive or aggressive communication. Still, the rewards of being assertive are more than worth it. Passive communication can lead to feelings of resentment, which can damage your mental health and strain your relationships.
Similarly, aggressive communication can create further distance in relationships and negatively affect your professional and social life.
Below we have outlined some of the most significant benefits of assertive communication.
Benefits of assertive communication
Protect your rights and needs with boundaries
Assertive behavior helps you set healthy boundaries with others. Boundaries are limits you set around things that make you feel uncomfortable. A healthy boundary lets other people know what you will and will not tolerate.
It’s important to remember that a boundary is your responsibility to uphold, not anybody else’s. For example, if you set a boundary around showing up late to meet you for dinner, you might refuse to meet that person for dinner if they are late again.
With assertive communication, you can set effective boundaries by clearly and authentically expressing your emotions. Assertiveness with your feelings lets the other person know why the boundary needs to be set.
Once you’ve been assertive and set a boundary, you make it easier to get your needs met. You can also maintain some control in stressful situations and prevent or overcome frustration or resentment with assertive behavior.
Increase trust in relationships
Assertiveness increases the level of trust in your relationships because it demonstrates honesty and authenticity. If you’re assertive with your questions and answers, people are more likely, to be honest, and authentic in return and will know that they can trust you.
If you opt for passive communication instead of being assertive, you may engage in white lies or fail to give people the whole truth. If you’re closed off or vague when you communicate about an issue, people are more likely to think that you’re hiding something and may not completely trust you.
Aggressive communication is not necessarily dishonest, but it pushes people away and can be frightening, making people less likely to want to have a trusting relationship with you.
Reduce and prevent stress
Using assertive communication in stressful situations may help you regain some control and reduce the impact of stress on your mind and body. For example, if you’re overburdened because your boss keeps asking you to do extra work, you could opt for a passive, assertive, or aggressive style of communication.
Passively allowing your boss to give you all that extra work prevents you from setting boundaries and living up to your rights.
As a result, you’re likely to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and even resentful of your boss, which can impact your workplace well-being.
Similarly, if you opt for aggressive communication, you might strain your relationship with your boss, dampening the workplace atmosphere and even putting your job in jeopardy.
Being assertive helps you prioritize your needs and make sure they get met. Respectfully declining the extra work, because you’re at your limit is entirely reasonable, and it’s within your right to do so.
Other evidence-based benefits of assertive communication include:
- Increased self-awareness
- Increased likelihood of resolving conflict
- Improved confidence and self-esteem
- Positive self-image
- A greater understanding of other people’s point of view
- Productive communication
- Reduced interpersonal conflicts
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Increase sense of self-worth
- Reduced depression
- Greater emotional resilience
- Improved relationships
- Improved overall health
How to be more assertive
Suppose you want to be more assertive in life but have been struggling to figure out how. The good news is that there are tried and true techniques to help you get there. Below you find some valuable tips and techniques to help cultivate more assertive behavior and get used to speaking up yourself.
1. Identify areas of weaknesses
Note where you struggle with assertiveness. Do you struggle to speak up for yourself and let your opinion be known around family, at work, or in social situations with strangers? Identify where you struggle with assertiveness most often so you can figure out the best approach to overcome the challenge.
2. Understand your needs and feelings
If you don’t learn to recognize and understand your feelings and emotions, how can you expect to express them to others healthily?
Take some time to discover yourself and get more in touch with your deepest feelings. It might be challenging to articulate how you feel, especially if you’re not used to labeling your emotions, but it gets easier with a bit of practice.
Start by bringing your attention to what makes you feel good daily, what stresses you out, what you enjoy, and what you don’t. By simply paying attention to what changes your feelings, you can understand yourself better, which will inform how you should be assertive in various situations.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask
Many people who struggle with assertiveness find it difficult to ask others for even small favors. If you want to be more assertive, let yourself understand that you’re allowed to ask or make requests of other people when you need something. They could help with a task or chore or help by slightly altering their behavior.
Understand that when you make a request, the other person might refuse and that’s okay. Everyone has the right to refuse something someone else asks them to do – as do you.
5. Use ‘I’ statements
When expressing how you feel or asking someone to consider changing their behavior, relate it back to you with ‘I’ statements. ‘I’ statements involve your feelings and needs and focus on those instead of a perceived flaw or ‘bad’ behavior in the other person.
People are more likely to listen and go out of their way if you use ‘I’ statements because they feel less judged than if you were to make your statement all about them.
6. Watch your body language
Body language can have both positive and negative connotations. For example, crossed arms are a sign of defense and may make the other person feel like you’re not fully listening to them.
If you want to let someone know you’re listening, use your body to demonstrate that you are. Maintain eye contact, uncross your arms, and nod or agree regularly.
7. Check on the other person
An essential aspect of effective communication is to check that you and the other person are on the same page. Ask them about their needs and feelings after you have expressed yours. And really listen to their response. If you show them that you care about their opinion and feelings, they’re far more likely to respect yours.
The Bottom Line
Assertive communication is an essential skill to develop. It helps you stand up for your rights and set healthy boundaries to protect your health and well-being. It improves your confidence and self-esteem, which improves your self-view, which can completely change your life.
Unlike aggressive communication, assertive communication still allows for the rights of others while claiming one’s own. Unlike passive communication, assertive communication does not involve letting yourself be walked over or allowing resentment to build up.