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Improve Communication Skills with Assertiveness

Exponent article by Dr. Brian Kassar
Counseling & Psychological Services

Maintaining positive communication skills is essential for almost every aspect of our lives: school, work, and relationships. One feature of positive communication is assertiveness. Assertive behavior includes expressing your thoughts, feelings or opinions and standing up for your rights in ways that don't infringe on the rights of others. The goal of assertiveness is to create a win-win situation by expressing your needs, beliefs, and feelings in an honest, direct and appropriate manner. Assertiveness is different than aggression; aggression is when someone expresses him/herself in a way that disregards the rights or feelings of others with the goal of creating a win-lose situation.

"Assertiveness" is a broad term that includes the following: expressing your frustration to a friend for being late, saying "no" to a request, asking someone in a movie to stop kicking your seat, or asking for something you need from a friend or co-worker. People are often held back from being assertive because they fear the reaction from the other person. They're often worried that their assertive statement will be interpreted by the other person as anger or disappointment, and avoid being assertive so that they won't upset the other person. This behavior is passive and forces you to sacrifice your own position to take care of another person's emotional state.

One way to reduce the chance that the other person will become upset is to appropriately assert yourself. Appropriate assertiveness involves using an assertiveness script: "I (think or feel) when you (behavior) and I'd like (preference for change)." For example: I get pretty frustrated when you're late. I'd prefer if we could start on time." If the message is delivered in a positive yet direct way, it seems difficult to understand why someone would have a hard time hearing the message. People may react emotionally, which says more about their ability to respect assertive statements than it does about the fact you delivered it. People may react defensively to your assertive statement as a way to try to get you to back down or modify your stance. This needs to be met with more assertiveness, but keep in mind the goal is compromise.

Saying "no" is also difficult for many people because they may be afraid of hurting or offending the other person. Saying "no" is healthy and assertive; it can keep you from over-extending yourself and prevent you from doing things you don't really want to do. People often respond to a "no" by trying to talk the person into saying yes. This will challenge you to maintain your stance if you don't feel as though a compromise is appropriate. Learn how to say "no" and practice doing it-it can save much grief in the long run.


View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 12/17/08
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