Assertive Communication: Ideas for relating to others with less conflict and more confidence

By Claudia Herrera

Communication is one of the most important topics we discuss with clients in counseling. We constantly communicate and interact with others. Learning and practicing assertive communication skills could improve your relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. The following are some ideas that could help you with becoming more assertive and maintain meaningful relationships.

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a style of communication characterized by

  • Being responsible for your own behavior.
  • Deciding what you will and will not do.
  • Acknowledging your own thoughts and wishes honestly.
  • Showing respect for the feelings and opinions of others.
  • Expressing your preferences for the behavior of others. Requesting that someone speaks to you in a kinder way.
  • Recognizing that other people are responsible for their own behavior.

Other styles of communication are passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive but the assertive communication style tends to be more effective.

What are the benefits of being assertive?

If you are assertive you can benefit from:

  • Relating to others with less conflict, anxiety, and resentment.
  • Being relaxed around others.
  • Focusing on the present situation.
  • Retaining your self-respect.
  • Increasing self-confidence.
  • Acknowledging the right of other people to live their lives.
  • Feeling control over your own life.
  • Allowing you and others to fully be in the relationship.

What keeps people from being assertive?

According to Randy Paterson (2000), there are three barriers to being assertive when communicating:

  • Stress: It is a body reaction to the perception that we are under threat. You can calm your stress response by increasing your physical resistance to stress. Some strategies to manage stress are exercise, healthy eating and sleeping habits, and balancing your responsibilities.
  • Social: The people in your life are accustomed to your communication style. Becoming assertive could create fear of change and resistance in others. By being assertive, you are more in control of your life and can set healthy boundaries.
  • Belief: There are some beliefs about your role in relationships that you learned as a child, or with your life experiences. Those beliefs support a particular communication style. Being aware of your beliefs can be the first step toward becoming more assertive.

How can you prepare to be more assertive?

Being assertive requires effort and intention. The following are some tips that may help you become more assertive in your communication with others:

  • Say what you mean without going on and on.
  • Be responsible for your own behavior.
  • Use humor.
  • Identify two people who have assertive styles that you like.
  • Consider your safety. Ask yourself “Is it safe for me to be in this situation?”
  • Be aware of cultural factors. Some degree of assertive behavior is appropriate in virtually every culture.

How to offer your opinion in an assertive way?

You may find yourself in situations where it is important or expected from you to offer your opinion or advice. Here you will find practical and effective ways to do so:

  • Relax before you start.
  • Rehearse.
  • Feel confident.
  • Signal your openness to other views.
  • Own your message.

How to say “No.”

Some people think that assertiveness is about pleasing others or saying “yes” to every request. Learning how to say “no” in a respectful way is a skill that could improve your self-confidence and assertiveness. You can start practicing saying “no” by taking into consideration the following tips:

  • Use a confident body posture.
  • Decide on your position before you speak.
  • Wait for the question.
  • Decide on your wording.
  • Do not apologize when it is not necessary.
  • Do not defend yourself when it is not necessary.
  • Do not ask for permission to say “no.”
  • Strengthen your position.
  • Do not wait for acceptance.
  • Accept the consequences.

Assertiveness requires that we be present and willing to listen to others and have an open and positive attitude. Through assertiveness we build strong alliances and connections with others.

UF Scripps Biomedical Research – Employee Counseling Services – July 2022

Source: “The Assertiveness Workbook” by R. Paterson, 2000.