Communicating Assertively

Assertiveness means expressing your point of view in a way that is clear and direct, while still respecting others. Communicating in an assertive manner can help you to minimize conflict, to control anger, to have your needs better met, and to have more positive relationships with colleagues, friends, family and others. Assertiveness is a style of communication that many people struggle to put into practice, often because of confusion around exactly what it means. Sometimes it helps to start by explaining what assertiveness is not:

Aggressive communication

People often confuse assertiveness with aggression, because it involves sticking up for yourself. But the two are actually quite different,The following table gives examples:

AGGRESSION

  • Force your needs or opinions onto others.

  • Often involves bullying or pushing others around.

  • Only your needs matter.

  • No compromise.

  • Damages relationships.

  • May lead to shouting or physical aggression.

  • Damages self-esteem.

ASSERTIVENESS

  • Express your needs clearly but respectfully.

  • Others are treated with respect.

  • Considers the needs of others as well as yours.

  • Often compromise.

  • Stronger relationships.

  • Using clear language to get point across.

  • Builds self-esteem.

For example, imagine you are standing in line at the bank and someone else pushes in front of you.


An aggressive response could be to grab them by the shoulder and say loudly:

Hey! What makes you so important that you don’t have to wait in line like the rest of us? This might make you feel better in the short term, but you will probably also spend the rest of the hour feeling annoyed about the interaction. Or perhaps the other person will shout back at you and the situation will get even worse, really leaving you in a bad mood.


A more assertive response could be to gently tap the person on the shoulder and say in a respectful voice:

Excuse me; there is actually a line here. It would be better if you could wait your turn like the rest of us. Chances are you will get a more positive response to this - perhaps the other person will apologize and move to the back of the line, or they may explain their reason for wanting to push in and you may feel happy to do them this favor. They may still respond badly - your assertiveness does not guarantee others will not be aggressive - but at least you will feel good knowing that you did your best and used assertive communication.