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What Is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a key skill that can help you to better manage yourself, people and situations. It can help you to influence others in order to gain acceptance, agreement or behavior change.

Assertiveness vs. Aggression

It’s not always easy to identify truly assertive behavior. This is because there’s a fine line between assertiveness and aggression, and people can often confuse the two. For this reason, it’s useful to define the two behaviors so that we can clearly separate them:

So, a boss who places a pile of work on your desk the afternoon before you go on vacation, and demands that it gets done straight away, is being aggressive. The work needs to be done but, by dumping it on you at an inappropriate time, they disregard your needs and feelings.

When you, on the other hand, inform your boss that the work will be done but only after you return from vacation, you hit the sweet spot between passivity (not being assertive enough) and aggression (being hostile, angry or rude). You assert your own rights while recognizing your boss’s need to get the job done.

The Benefits of Being Assertive

Being assertive allows you to communicate your wants and needs more authoritatively, while remaining fair and empathetic. It can also help you to become more self-confident, and even improve your mental health. [1]

  • Make great managers. They get things done by treating people with fairness and respect, and are treated by others the same way in return. This means that they are often well-liked and seen as leaders that people want to work with. [2]
  • Negotiate successful “win-win” solutions. They are able to recognize the value of their opponent’s position and can quickly find common ground with them.
  • Are better doers and problem solvers. They feel empowered to do whatever it takes to find the best solution to the problems that they encounter.
  • Are less anxious and stressed. They are self-assured and don’t feel threatened or victimized when things don’t go as planned or as expected. [3]
  • Have greater job satisfaction. They feel confident to say “yes” to the person and “no” to the task , and maintain boundaries.

How to be more assertive

1. Use the 3-part model of assertive communication

Every now and then, I am asked to teach a middle school social skills class. There, I usually use the 3-part model of assertive communication, because it’s the simplest, and I find that it works just as well with high schoolers and adults. The model looks like this:

For example, the assertive message to a noisy neighbor might look something like this: “Your music is very loud and it’s not letting me sleep. I have to be up early for work and this makes me frustrated.”

This may sound a little clunky and unnatural, but having a structure helps to make sure your message is clear and non-judgmental, especially if you’re just beginning to assert yourself.

2. Make the decision to be assertive

Assertiveness doesn’t just happen, especially if you’ve been aggressive or passive in your communication thus far. Assertiveness is an active and conscious choice that you have to make.

3. Practice active listening

The most important tool for this is active listening, which means paying conscious attention to what others are saying, asking questions and clarifications, and showing your interest with verbal and non-verbal signs (like nodding or eye contact)

4. Say “no”

Generally, however, the people who have the most trouble with being assertive are the same ones who have trouble saying “no”. It’s often easier to respond to others than it is to initiate communication. If you find yourself stuck in people-pleasing ways, the easiest way to become more assertive is to practice declining offers.

5. Pick your battles

For example, your carefully constructed assertive message will probably not work if the other person is very emotional. Or maybe the other person is under influence and not thinking clearly.

When your safety is at risk

There might be certain situations where your health and safety is at risk. This is especially applicable to people working in high-risk jobs, such as construction or transportation. If you identify a situation where your health and well-being might be at risk, you need to take a step back and evaluate the situation more carefully. Workplace accidents happen when people are reckless or in a hurry to get things done.

For example, if you’re a delivery truck driver and are asked to deliver goods during a severe snow-storm, you need to consider the request carefully before making a decision. If you’re being asked to deliver emergency supplies, you might be willing to risk an accident. But you should only accept a task like that if the danger is acceptable to you.

However, if it isn’t an emergency situation and you don’t want to take a chance, regardless of the pay, say no and stick to it. In such cases, you can politely and firmly state that you won’t jeopardise your well-being.


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