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What is Assertiveness?

There are many misconceptions about what it means to be assertive. Let’s start with looking at a chart comparing what assertiveness is and is not.

Assertiveness IS…

  • directly expressing your feelings
  • speaking up for your rights
  • choosing your own actions
  • setting limits
  • saying ‘no’ to something you don’t want

Assertiveness is NOT…

  • “calling someone out”
  • being a “problem-maker” or causing conflict
  • being a “problem-maker” or causing conflict
  • being a “problem-maker” or causing conflict
  • verbally or physically attacking someone
  • verbally or physically threatening someone

Therefore, assertiveness is speaking your mind and allowing others to do the same. Assertive people say what they think, feel, and want. They understand that they have the right to express themselves. Assertive people speak directly, honestly, and tactfully without excuses, apologies, or “beating around the bush.” Lastly, assertive people respect others’ rights. An assertive person does not try to intimidate or manipulate others.

Benefits of Being Assertive

Being assertive offers many benefits. Here are just a few benefits:

  • It allows you to speak your mind clearly and effectively.
  • It enables you to say “no” without feeling guilty.
  • You can feel better about yourself.
  • You can improve your relationships with others.
  • You may disagree without seeming hostile.
  • You can feel in better control of your life.
  • You may get more respect from others.
  • It enables you to ask for help when you need it.

How Can I Start Being Assertive?

Here are five tips for becoming more assertive. Remember, these are guidelines of behaviors that must be practiced. Learning to be assertive and feel comfortable while being assertive will not automatically happen. It takes time; be gentle with yourself!

Communication Skills Are Key

  • Be specific, not general, in your communication.
  • Don’t become overly emotional or bring up past grievances.
  • Be calm and steady. If your voice is soft, whiny, shaky, sarcastic, or threatening you won’t come across as effectively.
  • Use “I feel” rather than “You are” statements (e.g., I feel angry when you don’t call and let me know you’re going to be late” not “You are such a thoughtless jerk”).
  • Don’t confront someone in front of other people.
  • Be sure to discuss sensitive issues in private.
  • Learn more about good communication skills

Use Confident Body Language

  • Look the person straight in the eye-don’t look down or away.
  • Keep your body straight-don’t slouch.
  • Keep your hands at your sides or in your lap.

Be a Good Listener

  • Give your full attention to the person who’s speaking.
  • Show your interest by responding (don’t just nod your head in agreement).
  • Briefly summarize in your own head what the person is saying (this helps eliminate misunderstandings).

Respect Yourself

  • Realize that you are worthy and that you have something to offer.
  • Realize that your ideas are important and others can benefit from them.
  • Recognize the things you do well and take gradual steps towards overcoming your weaknesses.

Respect Others

  • Everybody has the right to express feelings and opinions.
  • Don’t confuse assertion with aggression. There’s no need to threaten, punish, or manipulate others. If you treat them with respect, they’ll treat you with respect.

It Takes Practice!

Remember that assertiveness takes time, for you and possibly for others around you. You may feel very excited about practicing your new assertiveness skills. However, don’t be incredibly surprised if it doesn’t go as planned and someone doesn’t react back to you in an assertive manner. Just remind yourself that you are worthy and your thoughts and ideas are important to share! After practicing these skills, evaluate and reflect on the situation and your actions, and get ready to try it again in the future!


  • Dying of Embarrassment (Markway)
  • The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook (Antony & Swinson)
  • Your Perfect Right: A Guide to Assertive Living (Alberti & Emmons)
  • Asserting Yourself: A Practical Guide for Positive Change (Bower & Bower)
  • The Assertive Woman (Phelps & Austin)
  • When I Say No, I Feel Guilty (Smith)

Internet Resources

Last updated: 7/17/2019