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What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is the ability to express your thoughts and feelings openly, and to say no and protect yourself. It does not mean hurting other people, but it does mean having a sense of your rights as well as the rights of others.

People who lack assertiveness may agree to do something for a friend, like baby-sitting or running an errand, that they really don't want to do. They may have a hard time saying no, if they can say no at all, without feeling guilty. At the same time, they may end up feeling resentful and taken for granted.

Why is assertiveness important?

Without assertiveness skills, sometimes people are too angry and aggressive, and sometimes they are too quiet and passive.

Assertiveness can help people feel self-confident, less scared, and more decisive. It can also help them gain the respect of others.

People who lack assertiveness may live life without joy. They may be resentful of others and upset with themselves for not getting what they want. Assertiveness helps people feel that they are valuable and worthwhile, that they deserve to have their feelings taken into account.

What rights should you assert?

You have the right to:

  • decide what is best for you
  • be treated with respect
  • change your mind
  • make mistakes and be responsible for them
  • consider other people when you make decisions
  • say, "I don't want to"
  • ask for what you want
  • grant others these same rights.

What situations call for assertiveness?

Assertiveness skills can be helpful in any situation where you feel that your feelings are important and need to be heard by others. This can be at work with a boss or co-worker or at home with a spouse or children.

Assertiveness can help you say things that are hard to say or that you think others might not want to hear. These skills are useful for helping you say things you may have been thinking about for a long time but have not been able to say.

What is the process for being assertive?

  • Decide whether to assert yourself or not.
  • Decide when, where, and how to assert yourself.
  • Use "I" statements to assert yourself, not "you" statements. For example, say "I won't do that," rather than "You shouldn't ask me to do that."
  • Use prepared scripts for tough situations.
  • Be clear and direct.
  • Stay focused on your goal.
  • Maintain eye contact with the other person.
  • Speak firmly and loudly enough to be heard.
  • Use neutral language and avoid name-calling, threats, or swearing.
  • Don't use statements that discount yourself like, "I know I'm probably wrong, but..."
  • Do not feel you have to give any reasons for your actions.
  • Once you start to assert yourself, do not back down or get angry.

Why is assertiveness hard for some people?

You may have trouble asserting yourself because you have not developed this skill. It may be that your culture does not value assertiveness or that during childhood you had no control. You may have had to be a caretaker for your parents. Saying no to others makes some people feel guilty and makes others angry.

Being assertive for the first time can make you feel scared. It is important in these situations to have your lines ready, to have thought about what the other person might say, and to try to stick to your position. You cannot control others but you can control yourself.

When you are assertive for the first time, you may find others are surprised at your new skill. After hiding feelings and pleasing others for years, you may have trouble being "heard" by your family and friends at first. This may require you to "stick to your guns" rather than just state what you want one time. As a newly assertive person, you may want to say, "I'm standing up for myself now, so..." or "I may surprise you when I say I mean it".

How can I help others, such as my children, learn to be assertive?

  • Practice what to say in advance.
  • Be honest when you give and receive compliments.
  • Use an even tone of voice when talking with others.
  • Do not let others push their point of view on you.
  • State your point of view without apologizing for it.
  • Be as direct and open as you can when expressing your feelings. An assertive person can be a role model for others.
  • Encourage children to say what they are thinking and feeling without being too aggressive or too quiet.
Written by Lee Scheingold, MSW.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-01-29
Last reviewed: 2009-12-09
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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