by Andrew Lawless, John Quinn, Sue Wilcox

In a nutshell

1. What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is

  • Having self-respect
  • Asking for what you want
  • Recognising other people’s wants and needs
  • Choosing to compromise and looking for a win/win solution, instead of ‘giving in’ or ‘holding power over’.


2. Your rights

A right is something to which we have just claim and rights are a central issue in assertiveness. If we are to behave assertively for any given situation we need to

  • Be clear on our own and other people’s rights in that situation
  • Have confidence in our own rights.

We have general rights, and also there are rights that come with our job. We need to ensure that we balance our rights with our responsibilities.


3. Assertive behaviour

  • Assertive behaviour (win/win) entails standing up for your own rights without violating another person’s rights. It involves expressing your needs, wants, opinions, beliefs and feelings in a direct, honest and adult way. The aim of assertive behaviour is to communicate productively with another person achieving what is often described as a win/win outcome.
  • Aggressive behaviour (win/lose) means standing up for your rights in such a way that you violate the other person’s rights. It involves expressing your needs, wants, opinions, beliefs and feelings in inappropriate ways, often ignoring or dismissing the rights of other people. The aim of aggressive behaviour is to win, if necessary at the expense of others.
  • Submissive behaviour (lose/win) means failing to stand up for your rights or doing so in a way that others feel they can disregard them. It involves expressing your needs, wants, opinions, beliefs and feelings in apologetic, tentative, self-effacing ways or even dishonest ways. Often the aim of submissive behaviour is to avoid perceived conflict and to please others.


4. Recognising assertiveness

In order to become assertive yourself, it is useful to be able to recognise assertiveness in others so that you can model their behaviour and way of being.

Think about people you know who are assertive, and consider how you can model their behaviour. Assertive people

  • Are happy to be human
  • Are positive
  • Communicate clearly
  • Make sure others know where they stand


5. The barriers to assertiveness

People either don’t know what to do to be assertive, or they fear the consequences of being assertive. The major fears which act as a barrier to assertiveness are

  • Rejection
  • Personal criticism
  • Standing out
  • Drawing notice

Our fears are down to our beliefs, so working with these barriers usually involves seeking to change beliefs.


6. Some practical approaches

The basic steps of assertiveness are

  1. Listen and show understanding
  2. Say what you mean, how you feel or what you think
  3. Say what you want or what action you want taken

Try using some of the following techniques.

  • Fogging is the process of taking the power out of someone’s argument by agreeing with them (so called because their position becomes akin to punching fog).
  • Broken record – you simply keep asserting your rights.
  • In extreme circumstances it is possible to discourage aggressive behaviour by naming the aggressive tactics.
  • Consistent behaviour – remind an individual of things that they have said earlier that support your cause.
  • Social proof is based on the premise that people are persuaded as much by the actions of others as they are by the merits of any argument.


7. Dealing with difficult types of people

There are techniques for dealing with difficult people:

  • Give aggressive types time to cool down, acknowledging their point of view but holding your ground
  • With negative people, remain positive, overlook negative comments and ask for ideas for practical solutions
  • With experts, acknowledge their expertise, where appropriate, use logic, ask questions and repeat yourself
  • With unresponsive types, ask lots of questions, follow up more than normal and always involve them.


8. Saying ‘no’

Saying ‘no’ can often be hard to do, and gaining the ability to do so is a common reason people wish to improve their assertiveness.

  • It is important to consider your right to say no. This will vary from situation to situation.
  • You may need to be flexible, considering other options.
  • Look for a win-win result.