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Assertiveness is a way of communication. It describes being able to express our feelings, our thoughts, our beliefs and our views in an open manner, without violating the rights of others. It is the ability to honestly express our views and feelings without undue stress.

Other ways of communication are the aggressive way, which violates the rights of others, and the passive way, which violates our own rights.

You may have heard of the passive-aggressive way of communication. This occurs when someone is primarily aggressive but in a passive or indirect way. For example, someone might be angry, but they don’t act in a visibly aggressive manner by shouting or beating. Instead, they sulk or slam the door.

It violates our own rights. The needs of others come as priority
It respects my needs and the needs of others.
It violates the rights of others. My own needs come as priority.


The main outcome is low self-esteem. If we choose to communicate in a passive way, we don’t say what we really feel or think. This means that we may end up agreeing with others and satisfying their needs or wishes rather than ours. This can result in a feeling that we do not have a destination or goal in our life and a sense that we cannot control our own lives. If we never openly express ourselves and we conceal our thoughts and feelings, this makes us feel tense, stressed and resentful. It often leads to unhealthy and uncomfortable relations. We feel that even our closest persons do not really know us.


Assertiveness is an attitude and way of thinking that can be learnt. We are all born assertive. Think of babies. Babies cry when they want something, they freely express their feeling. Then gradually they adapt their behavior in order for it to match the responses they receive from their environment, which are responses received from their family, schoolmates, colleagues, superiors. For example, if our family or environment faced confrontation by shouting, then we will likely have learnt to deal with conflicts in this way. If our family taught us that we first have to satisfy others, before ourselves, then we might find it difficult to claim our own needs. Or if our family taught us that we shouldn’t express our negative emotions and ignored or laughed at us when we did so, then we very quickly learned not to express our negative emotion.

There are often many good reasons why we did not become assertive. As children and teenagers we learnt to behave in ways which were effective for us at that time. If we were assertive to parents or aggressive friends, this would create problems for us and that is why we learned to hide ourselves and avoid. Or we learned to be aggressive in order to survive. And it is very likely that our family or our friends, from whom we learned this behavior, also learned this behavior from their own environment. It is very important to not blame myself or my family for the lack of assertiveness. It is much more useful and helpful to think of the above behavior as a vicious circle that you and your family were trapped in. Now you need to decide to break this vicious circle and to learn a new assertive way of thinking and behaving. This means that you won’t convey this dysfunctional behavior to your future family and friends.


It is very important to learn how to recognize the verbal and non-verbal characteristics of different communication modes. When you learn them, you will be able to recognize the passive, aggressive and assertive behavior in you and others. The first step in order to change a behavior is to recognize which parts of it need change. It may be that you can talk in an assertive way e.g. your verbal skills are assertive but your non-verbal communication is passive or contradicts your verbal communication. For example: If you say “I don’t like what you are saying now”, which is an assertion statement, but you do it with a very quiet voice, without looking the other at the eyes, moving your legs, then your non-verbal communication undermines your verbal communication and your message will probably not be taken into serious consideration.



I do not express my feelings, thoughts and beliefs with honesty. Therefore, I allow others to violate my rights. It can also mean that I express my thoughts and feelings apologetically or in a style indifferent to myself, and the result may be that others ignore what I communicate.

I violate my rights. Sometimes I show an underlying lack of respect to the other’s ability to accept disappointments, to undertake responsibilities or to handle their own problems.


Long and vague sentences/ I don’t say what I really mean/ Hesitant speech, full of pauses/ Frequent throat clearing/ I apologize for no apparent reason with soft and unsteady voice/ I use expressions such as: “If it is not much trouble..”/ I use additional words and expressions such as: “maybe” “um” “uh” “somehow”/ My voice is boring and monotonous/ The tone of my voice is tuneful or whining/ I speak in a super-soft or super-warm way/ Frequent excuses “Normally I would not have told you anything…”/ Apologies “I am terribly sorry to bother you..”/ I anticipate… “It is just my opinion….” or “I could be wrong….”/ Self-rejection “It is not important” or “It doesn’t matter that much”/ Self-criticism “You know me…” or “I am useless…desperate”


Look that avoids/ I look down/ Retracted posture/ I rub my hands/ I close my eyes or laugh when I express my anger/ I cover my mouth with my hand/ I cross my arms for protection/ I smile when I express anger or accept criticism/ I raise eyebrows with a feeling of expectation/ I move my chin/ I bite my lips.


“I do not count”/ “My emotions, my needs and my thoughts are less important than yours”/ “People will think bad things about me or they will not like me”/ “If I say no, then someone may be upset, I will then be responsible for upsetting them”


I am being praised for not being selfish/ I am rarely to blame when things do not go well because I usually have not taken the initiative/ The others will protect and take care of me/ I avoid, postpone or hide confrontations so that I feel a short-term stress reduction.


Quite prone to accumulate stress and anger which can explode in a really offensive way/ The others make often unreasonable demands on me/ I limit myself to the image that the others have of me, the image of the good lovable person/ When I oppress my anger and frustration, other positive feelings I have in me are reduced/ Loss of self-esteem and self-respect.




I claim my rights and express my needs, thoughts and beliefs in a way which is inappropriate and always violates the rights of the other person. People often feel overwhelmed after a confrontation with an aggressive person. My superiority is maintained with underestimating others.


Sharp, sarcastic or condescending voice /Eloquent. Few hesitations/ Often abrupt way of speaking/ Often fast/ With emphasis on blaming words / Steady voice/ Cold and sarcastic tone/ The voice can be intense, often loud, with increasing volume at the end of each sentence/ Use of threats “You better beware..” “If not…”/ Disparaging remarks “You must be joking” “Don’t be so stupid”/ Evaluation of remarks. Emphasizing on concepts such as “should” “bad” “you have to”/ Sexist or racist comments/I rant “I don’t have problems like yours”/ Views are expressed as facts “Nobody wants to behave in this way” “This is a useless way to do it…”/ Threatening questions “Haven’t you finished yet?” “Why the hell did you do it like that…”


Violation of the personal space of the other person/ I look intensely/ Gestures such as showing or clenching my fist/ Walking with big steps impatiently/ Leaning on or over (another)/ Crossing my arms to show I’m unapproachable/ The smile can become derisory/ I make wrinkles when I am angry/ I clench my teeth


“I will catch you before you even have the chance to catch me”/“The world is a battlefield and I have to win”


I get the others to do what I want/ Things happen the way I want / I like the feeling of controlling/ Relief of energy or tension/ I feel strong


My behavior creates hostility and resentment to those around me/ This can lead to a sense of excessive fear and paranoia / If I always try to control the others, it is difficult for me to relax/ My relationships are based on negative feelings and will be unstable / Aggressive people actually feel inferior and they try to compensate this feeling by diminishing others./ Feelings of guilt and shame/ Reduced self-confidence and self-esteem.



A way to communicate my feelings, thoughts and needs in an open, honest manner, without violating the rights of others. It is the alternative to being aggressive, which violates the rights of others, and to being passive, which violates my rights.


Steady and stable voice/ I am eloquent with few hesitations/ Fixed rhythm of speaking
My tone is rich and warm/ Honest and clear speech/ Not strong neither low voice intensity/ My voice is appropriately loud according to the circumstances/ Statements using “I” “I like” “I want” “I do not like”, which are short and to the point!/ Phrases favoring cooperation “What are your thoughts on this?”/ Emphatic declarations of interest “I would like to…”/ Distinction between opinion and fact! “My experience is different…”/ Sentences without “must” but with “How about…” or “Would you like to…?”/ Constructive criticism without blaming “I feel annoyed when you interrupt me”/ Seeking the views of the other “How does this fit with your idea…?”/ Willingness to explore other solutions “How can we overcome the problem…?”


Receptive hearing/ Good eye-contact/ Upright, open posture/ Pleasant but serious facial expression/ Open hands/ I smile when I am happy/ I frown when I am angry/ My chin is relaxed


“I will not allow you to take advantage of me and I will not attack you for who you are”


The more I respect myself and I act in a respecting way, the greater my self-esteem
The opportunities to get what I want from life are improved/ Expressing what I feel the moment that I feel it, doesn’t mean that I don’t cultivate resentment in me/ If I am driven less by my need to protect myself and I am less busy with my self-conscience, then I can listen to the others and love them more easily.


My friends and/or my family may have benefited from me being passive and they can sabotage or complicate this new behavior of mine./ I reshape beliefs that I had built in my childhood and it looks frightening/ It doesn’t mean that by claiming I always get what I want/ At first my attempt is difficult.


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Title: “Learn to assert”

Objective: To get acquainted with multiple assertiveness techniques

Contents: A variety of assertiveness techniques

Material: Notes & Worksheet


One of the most common problems in our communication with others is caused by our attempt to read the minds of others or our anticipation that the others will read our minds. If you want people to respond to your ideas and needs, you have to be able to say what these are and say it in a manner that makes the others wanting to respond in a nice way. The rationale is self-efficiency. The belief that if I do something in a certain way, I will be efficient. A sense that if I behave in a certain way, something which I can predict will happen. Even if now you don’t believe this, using the rules of assertive behavior and communication, the results will be so promising that you will start to believe in your efficiency. If it is scary for you to think being assertive, try it first to people you don’t know. Bring to your mind someone you know that is assertive and pretend that you are this person. People feel it when you respect yourself and they will also treat you with respect. This is the ultimate goal of assertive communication.



  1. Respect myself- what I am and what I do.
  2. Recognize my needs as an autonomous being-this is different from what the others expect from me, depending on my role each time as a “daughter”, “student” “brother” etc.
  3. I use clear statements with “I”. About how I feel and what I believe. I focus on the problem that I have without blaming the other and without feeling guilty e.g. “I would like to be able to tell my stories without interruptions” instead of “You constantly interrupt me!”
  4. I allow myself to make mistakes. Recognizing that making mistakes is absolutely normal.
  5. I change my mind if I want to.
  6. I ask to “think about it for a while” e.g. When someone asks me to do something, I have the right to say “I would like to think about it for a while and I will inform you of my decision by the end of the week”.
  7. I allow myself to enjoy my happiness, this means being happy and satisfied with what I have achieved and sharing it with those around me.
  8. I ask what I want-rather than hoping that the other will observe what it is that I want.
  9. I recognize that I am not responsible for the conduct of other adults.
  10. I respect the other persons and their right to be assertive and I expect the same for me.



Basic assertiveness is when we make a statement that clearly expresses our needs, desires, beliefs, opinions and feelings. This kind of assertiveness can be daily used with the aim to inform about our needs. Basic rules: Use of first person (I, me…) .It is important to remember to be specific when you make your statements. Decide what it is that you want or feel and say it concretely or directly. Avoid unnecessary “fillings” and keep your statement simple and short. This skill will help you to be clear about what you wish to communicate. Basic assertiveness also includes the so called “self-revelation”. It essentially means disclosing my feelings with a simple statement. For example: “I feel nervous” “I feel angry”. The immediate effect of this technique is that your stress is reduced, allowing you to relax and take responsibility of yourself and your feelings. Using the first person “I etc.” to express your feelings, also shows that you take responsibility for your own feelings.


Empathy means that we try to understand the feelings, needs and desires of the other person. So, this type of assertiveness includes elements of recognition of the other person’s needs and at the same time, a statement of your own needs and feelings. This kind of assertiveness can be used when the other person is involved in a situation which might not fit with your needs, and you want to state that you are aware of this and you are sensitive about his/her position. Empathetic assertiveness is useful in protecting you from aggressively overreacting, as it gives you time to imagine yourself in the other person’s position and therefore, delay your response. It is highly likely that you over-use specific statements in empathetic assertiveness, and this will result in your statement seeming false. Moreover, your statement might seem as covert aggressiveness. For example, if someone says “I appreciate your feelings but…” then the empathetic statement “I appreciate your feelings” is underestimated by the word “but” and the phrase becomes a covert offensive.


This is the strongest type of assertiveness and we see it as a last option, when someone does not take into account the rights of the others and you want to change their behavior without becoming aggressive as well. It can be used at work when procedures or directions are not properly followed. When using an assertive behavior of consequence, you inform the other person about the consequences that will occur if they don’t change their behavior. It can very easily be perceived as a threat and hence, as aggressiveness. Use this type of assertiveness when you have sanctions to impose and only when you are ready to implement them. As this type of assertiveness may be perceived as aggressive, you need to be careful with the non-verbal signs you use. Keep your voice calm, with steady volume, having good eye contact and trying to have your face and body relaxed.


This type works with showing the discrepancy between what was agreed and what is really happening. This technique is useful when there is a misunderstanding or contradiction, and one’s behavior does not match their words.


This kind of technique is used when experiencing very negative feelings towards another person – anger, resentment etc. With a controlled and calm manner, you focus your attention on the adverse effect that the other person’s behavior has on you. This allows you to handle your feelings without an uncontrolled outburst. It also alerts the other person about the consequences of their actions on you.


Kids are experts in this technique. This skill includes preparing what you aim to do and repeating it as often as you deem necessary, in a calm way. This skill can be used under most circumstances. It is a good skill to use when you have to deal with smart people, as the only thing you have to do is be persistent on your prepared quotes. It helps you stay relaxed as you know what you are about to say and you can keep a constant statement avoiding irrelevant logical or argumentative pitfalls. It is a good technique to say no. This technique can be easily combined with other techniques just learned above. Always start with the calmest attitude. Then become more and more assertive. Avoid jumping directly to the attitude with the most severe consequences. It would be a threatening and aggressive behavior and not an assertive one.


The following worksheet can help you identify personal triggers which lead you to feel upset, frustrated or angry. You can use it as a guide as to how to manage negative feelings in a successful and helpful manner.

 TRIGGER Take it
(Be assertive)
OR  Leave it
My colleague arrived late to an  appointment about a school project we have to work on.
Calmly ask my colleague about the reason why he/she was late and explain
my frustration, using empathic or
consequence assertive technique.
Tell myself – “People are late sometimes, I can’t always have things my way, that’s life”

You can either choose to act in an assertive way or to reevaluate the situation and let go of anger and irritation.

 Case studies

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Practical Example of Assertiveness of Negative Feelings

Daniel is teaching second grade in Elementary school.

Johnny, one of his students, is shouting to another classmate during the lesson while Daniel is trying to explain something important to the whole class about grammar.


  1. Describe the other person’s behavior objectively. Be careful to do that without interpreting or judging. “When you are shouting while you are in the classroom…”
  2. Describe the impact of the other person’s behavior on you. Be precise and clear. Do not over-generalize. “It affects the work I have to do with you and your classmates”.
  3. Describe your feeling “I feel annoyed with this”
  4. State how you would prefer this behavior to be in the future “From now on I would like you to wait until the break to play”.

Reflection Questions:

  • Which are the feelings Daniel needs to manage at that time?
  • Which possible thoughts are crossing his mind?
  • What do you think should be the appropriate body language for Daniel in order to assert?
  • What other assertiveness techniques could Daniel have used?