Emotional Wellbeing

Mandy Kloppers

How to be assertive in various settings

Do you know how to be assertive in various settings? Some of us find ot easier to be assertive at home with loved ones than we do at the office. Our beliefs about how we feel others will react and what seems appropriate affects who we are assertive with and when. We may have been taught when we were young to do as we’re told and this can affect assertiveness in adulthood as well.

Instead of believing that others are responsible for our lives, we can accept responsibility four our choices and behaviour.

An assertive point of view: I will stand up for my personal rights and express what I feel without violating other’s rights.

The basic message of an assertive person:

This is what I think

This is what I feel

This is how I see the situation.

There are three simple steps to being assertive

Step 1 – Actively listen to what is being said then show the other person you both hear them and understand them.

Step 2 – Say what you think or what you feel.

Step 3 – Say what you want tp happen.

Step one allows you to focus on the other person and truly understand where they are coming from. It helps you develop empathy for their situation. When we don’t do this, we run the risk of responding aggressively rather than assertively. You may not agree with another person’s viewpoint but it is still important to understand their standpoint.

Step two enables you to directly state your thoughts and feelings without insistence or apology. The word “however” is a good word to use to link step 1 and 2. The word “but” is less favourable as it tends to contradict your first statement and can be unhelpful. The word “however” can be overused, so you could also use: nevertheless; even so; in addition; alterntivelt and so on.

Step three – This step is essential fo you to indicate in a clear manner what action or outcome you want without hesitating or insisting.

Assertiveness is based on a philosophy of personal responsibility as well as an awareness of other people’s rights. It’s based on a win-win situation where you both get your needs met as much as possible. When you are aggressive, you are sending a message that your needs are more important and if you are passive you are giving the message that your needs are less important than other people’s.

Being assertive means you are able to negotiate and reach workable compromises.

What assertiveness is not:

  • About getting your own way and winning every time
  • A series of quick fixes to learn parrot fashion and then use in multiple situations
  • A way to manipulate and manage other people so that you can get your own way whilst looking as if you are considering others.

Two reasons why it’s important to be assertive

  1. The first most obvious one is that with this ability you are far more likely to get what you want.
  2. Being assertive helps you to feel good about yourself and your behaviour. Difficult situations often arise unexpectedly and it’s good to know how to handle yourself.

In difficult situations, people often react by being aggressive, saying too much, going over the top or regretting their actions. Alternatively, people become passive and say nothing. Being assertive means we can look back at how we handled ourselves and feel good about the outcome.

How to be assertive when you need to give criticism

There are 5 steps in giving criticism assertively:

  1. Give specific examples of the behaviour you are criticising.
  2. Say how you feel about the effect it has on you.
  3. Say what changes you would prefer to see.
  4. Listen to the response (words, voice and body language).
  5. Work out a joint solution (not a compromise) to take you into the future – don’t get bogged in down in what has happened.

How to be assertive when you need to receive criticism

Remaining open to receive criticism takes courage. It’s one of the ways you have of finding out the effect you have on other people and enables you to decide whether you want to change your behaviour or not. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling you have to justify yourself.

Try these 4 steps:

  1. Remain open – listen to what is being said and ask for specific examples to clarify your own understanding.
  2. Let the other person know you’ve heard and understood the criticism by giving the other person your immediate feedback.
  3. Take time to decide: is it all true, is it partly true, totally false and what you want to do.
  4. Change your behaviour if suitable and appropriate.

The bottom line about being assertive is asking for what you want, directly and openly. You have rights but it’s also important to consider the rights of others. Other people don’t magically know what you want and it’s your responsibility to put what you want out there.

Your rights

  • You have the right to have and express your own feelings and opinions
  • You have the right to refuse requests without having to feel guilty or selfish
  • You have the right to consider your own needs
  • You have the right to set your own priorities and make your own decisions
  • You have the right to change
  • You have the right to make mistakes – and be responsible for them
  • You have the right to ask for what you want (realising that the other person has the right to say no)
  • You have the right to ask for information (including from professionals)
  • You have the right to choose not to assert yourself
  • You have the right to do anything as long as it does not violate the rights of someone else
  • You have the right to be listened to and taken seriously

How to be assertive when you’re dealing with someone’s strong feelings

Anger is for many the most difficult emotion to deal with.When people are very angry, they often don’t say “I’m very angry” but it is obvious from their tone and appearance. Acknowledging the feeling often diffuses it.

Example: You think your colleague is angry about something because he/she keeps snapping at you.

You: You seem angry or upset. What’s the matter?

A non-victim response is an assertive response. We are being assertive when we act in our own best interests and stand up for ourselves. Assertive people value themselves and possess high self esteem. You teach other people the way you want them to treat you by being open and honest about how you want to be treated. Unfortunately, communication breakdown often occurs in relationships where one person thinks they can predict the innermost thoughts and feelings of another. Sometimes we create a victimising situation by expecting another person to know what we are thinking.

Example: ” I shouldn’t have to tell you what I am thinking/feeling/wanting, you should know”. Don’t expect others to automatically know what your are thinking or feeling.

Assertive skills

Broken record

This skill involves calmly repeating your message over and over again like a broken record. It can help your position in the face of an argument or manipulation from others.


This involves you stating that there may be some truth in the criticism but without becoming involved in a debate, or deterred from your course of action. Thus, when you are making a request or setting limits on another person, you will be less easily side-tracked onto irrelevant issues. They will be as effective in side-tracking you as someone trying to push the fog away! This technique is sometimes used in tandem with “broken record”.

Negative assertion

This technique helps you to handle valid criticisms from others simply by agreeing with them, rather than becoming defensive. It helps you and others see that you can accept yourself, faults and all.

Tell people clearly what you want. Communicate your needs, it makes life so much easier all round.

Mandy X

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