Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is an important relationship skill. If we don’t speak up in matters that directly affect us, others can make decisions for us. If saying no is a problem for us, others can take advantage of us. And not setting boundaries can result in becoming no more than an extension of another person. In addition, without assertive communication skills, healthy self esteem and a clear sense of identity can be harder to achieve.

Generally speaking, there are three possible approaches to any given situation: Passive, Assertive and Aggressive. (These terms also describe a person who uses the same approach in almost every situation.) Respect is the key to outlining their differences:

Passive people appear to have low self esteem and show little respect for themselves. They tend to believe others have more of a right to be heard than they do. They often believe that their ideas are probably bad and their opinions really don’t matter anyway. Passive people rarely say no to a request because they don’t want to hurt feelings or create a conflict.

Assertive people balance the respect they have for themselves with the respect they have for other people. They believe they have a right to be heard – especially if the situation directly affects them – but they also believe the other person has that same right. Assertive people have a strong sense of identity. They set boundaries that protect their individuality, as well as the individuality of others.

Aggressive people have no respect for others. Their needs, ideas and opinions are the only ones that matter. They tend to be pushy and/or intimidating. They may have boundaries, but show no respect for the boundaries of others.

In most situations, assertive communication assures that we get more of our needs met without alienating other people. (If we never consider the needs of others, positive relationships at home and at work will be very difficult to establish and maintain.)

This does not mean we cannot choose to be passive or aggressive in some situations. If the decision doesn’t really affect us and we don’t have anything to add, it’s okay to stay quiet and let others decide. And if being respectful isn’t getting us anywhere, it’s okay to become a little pushy or intimidating – as long as self-control is maintained.


Critical Steps in Developing Assertiveness:

Develop healthy self esteem.

If we do not believe our needs should be met, it is doubtful most people will go out of their way to help us. Healthy self esteem involves self-respect, self-confidence and achievement. So this is an ideal place to start building assertive communication.

Starting small and building self-esteem slowly, but deliberately will increase the value we place on ourselves. This will convince us that we deserve respect. Healthy self esteem will also strengthen our sense of identity and allow us to set and achieve goals that are important to us.

Become comfortable with saying "no".

We have a right to set limits on our time, efforts, money and emotions. Saying yes to every request can be exhausting and result in financial and/or emotional problems. If we never say no, others may try to manipulate us. And to paraphrase Aladin’s genie: Their wishes can become our commands.

The ability to say no may take some time to master. One of the best ways to start is to consider two questions whenever a request is made:

First – Do I want to do it? and second – Can I afford to do it?

If the answer is yes to both questions say yes. If the answer to either question is no, however, it is probably best to say no. Sometimes we want to say yes, but know that doing so will hurt us financially or emotionally. And other times, ever though we can afford to say yes, we just don’t want to. Again, it is probably best to say no.

Considering these two questions will help balance responses. We don’t always want to say yes; and we don’t always want to say no. What’s most important in assertive communication is that we are the ones making the decision.

Learn to set boundaries.

Once a firm sense of identity (or individuality) is established, setting boundaries is important. Boundaries protect us and the other person. No one should lose their sense of individuality to become part of a relationship. Boundaries also allow us to set limits, beyond which we could be harmed – physically, emotionally or financially.

Don’t overdo assertiveness.

Keep in mind that no one wants to hear your ideas and/or your opinions on everything, all of the time. (You would feel the same way about someone else.) Generally, we want to be known as an assertive person, who knows when to be passive and when to be aggressive. Assertive communication skills can help accomplish that goal.