Michael J. Prince, B.A., Psychology


Assertive Training

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Michael J. Prince, B.A. Psychology

Assertiveness is...

Assertiveness is expressing our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a direct, honest, and appropriate way. It means that we have respect both for ourself and for others. We are consciously working toward a "win-win" solution to problems. A win-win solution means that we are trying to make sure that both parties end up with their needs met to the degree possible. An assertive person effectively influences, listens, and negotiates so that others choose to cooperate willingly.

Assertiveness is not...

Assertiveness is very different from aggressiveness. Aggressiveness involves expressing our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a way that is inappropriate and violates the rights of others. It can be either active or passive, but no matter which, it communicates an impression of disrespect. By being aggressive, we put our wants, needs, and rights above those of others. We attempt to get our way by not allowing others a choice. Where assertiveness tried to find a win-win solution, aggressiveness strives for a win-lose solution: I'll be the winner; you'll be the loser.

Assertiveness is also different from nonassertiveness. Nonassertive behavior is passive and indirect. It permits others to violate our rights and shows a lack of respect for our own needs. It communicates a message of inferiority. It creates a lose-win situation because the nonassertive person has decided that his or her own needs are secondary and opts to be a victim.


An "I" message is a good way to let people know what you are thinking. It is made up of three parts.

Behavior -- what it is, exactly, that the other person has done or is doing.

Effect -- what is happening because of their behavior.

Feelings -- what effect does their behavior have on your feelings?

By using this kind of message, you are giving another person complete information, leaving no room for second guessing or doubt.

An example: "When you come late to the meeting (behavior) I feel angry (feelings) because we have to repeat information the rest of us heard (effect)."

This is much more productive and assertive than simply ignoring the problem or just expressing your anger or frustration.


Use factual descriptions instead of judgments

Compare the following:

"This is sloppy work." (Aggressive)

"The pages in this report are out of order." (Assertive)

Avoid exaggerations

Compare the following:

"You never are on time!" (Aggressive)

"You were 15 minutes late today. That's the third time this week." (Assertive)

Use "I" not "You"

Compare the following:

"You always interrupt my stories!" (Aggressive)

"I would like to tell my story without being interrupted."(Assertive)

Express thoughts, feelings, and opinions reflecting ownership

Compare the following:

"He makes me angry." (Denies ownership of feelings)

"I get angry when he breaks his promises." (Assertive and owns feelings)


The following questions will help you to assess your assertiveness;

When you differ with someone you respect, are you able to speak up and share your own viewpoint?

Are you able to refuse unreasonable requests made by friends or co-workers?

Do you readily accept positive criticism and suggestion?

Do you ask for assistance when you need it?

Do you usually have confidence in your own judgment?

If someone else has a better solution, do you accept it easily?

Do you express your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a direct and honest way?

Do you try to work for a solution that, to the degree possible, benefits all parties?

A "yes" response indicates an assertive approach. ACTION PLAN

Here are some communication techniques that can help you convey a positive assertive attitude:

Use suitable facial expressions, always maintaining goodeye contact.

Keep your voice firm but pleasant.

Pay careful attention to your posture and gestures.

Listen...and let people know you have heard what they said.

Ask questions for clarification.

Look for a win-win approach to problem solving.

Beliefs About Assertive Behavior

Sometimes people have difficulty being assertive because of certain beliefs they have. Are there beliefs that you have that sometimes prevent you from behaving assertively? You may believe that other people's rights and feelings are more important than your own. You may fear that other people will be offended if you are assertive. Being assertive may change the nature of some of your relationships, and that may cause you concern. Or perhaps you believe that you are not important enough to deserve to express your needs and feelings. What are some beliefs you have that may prevent you from being assertive? Of course, it's not necessary to always be assertive. You can choose whether to be assertive in a given situation by asking yourself how important the issue is to you, how you will feel afterward, and how much the consequences of assertiveness will "cost" you. Be realistic-- don't scare yourself with irrational assumptions or unlikely probabilities.

One of your rights is to say "no" without having to provide an excuse. You don't have to have reasons or answers, and you don't have to have solutions to others' problems. If the other person continues to press you to comply with the request, you can use the "broken record" method. This involves empathizing with the other person but continuing to firmly say "no."

Practice Scenarios

A good friend calls and tells you that he/she desperately needs you to canvass your apartment complex for a charity. You do not want to do it.

You are working on a team project with another student, but you are doing all the planning and preparation.

A man asks you for a date. You have dated him once before and are not interested in dating him again.

Your parents are talking to you on the phone and would like you to come home for a visit on a weekend when you have made other plans.

You and a friend have planned to vacation together, but the plans are abruptly changed by your friend and reported to you over the phone.

Your supervisor at work has just reprimanded you for your work. During a phone call, your roommate has interrupted you three times with something that is not urgent. Sitting in the row behind you at the movie is a young couple with their infant, who begins to cry.

A friend knocks on your door during your favorite TV show--the only one you give yourself permission to watch during the week--and asks if you are busy.

A friend has asked you to join her and some other friends in a service project.

You are feeling really stressed by work, school, and extracurricular evening commitments.

You made an appointment to talk with your English professor concerning some difficulties you are having in class. You call him the day of the appointment to confirm, and he says he is expecting you. Upon arriving at his office, you find him talking with another student. Your professor asks if you would come back in an hour.

How Assertive Am I?

1. T F I am able to recognize and express my good points.

2. T F I often brag and make unrealistic claims about my good points.

3. T F I feel guilty when I stand up for my rights or express my feelings.

4. T F I sometimes make other people look or feel stupid, small, or afraid.

5. T F I let other people take unfair advantage of me.

6. T F I do not express my views and feelings.

7. T F I often ignore another person's rights.

8. T F I am able to express negative feelings about other people and what they do without being abusive or cruel.

9. T F Frequently I take unfair advantage of other people.

10. T F I am able to receive compliments without denying them.

11. T F I have difficulty saying "no" when I do not want to say "yes" to someone's request.

12. T F I often make unreasonable demands of other people.

13. T F I usually stand up for my own rights and let other people do the same.

14. T F I often monopolize conversations.

15. T F I have difficulty making reasonable requests of other people.

16. T F I am able to start or carry on conversations comfortably.

17. T F I have difficulty recognizing and expressing my good points.

18. T F I rarely stand up for my rights.

19. T F I can ask for what is rightfully mine.

20. T F I can take criticism without becoming defensive.

21. T F Sometimes I become physically or verbally abusive when I am angry with someone or when I am criticizing someone.

22. T F I can easily express positive feelings about other people and what they do.

23. T F I cannot comfortably start or carry on conversations.

24. T F I usually feel good at first about getting my way but feel guilty later as a result of how I went about it.

To determine your characteristic style of communication, count the number of "true" responses in each of the three categories. "True" responses to items 3, 5, 6, 11, 15, 17, 18, and 24 indicate unassertive communication. "True" responses to items 2, 4, 7, 9, 12, 14, 21, and 23 are characteristic of aggressive communication. "True" responses to items 1, 8, 10, 13, 16, 19, 20, and 22 signify assertive communication.

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