Assertive Behavior

Assertion can most simply be defined as truly being oneself. Part of being a unique, assertive person involves learning to identify one's feelings and thoughts. This should result in a confident expression of oneself and a greater understanding on the part of others. Many people think that being assertive is about being "strong" in speech and action. A survey among people who are in reasonably in good positions and well qualified resulted that 89% of people are convinced that assertion and aggression are one and the same. They expressed a feeling that "How well one can dominate or win over others" is assertion. It isn't.

Assertion vs. Aggression

You are behaving ASSERTIVELY when you express your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in direct, honest ways that do not violate another person's integrity. Assertion involves respect both for your own needs and feelings and for those of the other person.

You are behaving AGGRESSIVELY when you express your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in ways that humiliate, degrade, belittle, or overpower the other person. Little or no respect is shown for the needs or feelings of others.

You are behaving NON-ASSERTIVELY when you fail to express honest feelings, thoughts, and beliefs - or express them in such an apologetic, diffident, or self-effacing way that others can easily disregard them.

While being assertive can help you to be more individualistic, being aggressive can only worsen relationships and situations.


  • Assertive behavior is often confused with aggressive behavior; however, assertion does not involve intentionally hurting the other person physically or emotionally.
  • Assertive behavior aims to equalize the balance of power, not in "Winning the battle" by putting down the other person or rendering him/her helpless.
  • Assertive behavior involves expressing your legitimate rights as an individual. You have a right to express your own wants, needs, feelings, and ideas.
  • Remember other individuals have a right to respond to your assertiveness with their own wants, needs, feelings, and ideas.
  • An assertive encounter with another individual may involve negotiating an agreeable compromise and/or problem solving.
  • By behaving assertively, you open the way for honest relationships with others.
  • Assertive behavior is a skill that can be learned and maintained by frequent practice.

Components of assertive behavior:

  • Maintain direct eye contact
  • Maintain erect posture
  • Speak clearly and audibly
  • Facial expression agrees with message
  • Voice tone agrees with message
  • Time of assertion
  • Listening to the other person's view
  • Content - know what you are saying

Helpful Hints for Assertive Behavior: Saying "No" to Unfair Requests and Demands

  • Be sure where you stand first, i.e., whether you want to say yes or no. If not sure, say you need time to think it over and let the person know when you will have an answer.
  • Ask for clarification if you don't fully understand what is requested of you.
  • Be as brief as possible, i.e., give a legitimate reason for your refusal, but avoid long elaborate explanations and justifications. Such excuses may be used by the other person to argue you out of your "no."
  • Actually use the word "no" when declining. "No" has more power and is less ambiguous than, "Well, I just don't think so..."
  • Make sure your nonverbal gestures mirror your verbal messages. Shake your head when saying "no." Often people unknowingly nod their heads and smile when they are attempting to decline or refuse.
  • Use the words "I won't" or "I've decided not to", rather than "I can't" or "I shouldn't". This emphasizes that you have made a choice.
  • You may have to decline several times before the person "hears" you. It is not necessary to come up with a new explanation each time, just repeat your "no" and your original reason for declining.
  • If the person persists even after you have repeated your "no" several times, use silence (easier on the phone), or change the topic of conversation. You also have a right to end the conversation.
  • You may want to acknowledge any feelings another has about your refusal, "I know this will be a disappointment to you, but I won't be able to..." However, you don't need to say "I'm sorry" in most situations to apologize for your refusal. Saying "I'm sorry" tends to compromise your basic right to say "no."
  • Avoid feeling guilty -- it is not up to you to solve others' problems or make them happy.
  • If you do not want to agree to the person's original request, but still desire to help her/him out, offer a compromise: "I will not be able to baby-sit the whole afternoon, but I can sit for two hours."
  • You can change your mind and say "no" to a request you originally said "yes" to. All the above applies to your change of mind.

Helpful Hints for Assertive Behavior: Elaborated Opinion Statements

  • Begin with a personal pronoun: "I think that..."; "My opinion is..."
  • Use a compound sentence containing several phrases connected by such words as because, therefore, and but: "I disagree with what you've said because..." or "I agree with your first point, but..."
  • You do not need to have an original argument in order to express your opinion. You may rephrase, repeat, or comment on what another person has said.
  • You may agree or disagree with what others say. Or you may change the direction of the conversation: "I think we're ignoring an important point, which is..."

Breaking into an Ongoing Conversation

  • Listen actively -- nod, look directly at others, say "uh-huh."
  • Wait for a natural pause in the conversation.
  • Raise your voice slightly to signal others you wish to speak.
  • Use your body -- lean forward into the conversational arena; use hand gestures; touch the person to whom you wish to speak.
  • State an opinion, "I think that..." or ask a question, "What about..."
  • Use the person's name to gain attention, "Bill, I also think..."
  • "Excuse me, may I join you?"
  • "I don't know exactly what you're talking about, but it sounds fascinating."

Resisting Interruption

  • Raise your voice slightly to signal that you would like to finish your comment.
  • Repeat your opening phrase so that you don't lose your train of thought, "I think...but I do think that..."
  • Continue talking without hesitation; engage in parallel talking for a short while.
  • Don't look at the interrupter; look at those who are attentive.
  • Ask the interrupter to wait until you have finished your statement, "I think the best thing to do would... please wait a minute... would be to start a new program."
  • Hold up your hand or touch the person to signal that you would like the interrupter to stop.
  • Pause briefly, then quickly resume your comment, "I think that... the new program idea is a good one."
  • If interruption is a question, briefly reply and resume comment.
  • "I'll be back to that in a minute."
  • If you do not want to agree to the person's original request, but still desire to help her/him out, offer a compromise: "I will not be able to baby sit the whole afternoon, but I can sit for two hours."
  • You can change your mind and say "no" to a request you originally said "yes" to. All the above applies to your change of mind.

Each One of Us Has the Right to...

  • Say no to a request.
  • Not give other people reasons for every action we take.
  • Stop others from making excessive demands on us.
  • Ask other people to listen to our point of view when we speak to them.
  • Ask other people to correct errors they made which effect us.
  • Change our minds.
  • Ask other people to compromise rather than get only what they want.
  • Ask other people to do things for us.
  • Persist in making a request if people won't respond the first time.
  • Be alone if we wish.
  • Maintain our dignity in relationships.
  • Evaluate our own behaviors and not just listen to evaluations that others offer.
  • Make mistakes and accept responsibility for them.
  • Avoid manipulation by other people.
  • Pick our own friends without consulting our parents, peers, or anyone else.
  • Let other people know how we are feeling.


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