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Would the Assertive One Please Stand Up?

Dear Rolynda,

I am constantly being told that I am too passive, don’t have a backbone, and let others walk all over me. I know this is true. I often don’t speak up in situations at work or with my family and I am often coerced into things. In the moment, I get really nervous, freeze up, and later, I get mad at myself for not saying what was on my mind. I get really stressed out because the conversation just runs through my mind again and again. I am just afraid of conflict and making other people mad. I want them to think I am a good person.

I know I need to learn assertiveness skills so that I am able to communicate effectively, and I know it will help my relationships at work and at home. So, what can I do? Where do I start?



This topic is a hot one! Assertiveness is not unkind or mean, in fact it is quite the opposite. Assertiveness can develop open, trusting relationships and create opportunities for problem-solving. Being assertive means having the ability to confidently communicate what you want or need while also respecting the needs of others. It is an interpersonal skill you can use to effectively communicate and engage with others. Contrary to what many think, being assertive is a style of communication that is direct, yet non-confrontational. To start developing this skill, have a read over these tips.

1. Check your language. If it is aggressive or passive, it may sound something like this…

“You always/never…”

“You make me feel…”

“Why don’t you ever…”

Assertive statements follow a recipe that goes something like this…

“When you [their behavior], I feel [your feelings].”

When you are late, I feel frustrated.

Or try for one step further:

“When you [their behavior], then [results of their behavior], and I feel [how you feel].”

When you are late, I have to wait, and then I feel frustrated and irritable.

2. Check your body language. If it is aggressive or passive, it might look something like this…

- Finger pointing

- Arms crossed

- Clenched fists

- Lack of eye contact, eyes shifted downwards

Assertive body language may have some of these characteristics:

- Focused eye contact

- Nodding to acknowledge you have heard the other person

- Open, relaxed, upright posture

- Respect for personal space

3. Check your behaviour. If it is aggressive or passive, it might look something like this…

- Unsure of your abilities/overconfident

- Lack of respect for other opinions or thoughts – talking over others

- Unable to listen to others - want to argue your point

- Needs control and make decisions for others (aggressive)

- Unable to voice opinion or needs (passive)

Assertive behaviour may have some of these characteristics:

- Can listen to others

- Can say, “No.” and not feel guilty

- Can problem solve

- Can respect the opinions of others

- Can set and hold boundaries, read more on boundaries here.

Where do you think you are starting out? Are there parts of assertiveness you already practice? If you read those tips and feel like you are starting a square 1, you aren’t alone. Just imagine this: How would your life feel if you were able to clearly communicate and feel better about yourself and the control you experience in your life? You can get there! Assertive communication allows your mind and body to be free of worry and creates space for you to devote energy to other parts of your life. It takes a little practice, but assertiveness is a key communication skill that can increase your confidence, help you create a more relaxed, fulfilling life, and have open, honest communication in your relationships. You must remember that it takes time and practice, and be willing to accept yourself as you make mistakes, to reach the goal of acting assertively.


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