February 5, 2014

How to Communicate Assertively

Written by Rachel Eddins

how to communicate assertively white man looking uncertain

Many of us struggle to communicate effectively with the people in our lives, either personally or professionally.

Styles of Communication

Learning how to communicate assertively can lead to healthy relationships, effective communication and an increased ability to get our own needs met.

In his Assertiveness Workbook (below), Randy Patterson points out that we may take a passive approach, trying to avoid conflict at all costs.  We may:

  • Give in to unreasonable demands from others
  • Go along with the crowd
  • Avoid offering our opinions until others have offered theirs
  • Avoid giving negative feedback
  • Avoid doing or saying anything that might attract disapproval

In the process, we give control over our lives to other people—even when we don’t want to.

We may take an aggressive approach, trying to control people and situations.  An aggressive approach may yield short-term benefits, but the long-term effects are almost always damaging, especially to relationship.  We may:

  • Intimidate others into doing what we want, but create resentment
  • Discourage others from making demands on us, but also discourage pleasant invitations
  • Feel powerful, but make others feel worse
  • Think we’re “blowing off steam,” which can actually make us feel more angry

After behaving aggressively, the feeling of power often fades quickly, leaving us with guilt for hurting the feelings of others, or with self-justifications about the necessity of our behavior.

We may take a passive-aggressive approach, which allows us to attack others or get our own way without having to take the responsibility for our behavior.  We may:

  • Undermine coworkers by bad-mouthing them to the boss
  • “Accidentally” spill a soft drink
  • Not find the time to do a favor we promised
  • Do the household chores badly enough that some else takes over

The passive-aggressive style is based on the misperception that there are no consequences of being deniably aggressive.  But, eventually, others begin to see us unreliable, disorganized or inconsiderate.

How to communicate assertively:

None of the styles above is very satisfying.  All have negative effects on our relationships.

None involve an open and honest exchange in which everyone’s wishes are respected.  The assertive communication style recognizes that you are in charge of your own behavior and that you decide what you will and will not do.

It also acknowledges that others are in charge of their own behavior and does not attempt to take that control from them.  It allows us to:

  • Relate to others with less conflict, anxiety, and resentment
  • Be more relaxed around others because we know we can handle most situations reasonably well
  • Focus on the present situation, rather than allowing our communication to be contaminated by old resentments

To develop this skill you will need to practice assertiveness.  To quote C.K. Chesterton, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

It’s called learning.  Start with low risk situations.

Practice with yourself in front of a mirror, or with a neutral partner.  Try things out in interactions with strangers in the checkout line, or with servers in restaurants.

Work up gradually to riskier, more challenging situations – you’ll get better and it will get easier with practice.


1. Express your needs, wants and feelings directly and honestly. Don’t assume you are correct or that everyone will feel the same way.  Allow others to hold other views without dismissing or insulting them.

2. Keep your body relaxed and your movements casual. Make frequent eye contact, but don’t glare.

3. Recognize that your needs and those of other are equally important. You have equal rights to express yourselves.  You both have something valuable to contribute.  .

4. Express yourself without having to win all the time. Both you and others can keep your self-respect.  No one controls anyone else.

Learn more about setting healthy relationship boundaries, which can help you communicate assertively.

Next Steps

Contact one of our counselors for help on how to develop assertive communication skills  or click here to schedule an appointment online. Our therapists in Houston are available for face to face sessions as well as online therapy sessions in limited areas.

To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622

Recommended Reading

The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships by Randy J. Paterson (Dec 30, 2000)

The Assertiveness Workbook contains effective, cognitive behavioral techniques to help you become more assertive. Learn how to set and maintain personal boundaries without becoming inaccessible. Become more genuine and open in relationships without fearing attack. Defend yourself when you are criticized or asked to submit to unreasonable requests.

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