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Improving assertiveness

This factsheet is for people who would like information about improving their assertiveness.

Being assertive means being confident enough to express your feelings and opinions, while still valuing those of others. It’s important because it impacts directly on the way in which you interact with other people.

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Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, January 2011.

About assertiveness

About assertiveness

About assertiveness


Assertiveness involves being clear about what you feel, what you need and how it can be achieved. This requires confident, open body language and the ability to communicate calmly without attacking another person. Being assertive means:

  • saying "yes" when you want to, and saying "no" when you mean "no" (rather than agreeing to do something just to please someone else)
  • deciding on, and sticking to, clear boundaries and being happy to defend your position, even if it provokes conflict
  • being confident about handling conflict if it occurs
  • understanding how to negotiate if two people want different outcomes
  • being able to talk openly about yourself and being able to listen to others
  • being able to give and receive positive and negative feedback
  • having a positive, optimistic outlook
Learning to use these skills will help you to express your thoughts and feelings freely, speak up for yourself, know your rights, reason effectively and control your anger.

Passive, aggressive and assertive behaviour


When you enter into a discussion or an argument, there are several different ways in which you might behave and react to the situation.

For example, if you try to avoid any sort of conflict or feel that your views are less important than others, you’re being passive. In this situation you may use sarcasm, give in resentfully, or remain silent at your own cost. This is the opposite of being aggressive, which is when you feel you always need to get your own way, regardless of other people’s feelings or opinions. You may bottle up feelings that eventually explode, leaving no room for communication.

Being assertive is completely different to being passive or aggressive. Assertiveness involves clear, calm thinking and respectful negotiation within a space where each person is entitled to their opinion.

How to improve assertiveness

How to improve assertiveness

Why improve your assertiveness?


If you lack assertiveness, it can affect your relationships both personally and professionally. Being unable to communicate your needs clearly, or unable to challenge ideas or beliefs that don’t fit with your own, can cause tension between yourself and others. You may, for example, believe that people aren’t listening to you and become resentful, leading to a build-up of anger and outbursts of rage. When this kind of behaviour lasts a long time, it can lead to stress, anxiety or even depression.

By looking carefully at how you communicate with others, you can begin to identify ways in which you can be more assertive and help to improve your quality of life.

How to improve your assertiveness


With a bit of practice or training, most people can learn how to become more assertive. It’s a communication skill that you can improve and get better at using in your everyday life.

Body language


The way in which you hold yourself has an important impact on how you’re perceived and treated. Assertive people generally stand upright, but in a relaxed manner, and look people calmly in the eyes.

A good first step to becoming more assertive is to consider your own body language. You can practise being assertive with a friend or in front of a mirror by:

  • facing the other person, or yourself, and trying to stay calm
  • speaking clearly and steadily
  • showing that you’re listening
  • matching your body language to what you’re saying

Communication


Clear communication is an important part of assertiveness. Some examples are listed below.

  • Express your feelings. Try not to generalise your feelings by saying “you” in conversation when you actually mean “I”. Also, you should recognise that you have choices and so say “I could” and “I might” instead of “I must” and “I should”.
  • Say no. This is often difficult because you don’t want to feel like you’re letting people down, be seen as unhelpful, unable to cope, or just find the other person intimidating. However, it’s important to remember that you’re allowed to say no. Keep the conversation clear and simple and don’t apologise for saying no.
  • The ‘broken record’ technique. This involves repeating your point over and over again in a calm and firm voice until it’s clear to the other person. It’s particularly useful if you’re explaining something to a manipulative person, or someone who isn’t listening.

Training


Try searching on the internet to find out details of assertiveness classes available in your area. Always find out how experienced the counsellor or therapist is before you start classes. Availability of classes may vary from country to country.

Self-help books and resources on the internet can also be helpful if you would rather teach yourself the skills you need.

Counselling or psychotherapy


If you think past experiences are having a negative influence on the way you behave, it may help to talk through these experiences with a trained counsellor. This may bring back painful memories of unpleasant experiences you have had, but it can help you to understand why you act as you do. It will help you to think differently about yourself and to have positive, assertive behaviour.

You may also find cognitive behavioural therapy useful. This is a therapy that involves helping you to overcome unhelpful patterns in the way you think and behave, including aggressive and passive behaviour.

Further resources

Further resources

  • How to assert yourself. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, accessed 7 June 2010
  • What is cognitive behavioural therapy? British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies. www.babcp.com, accessed 12 November 2010
  • How to increase your self-esteem. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, accessed 12 November 2010
  • How to deal with anger. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, published 2009
  • Boiling point: problem anger and what we can do about it. Mental Health Foundation. 2008

This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Bupa doctors. Photos and videos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.

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