Assertive communication – 6 tips for effective use

Assertive communication – 6 tips for effective use

WHAT IS Assertive Communication?

Assertive communication is the ability to express positive and negative ideas and feelings in an open, honest and direct manner. It recognizes our rights while respecting the rights of others. It allows us to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions without judging or blaming other people. And it allows us to confront each other constructively and find a mutually satisfactory solution where conflict exists.

So why use assertive communication?

We all use assertive behavior at times… quite often when we feel vulnerable or insecure we may resort to submissive, manipulative or aggressive behaviour.

Yet training in assertive communication actually increases the appropriate use of this type of behavior. It allows us to replace old patterns of behavior with a more positive approach to life. I’ve found that changing how I react to others (whether they’re colleagues, clients, or even my own family) can be exciting and stimulating.

The advantages of assertive communication

There are many benefits to assertive communication, most notably the following:

  • It helps us feel good about ourselves and others

  • This leads to the development of mutual respect with others

  • It boosts our self-esteem

  • It helps us achieve our goals

  • It minimizes the hurt and alienation of other people

  • Reduces anxiety

  • It protects us from taking advantage of others

  • It allows us to make decisions and free choices in life

  • Allows us to express, verbally and non-verbally, a wide range of feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative

Of course, there are downsides…

Disadvantages of assertive communication

Others may not approve of this communication style or the views you express. Also, a healthy attitude towards the rights of others means that you won’t always get what you want. You may also find out that you were wrong about a point of view you held. But most importantly, as mentioned earlier, it involves the risk that others will not understand and therefore not accept this style of communication.

What Assertive Communication Is Not…

Assertive communication is definitely NOT a way of life! This is NOT a guarantee that you will get what you want. This is definitely NOT an acceptable communication style with everyone, but at least it’s NOT aggressive.

But it’s a matter of choice

Four behavioral choices

There are, as I see it, four choices you can make about the communication style you can use. These types are:

direct aggression: bossy, arrogant, bully, intolerant, self-righteous and domineering

indirect aggression: sarcastic, deceptive, ambiguous, suggestive, manipulative, and guilt-inducing

submissive: crying, moaning, helpless, passive, indecisive and apologetic

assertive: direct, honest, accepting, responsible and spontaneous

Characteristics of assertive communication

There are six main characteristics of assertive communication. These are:

  • eye contact: demonstrates interest, shows sincerity

  • body posture: consistent body language will enhance the salience of the message

  • Gestures: Appropriate gestures help add emphasis

  • voice: an even, well-modulated tone is more persuasive and agreeable and not embarrassing

  • time: use your judgment to maximize receptivity and impact

  • Content: How, where and when you choose to comment is probably more important than WHAT you say

The meaning of “I” statements

Part of being assertive includes being able to express your needs and feelings appropriately. You can achieve this by using “I” statements. They show ownership, do not assign blame, focus on the behavior, identify the effect of the behavior, are direct and honest, and contribute to the growth of your relationship with each other.

Strong “I” statements have three specific elements:

  • Behavior

  • Feeling

  • Tangible effect (consequence for you)

Example: “I feel frustrated when you are late for meetings. I don’t like repeating information.”

Six techniques for assertive communication

There are six assertiveness techniques – let’s look at each one in turn.

1. Behavior Rehearsal: which is literally practicing how you want to look and sound. This is a very useful technique when you first want to use I statements, as it helps to dispel any emotion associated with an experience and allows you to identify exactly the behavior you want to confront.

2. Repetition (“the broken record”): This technique allows you to feel comfortable ignoring manipulative verbal side traps, argumentative baiting, and irrelevant logic while sticking to your point. To use this technique most effectively, use calm repetition and say what you want and stay focused on the problem. You’ll find that you don’t need to rehearse this technique and you don’t need to “rise” to deal with others.


“I’d like to show you some of our products”

“No thanks, I don’t care”

“I really have a large assortment to offer you”

“That may be true, but I don’t care right now”

“Is there anyone else here who would be interested?”

“I don’t want any of these products”

“Okay, will you take this pamphlet and think about it?”

“Yes, I’ll take a brochure”

“Thank you”


3. Blurring: This technique allows you to receive criticism comfortably without becoming anxious or defensive and without rewarding manipulative criticism. To do this, you must accept the criticism, agree that there may be some truth in what they say, but remain the judge of your choice of action. An example of this might be: “I agree that there are probably times when I don’t give you answers to your questions.

4. Negative inquiry: this technique seeks self-criticism in close relationships, prompting the expression of honest, negative feelings to improve communication. To use it effectively, you need to listen to critical comments, clarify your understanding of those criticisms, use the information if it will be helpful, or ignore the information if it is manipulative. An example of this technique would be: “So you think/believe I’m not interested?”

5. Negative Affirmation: This technique allows you to look more comfortably at the negatives in your own behavior or personality without feeling defensive or anxious, it also reduces the hostility of your critics. You must accept your faults or mistakes, but not apologize. Instead, tentatively and sympathetically agree to hostile criticism of your negative qualities. An example would be: “Yes, you are right. I don’t always listen carefully to what you have to say.’

6. A workable compromise: when you think your self-respect is not in question, consider a workable compromise with the other person. You can always bargain for your material goals, unless the trade-off affects your personal feelings of self-respect. However, if the end goal involves a question of your self-esteem and self-respect, THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE. An example of this technique would be: “I understand you need to talk and I need to finish what I’m doing. How about meeting in half an hour?’


Assertiveness is a useful communication tool. Its application is contextual and it is not appropriate to be assertive in all situations. Remember that your sudden display of assertiveness can be perceived as an act of aggression by others.

There is also no guarantee of success even when you use assertive communication styles appropriately.

“Nothing on earth can stop an individual with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help an individual with a wrong mental attitude” WW Ziege

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