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UT Dallas Counseling Center
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Self-Help: Assertiveness

Does This Sound Like You?

  • You find yourself saying "yes" to requests when you really want to say "no."
  • It is hard for you to make a decision.
  • You are unable to express your discontent with a friend or partner, even if you think it's justified.
  • It is difficult for you to ask for help or assistance.
  • It is hard for you to express an opinion that is different from other people's opinions.
  • It is hard for you to share something positive about yourself.
  • You do not speak up in class, even when you know the answer to a question.
  • You find it difficult to accept a compliment.

If any of these sound like you, you may have difficulty using assertive communication.

Defining Assertiveness

Communication styles can be seen on a continuum from passive to aggressive, with assertive communication in the middle.

Passiveness is more indirect communication. It lets other people choose for you and puts other people's rights ahead of your rights.

Assertiveness is standing up for yourself in a way that does not violate the rights of another person. It is a direct and honest expression of your feelings and opinions. Your rights and the rights of others are equally valued, expressed, and respected.

You may have been uncomfortable being assertive in the past because you confused it with aggressiveness.  

Aggressiveness is a way of standing up for yourself that violates the rights of other people. It results in humiliating and putting down the other person. Aggressiveness assumes your rights are more important than other people's rights.

Common Challenges to Being Assertive

You may have also found assertive communication uncomfortable to use due to cultural norms, gender norms, or social norms. Cultures vary in how acceptable it is to communicate directly. You may not choose to use the same communication style in every situation.

For example, while you might decide to express yourself more assertively in a salary negotiation at work, you might choose to be less assertive in communicating with your elderly relatives.

Sometimes people would like to be more assertive, but find this difficult. They may be afraid of what will happen if their views or feelings differ from other people. They may fear that other people will not like them if they share themselves honestly.

Fear of conflict is another reason people avoid assertive communication. A belief that they should be perfect and handle all challenges alone can also lead people to communicate in a non-assertive way.

When you find yourself wishing you were communicating more assertively, ask yourself what is challenging about being assertive to you personally or in the specific situation. If you think it would be helpful to be more assertive in your communication, see the following tips on increasing assertive communication.

Specific Techniques for Assertiveness

  • Start by identifying your thoughts, feelings, and wants. Think of what you want to communicate and how you want to phrase your message.
  • Make your communication clear and specific. Talk about another person's behavior, not the person. "I-statements" are one way to communicate assertively. With I-statements, you start by briefly describing the other person's behavior. Then you state how their actions affect you, starting with the words "I think" or "I feel." You may choose to make a request.
  • For example, "When you are late to pick me up and do not call, I feel afraid that something happened to you and I feel angry that I am waiting. I would prefer it if you called to let me know if you are going to be more than 10 minutes late picking me up."
  • Think about your non-verbal communication. Try to remain calm. Use a level tone and volume. Don't hesitate with you words. Face the person you are talking to and maintain some direct eye contact.
  • It is okay to say no. You do not have to explain or justify your reasons for saying no to a request.
  • Ask others for feedback on your message and how the other person sees the situation. Communicate that other people's thoughts and feelings are as important as your thoughts and feelings.
  • Practice! Communicating assertively is a skill that can improve with practice.
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