printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Learning to be assertive


Share

How we engage in conversation often affects the results of the communication or interaction. There are three styles of communication

Passive Assertive Aggressive

Passive communicators are those who would avoid confrontation and problems. They tend to be more easily manipulated by others, and they frequently lack self-confidence and give in easily to others in disagreements. Those of us who are "People Persons" often use this style to avoid conflict.

Assertive communicators will usually face their problems directly. They tend to be respected and have a reputation for stating their point of view or opinion. Others usually know what these people are thinking. Frequently they will be seen as exuding self-

confidence. The "Learned Expert" personality and "Practical Managers" have little difficulty being assertive. Their communications tend to be clear and to the point.

Aggressive communicators are those who often would prefer to take advantage of others. Often, they have little respect for others and sometimes for themselves. They can be openly hostile. When angered the "Practical Managers & Learned Experts" can easily become very aggressive. "Creative Problem Solvers" can at times demonstrate a form of aggressive communication which is non hostile but very intense. Because they often won't take "no" for an answer, "Creative Problem Solvers" try to use their charm to manipulate others.

The challenge for us as communicators is to try to be assertive while respecting the rights of passive communicators and protecting ourselves from aggressive communicators.

Finally a good reason to encourage appropriately assertive communications is to reduce the levels of stress experienced in the communication experience. Studies indicate that passive and aggressive communicators both feel more stress than do assertive communicators. Aggressive communicators experience the most stress!

Would you tell me?

If a person had spilled mustard on the front of their dress would you tell them?

If they had a thread pulling from their pocket or sleeve, would you say anything?

If someone had a fleck of spinach on their tooth, you let them know?

A passive person might try to ignore the problem, an aggressive person might embarrass the person or take advantage of the situation and an assertive person would be most likely to respectfully tell the person.

Of course you might. If you were a friend, or even if you were just being nice.

You wouldn't want to walk around with mustard on the front of your shirt. So in the spirit of friendship and empathy you should probably tell someone when they have a potentially embarrassing and correctible situation.

Of course there are limits, and there are rules. If you were emotionally intelligent you certainly would not make the situation worse by calling public attention to the embarrassment. You would be nonjudgmental, sensitive, caring, private and motivated by concern.

There are some things that probably would be better unsaid, or words spoken by another person closer to the person with the problem.

Would you agree? Do you suppose most people agree?
So you would tell another if they had mustard on their shirt. Would you tell them if they were doing something else that was a problem or potentially embarrassing to them or to you?

Would you tell them if they misused language?
Would you say something to someone with bad breath?
Would you mention a problem someone caused for other people?

What would be your motivation? If you are motivated out of dislike, anger, or cruelty forget it. The other person doesn't want to hear about it. But, if your motivation is out of love, concern, empathy or friendship, bring it on! Like most people who are unaware of their blind window (Johari Q-2). Moving it into the window where it can be seen is something that would be valued and appreciated. But how? The challenge is to be sure to be assertive not aggressive or passive.

Below are ten tips to improve assertion skills. Following those tips are Adult Communications and "I" message tips to help assure better communications.

10 To Improve Your Assertion Skills

1. It is OK to say "no". You do not have to not have to offer excuses or to justify your behavior to most people.

2. It is OK to make mistakes. In fact it is good to make mistakes. If you are not making mistakes you may not be taking appropriate risks. There are jobs, hobbies and lifestyles that expect you to take risks to develop new ideas or solutions. Making mistakes is OK. Just don't make the same mistake more than once if you can help it!

3. Ultimately you are the final and absolute judge of your own behavior. Live your life as you would in accordance with your STEPPs.

4. When you have given your answer and someone asks you the same question again, Calmly repeat yourself over and over and over and over and over and over and over. ..... again.

5. When asserting yourself, keep your language clear, simple and focused. Don't say things like, "No thank you, I don't think I will have any of that." That comment invites the host to say "Are you sure?" Just say "No thank you!"

6. There is an assertion technique called Fogging. It involves you acknowledging criticism & verifying feelings. You begin by agreeing with the person. "Well, I certainly think eight hours of homework is too much also. It is important that you have time for yourself, so what I am willing to do is to assign two hours of homework every night of the week. This way you will get all the calculus information you need to pass the final exam." And ten hours of calculus homework!!!!!

7. Appropriate Assertion is a learned behavior. Practice assertion skills in school, at work and at home. Role play the times and circumstances where others might take advantage of your less assertive nature. Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. By practicing at home you will be able to say assertive things when appropriate. Practice saying exactly what you want to communicate. Use the words, the tone, the inflection, the volume. Role playing is a powerful assertion management tool!

8. Having many unfinished tasks hanging over your head can be distracting and lead to passivity. Seek closure on unfinished business. Decide when you can the first time. Don't drag things out. When you know the answer give it. When you have decided, ACT!

9. When giving an "I" Message, delivering bad news or just protecting your rights, give the problems to the owner. Don't complain about calculus homework to the French teacher.

10. When appropriate seek a support group of similar minded friends or acquaintances. Joining in a support network helps to reaffirm positive self-images and your connection with a larger community. Support groups prove that you are normal after all and may even help to alleviate stress.



Back to Top
Sign-in

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.