22. Cultivating Assertiveness


The following provides information on the benefits of being assertive and tips for how to develop assertive skills.

Many college students find it difficult to express their feelings honestly and openly because they lack assertiveness. This can become a problem when building a relationship, going  out in the career world or communicating with friends, family members, and co-workers.

What is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings, opinions, beliefs, and needs directly, openly and honestly, while not violating the personal rights of others. Assertiveness does not in any way means being aggressive. Aggressive behavior is self enhancing at the expense of others. It does not take other individual’s right into consideration.

What Assertiveness is Not

May students seem to confuse assertive behavior with aggression. Aggression is self-enhancing behavior at the expense of others. Your classmates, friends and associates feelings are ignored, violated and not taken into consideration when interacting with them. Furthermore,as a result of aggressive behavior, they feel hurt, humiliated, angry, and revengeful.

What Will Assertiveness Do for You?

  • Develop your communication skills.
  • Allow you to feel self-confident
  • Increase your self-esteem
  • Help you to gain the respect of others
  • Improve your decision-making ability

How to Cultivate Assertiveness

Be direct, honest, and open about your feelings,  opinions and needs. State reasonable requests directly and firmly. State your goals or intentions in a direct and honest manner. State your point of view  without being hesitant or apologetic. Being responsible for your own behavior will let you feel good about yourself.

  • Do not let your friends, classmates etc impose or reinforce their behavior, values and ideas on you. Instead, let them know what you think, feel and want.
  • Be honest when giving and receiving compliments. Never put down a compliment and don’t feel you must return one.
  • Learn to say no  to unreasonable requests. Use the word “no” and offer an explanation if you choose to. Do not apologize and do not make up excuse. Paraphrase the other’s point of view. This will let he/she know that you hear and understand the request.
  • Avoid “why” questions. “Why” questions allows the listener to be defense.
  • Recognize and respect the right of your friends, classmates, roommates etc. For example if you are upset with them use “I” and “we” statements to express your feelings, instead of blaming and finger point “you” statements.
  • When communicating with others use an appropriate tone of voice and body posture. Maintain eye contact. Tone of voice should be appropriate to the situation. Stand or sit at a comfortable distance from the other person. Gestures can be used  to emphasize what is being said and the word “I” and “we” should be used in statements to convey your feelings. For example, it is more appropriate to say “I am very disappointed that you didn’t show up as plan”, instead of saying, “Man, you are a jerk”.

The Language of Assertiveness

The following are suggestions regarding the language of assertiveness.

  • “I” statements:
  • I think…
  • I feel…
  • I want…

Statements of personal reference and personal meaning:

  • “This is the way I see it”
  • “In my opinion…”
  • “This is how I feel”
  • “This is what it means to me”

Statements of request:

  • “I” want…
  • “I” need…

Statements offering compromise:

  • “I” would like this…
  • What would you like?
  • “I” think… What do you think?
  • “What would be an acceptable compromise”
  • “Can we work this out — What time is agreeable to you>”

Asking for time:

  • “I” like to discuss this in an hour”
  • Taking time to think, know what you want to be different, thinking of compromise, etc.
  • Asking for clarification — instead of ASSUMING.

Avoid demanding and blaming statements:

  • You make me…
  • You think..
  • You should/shouldn’t…
  • It’s your fault…
  • Don’t you think…
  • If only you would…

Specific verbal skills

  • “I” think statements
  • Broken record – repeating what you want, persistence
  • Acknowledge what other is saying, then repeat your view, opinion, need, etc.
  • Provide feedback — respond to what other person is saying

Language formula

  • I feel — state your feeling
  • When (describe behavior)
  • Because (concrete effect or consequence on your situation)
  • I’d prefer (offer compromise)