A comment on assertiveness

I know from personal experience that when you first become more assertive, your closest friends, family and colleagues may have problems adjusting to your new behaviour. They may even feel threatened by it.

Of course, you don’t want to be knocked back to where you were, and why should you? Just be sensitive to their feelings until they’ve got used to the new you.

Genuinely assertive people use their skills responsibly. They know when to ‘chill out’ and when to ‘come on strong’, and they never deliberately hurt others’ feelings.

So whenever you’re faced with a choice of showing how right you are and simply being kind, ask yourself whether it really matters, and if it doesn’t – choose kind!

©David Lawrence Preston, 24.6.2016

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Handling Confrontation

Most people dislike confrontation, but if you have confidence in yourself and know how to diffuse aggression you need not be unduly worried by it. Try the following:

Empathic statements

Stay calm, listen attentively and show that you recognise how the other person feels by acknowledging their feelings. This often diffuses a situation when tempers are running high:

  • I can see you’re angry/upset/hurt etc./disappointed that things haven’t worked out the way you wanted …..
  • You seem upset. What’s the matter?

This keeps the lines of communication open without necessarily endorsing their point of view. And it doesn’t rule out the possibility of coming to some sort of agreement.

Rapport building/staying in rapport

On the other hand, staying calm can actually exacerbate the situation. Angry people faced with a very calm, composed and self-controlled individual may think you’re not taking them seriously enough and become even more infuriated.

Use listening and rapport-building techniques. Match and mirror their behaviour, raising your voice and stepping up your pace of speech, then slowly and deliberately mellow, carefully observing and encouraging them to follow suit.


Framing is a way of softening a response. For example:

  • ‘You may be right. I prefer to see it his way, though…..’

The ‘Third Party’ technique

Another approach is to invent a third party to argue your case for you. This way, the altercation doesn’t become personal.

  • Yes, I agree with that point, but how would you respond to someone who said….
  • I have a friend who says….. What would you say to him/her?

Direct challenge

If someone is trying to manipulate you, challenge them directly.

  • You’re not trying to make me feel… (guilty/stupid/selfish etc.) are you?

This can be an effective form of words. It usually makes the other person stop and reflect and gives you the upper hand.

Focus on only part of what was said

Another effective response to this kind of manipulation is to focus only on part of what was said. This can be very disarming. E.g.:

  • Him: ‘If you loved me, you wouldn’t treat me like this.’
  • Her: ‘How long have you been telling yourself I don’t really love you?’


Agreeing with a confrontational comment can take the wind out of their sails:

  • ‘The house is a pig sty. You’re so untidy.’
  • ‘Yes you’re right, it does need tidying.’

If you sense that they are trying to upset you, calmly admit there may be some truth in the accusation, but add a comment or question that shows you have made your own mind up about the situation:

  • ‘The house is a pig sty. Doesn’t it bother you that you’re so untidy?’
  • ‘Yes, I know it could be tidier, but that’s the way it’s going to have to stay until I’ve finished what I’m doing. Why don’t you make a start in the living room?’

This puts them on the spot and quickly reveals whether they are trying to be helpful or just having a go at you. Once you’ve brought their real reasons to light, you can easily deflect them.

  • Yes I know, but I’ve had X Y and Z to cope with recently and it’s a struggle to keep up with everything. Have you any suggestions? What would you like to do to help?

At this point, if they’re genuinely concerned for you, they’ll follow up with a helpful comment. Most put-down specialists, however, duck the question or add another derisive comment, so you must be prepared to respond and be persistent.


Humour can dissipate anger, but be careful; it can have the opposite effect if they think you’re mocking them.

Remove yourself

One of the best strategies for dealing with difficult situations is to remove yourself long enough to calm down and compose yourself. Try, ‘Please excuse me for a moment. I have to go to the bathroom.’ While there, do some instant relaxation exercises, take a few deep breaths and mentally rehearse your next step.

©David Lawrence Preston, 24.6.2016

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How to be more assertive

Even if you’ve never considered yourself a particularly assertive person, mastering a few basic techniques can help you to develop this essential skill. Start with small steps and stretch yourself a little more each day as your confidence grows.

The basic rules are:

  1.  Choose your outcomes. Decide what you want after consider the consequences.
  2.  Adopt assertive non-verbals.
  3.  Be specific.
  4.  If appropriate, describe the behaviour you find upsetting.
  5.  Say how this affects you.
  6.  Say what you would like to happen next.
  7.  Be willing to compromise. Assertive people recognise that others have legitimate rights and needs, and try to accommodate them if acceptable to both.
  8.  Integrity: A reputation for untruthfulness is a major handicap in all relationships.
  9.  Mental rehearsal: If you find certain situations difficult, mentally rehearse them in advance.

Assertive non-verbals

No less than 93% of what you communicate to another person is by your voice quality and tone and body language/non-verbals. If your body language and tone of voice don’t match your words, others will think you’re bluffing.

An assertive tone of voice

You can usually tell another person’s mood without hearing their words. An aggressive person, for instance, often speaks loudly and stares straight at you, finger pointing. A passive person normally speaks with their hand near the mouth and the voice tailing off at the end of each sentence accompanied by a nervous smile.

  Associated with: Non-verbals







Bullying, intimidating; ‘me, me, me’; violent, angry, dominant, hostile, threatening.



Clenched fists; pushy; eyes dilated; voice loud or sharp; strong gestures and movements; loss of control over speech.







Vulnerable; giving in to peer pressure; helplessness, playing role of victim, dis-empowered.


Shifty eyes, no eye contact; hunched shoulders; defeated voice tone; being ‘lost for words’.











Up front; honest, open; wanting to understand both the situation and the people; self-control; decision-maker, making informed choices.




Eyes and gaze steady but not overpowering; speech calm, clear and under control; standing firm and movements calculated.




Assertive people talk unhurriedly, with a steady, clear tone, and breathe slowly as they speak.

  • Get into the habit of talking more slowly and deliberately and taking more time to respond. If you speak too fast or gabble, your words lack authority.
  • Take in a breath before you’re ready to speak. This helps you to feel more in control, more self-composed. Take longer pauses to recharge physically and mentally, and check your listeners’ response.
  • Use silence to your advantage. It can be devastating if you make your point, then stay quiet.
  • Stay calm and relaxed while the other person considers his or her response.

Use personal space

We use body language is to stake out territories. The more space you take up, the more important you appear. On the other hand, moving too close is unsettling and can deliberately aggravate.

So get close – but not too close!

Eye contact

Eye contact is important. Shifty, wandering eyes denote lack of confidence or untrustworthiness; but a hard stare is intimidating.

Give relaxed eye contact – not too long, not to short.


Hand movements express a great deal. Impatient, forceful, threatening gestures are intimidating. Fidgeting, scratching and constantly touching your hair and face indicate tension.

  • Develop a firm handshake – it denotes strength and integrity.
  • Use your hands for emphasis.
  • Keep hand movements smooth and flowing.


Posture is significant. An upright stance makes you look more important, even if you’re not especially tall. It makes you look younger and slimmer too.

  • Carry yourself as if you are worth taking notice of.
  • Stand tall, neck and shoulders relaxed, arms loose at your side. Think of yourself as being pulled up by an invisible string attached to the top of your head.
  • Sit up straight.
  • Avoid crossing your legs and folding your arms. This indicates a defensive attitude.

How to speak assertively

Be specific

Don’t beat about the bush. Make your point clearly and with conviction. Say what you genuinely  feel, calmly and politely. Don’t say anything you don’t really mean.

Use phrases like:

  • I want to….
  • I want you to….
  • I don’t want to….
  • I don’t want you to…..
  • I have a different opinion. I think….’

If you find this difficult, you may have to confront your fears. Why are you afraid to speak your mind? What’s the worst that could happen? Is it anything more than the other person disagreeing with you?

Use ‘I’ statements

Assertive people use words and phrases which take ownership of what they are expressing:

  • I want
  • I think
  • I feel
  • I intend

They say ‘I choose‘ or ‘I have decided’ rather than ‘I must‘ or ‘I have to…’ (The latter imply indecision and/or weakness).

Use cooperative words and phrases

For example:

  • Let’s…
  • Let’s see if we can agree.
  • How can we resolve this?
  • This is my contribution. What’s yours?

Refer to the behaviour you find upsetting

Attacking a person’s character is aggressive – it gets their back up and makes them unlikely to want to cooperate with you. If you feel the need to criticise, restrict your remarks to their behaviour. Say how it affects you. Ask them to stop. Keep asking until they do. It’s always better (and less stressful) to deal with a problem now than say nothing and allow it to get worse.

Say what you would like to happen next

Assertiveness is goal-directed. Bear in mind the outcome you want and what you would like to happen before you speak.

For example, if someone is gossiping about your friend, say to them: ‘I don’t like it when you talk about my friend like that. It doesn’t reflect well on you and makes me feel very unhappy. Please stop it.’

Here’s an effective form of words when you want to ask someone to change their behaviour:

When you…

I feel….

and if it continues/if you don’t stop….

I want you to….

If you are ignored, simply repeat your point and, if necessary, keep repeating it. Change the words if you wish but not the message, and avoid being sidetracked.

Ask for feedback

This is a useful tactic when you are unsure whether you are getting your point across. Ask, ‘Am I being clear?’ ‘Do you agree?’ ‘What do you want to do?’ and so on.

Asking for feedback corrects misconceptions and encourages others to be clear and direct in their feedback to you.


Obviously, you won’t always get your own way, but at least you’ve made your mark, and you will be taken more seriously in future. And if you find you have to go along with actions you don’t freely endorse and it doesn’t work out, at least you can point out that didn’t do it willingly.

©David Lawrence Preston, 21.6.2016

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Why not ask for what you want?

You’d be amazed how many opportunities open up when you ask for what you want. Often, asking is all we have to do, but many of us don’t bother.

Why don’t more people ask for what they want more often? There are six main reasons:

Six reasons why people don’t ask for what they want

  1.  It doesn’t occur to them. E.g. many shops and businesses are only too happy to give a discount for cash if you ask – but they won’t offer unprompted.
  1. Mistaken beliefs, e.g. that it’s not polite, that others ‘should’ know what you want, asking is a sign of weakness, it puts other people out, it’s demeaning, embarrassing etc.
  1. False pride, e.g. some people (usually male!) would rather drive round in circles than ask a stranger for directions. ‘Real ‘men are supposed to be self-sufficient and would look foolish asking. The irony is, of course, people love to be asked for help – it makes them feel useful and valued.
  1. Fear: of being refused, looking stupid, of rejection, humiliation, the other person becoming angry. Sometimes there is an explanation for these feelings. Perhaps they’ve had a bad experience in the past – but not always.

If you ever feel this way, ask yourself: ‘ What’s the worst that could happen? Could I handle it?  (tell yourself – ‘yes!’). What’s the best way to ask?

  1. Low self-esteem: People with low self-esteem don’t feel worthy to receive. Good askers know they deserve the best. They find out what’s possible and what they’re entitled to, and simply refuse to settle for less.
  1. Not knowing how to ask: This won’t be a problem for you if you take on board the next few paragraphs!

How to ask for what you want

  • Make sure you have their full attention.
  • Ask the right person – someone who is able to grant your request.
  • Choose the right time and place. This can be crucial. Choose a time and place where you’re most likely to succeed.
  •  Ask with positive expectations. Believe without question that you’ll get it and as if it were impossible to fail.
  • Know what you want. Focus your mind on it. Mentally picture/sense yourself getting it.
  • Mentally rehearse. Work out what you’re going to say, anticipate their reaction and work out a strategy in advance.
  • Be straightforward and specific. Don’t waffle. If you want more, how much more? If you need help, what kind of help? From whom?
  • Don’t apologise. Avoid phrases like: ‘I’m afraid’ and ‘I’m sorry but…’ These immediately undermine your position.
  • Consider softening your request. This may appear to contradict the previous point; however there may be occasions when it is best to soften your request, e.g. ‘I realise this is inconvenient, but I would like…’ If you choose to soften a request it is important that your voice and non-verbals express your intent
  • Think of the benefits to the other person – and if it helps your case, point them out.
  • Don’t be sidetracked. If necessary repeat the request as many times as necessary. ‘Let me say it again….’ ‘You may not have heard me but…’ But the point is…’
  • If this doesn’t work, ask for the reason for their refusal. Bear in mind that the explanation given at first may not be the real reason, so keep asking ‘Why?’ ‘Why not?’
  • If this still doesn’t work, try showing that you understand the other person’s point of view before repeating the request.

I realise that… but I still want you to…

  • If you still don’t get what you want, reflect on the experience, go back to first principles and apply what you learned next time.
  • Be gracious. Leave the other person with a good feeling whatever the outcome.

Three more ways to ask for what you want

  1. Ask for information. Sometimes it is better to ask for information rather than make a demand. E.g. ‘What would it take for… (state your requirement)?’ ‘What do you normally do in these circumstances?
  1. Pacing and leading. Pacing and leading is asking a series of questions (or making statements) that lead to ‘yes’. This is an advanced technique that needs practice, but is very effective when done subtly.  One approach is to finish your sentences with phrases such as ‘Don’t you agree?’ Give a warm smile, a little eye contact and a nod of the head.

Children are very clever at this. Take, for example, a young boy asking his mother to buy him a new toy. After this build-up, most parents would find it hard to refuse!

‘You love me, don’t you Mummy?’

‘Of course I do darling.’

‘You’d rather I didn’t spend all my time watching TV, wouldn’t you?’

‘That’s right.’

‘You had one like that when you were a girl, didn’t you Mummy?’

‘Yes, I did.’

‘They’re only £4.50. That’s cheap, isn’t it?’


‘Will you buy me one?

  1. Make a suggestion

‘May I make a suggestion…’ is an excellent way of making a request indirectly. It wins people over because it is empathic and respectful.

You’re now ready to use these techniques to ask for what you want so practise, practise, practise, and if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

©David L. Preston, 20.6.2016

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Assertiveness is self-empowerment in action

‘This above all: to thine own self be true

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.’

 William Shakespeare

Your personal power is expressed primarily in your interactions with others. Remember, you always have the right to:

  • Express your feelings (but you must decide when it is appropriate to do so).
  • Stand up for your opinions.
  • Demand respect from others.
  • Make requests (but remember the other person has a right to refuse).
  • Refuse requests.
  • Change your mind.
  • Say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t understand’.
  • Choose not to explain your behaviour.

If you are not used to asserting yourself, you may feel uncomfortable the first few times, but don’t be put off. EVERYONE CAN LEARN TO BE ASSERTIVE. I did! The rewards include greater confidence, better relationships, fewer frustrations, and a more fulfilling and successful life.

Benefits of Assertiveness

  • Assertiveness enables you to deal more effectively with all situations, including difficult ones.
  • It prevents you being steamrollered into going along with something against your will.
  • It is good for your physical and emotional well-being. It lowers your stress levels.
  • Assertiveness ensures that relationships are built on genuine foundations and everyone concerned understands each other. Without it, people are not being themselves.

What Assertiveness Is

Assertiveness is often misunderstood. Many think it means being loud and pushy and acting selfishly, but nothing could be further from the truth. When you value yourself, you value others too. Real assertiveness acknowledges others’ needs, while being true to your own.

Assertive behaviour is:

  • Saying what you think, calmly and politely.
  • Making your point clearly and with conviction.
  • Being in touch with your inner feelings, trusting and valuing them.
  • Expressing your feelings with consideration for others.
  • Sticking to your point and, if necessary, repeating it the other has got your point too.
  • Being decisive. Indecisiveness invites an aggressive or derisive response.
  • Standing up for your rights without violating the basic rights of others.
  • Being clear on what you want and asking for it.

Passive behaviour – and how to recognise it

Which of these is your typical response when you feel angry or upset? Do you:

  1. Let people know in a roundabout way?
  2. Keep quiet?
  3. Try to say how you feel and be specific?
  4. Explode?

Passive behaviour is submissive. It is failing to express your needs, opinions and feelings for fear of upsetting other people. Passive people are preoccupied with trying to please and avoiding conflict. This rarely leaves you feeling fulfilled.

Passive behaviour can include:

  • Apologising excessively
  • Trying to justify yourself all the time
  • Indecisiveness
  • Inability to stand up for yourself
  • Understatement
  • Pretending to agree with others
  • Body language and/or tone of voice being incongruent with the spoken word

Passivity comes naturally to those who are taught from an early age to keep their feelings to themselves. As a result they may grow up burning with resentment (which can come out as sudden and ill-timed flashes of bad temper).

The irony is, far from being easy to get along with, passive people can be very exasperating. It’s hard to know how they really feel, and they often give the impression they don’t even know themselves.

Passivity mostly stems mainly from lack of confidence. Learning to be assertive helps you to be more confident, and working on your confidence and self-esteem will make you more assertive.

Passive people may say that they don’t want to be more assertive, because they don’t like loud, pushy behaviour. This is an excuse. Correcting submissive behaviours does not automatically mean becoming quarrelsome or overbearing.

Aggressive behaviour – and how to handle it

Aggressive behaviour is about getting your own way no matter what.  Aggressive people don’t mind taking advantage of others.

Direct aggression

They may be can be intimidating – this is ‘Direct Aggression’. Their behaviour carries an overt of covert threat. They may speak in a raised voice accompanied by glaring eyes, pointing, leaning forward and constant interrupting. Directly aggressive behaviour is often a sign of low self-esteem. Underneath the facade is someone who is insecure and who doesn’t believe they can get their own way by any other means.

Aggressive behaviour builds up bad feeling, hostility and resentment. Others feel defensive in their company and close up. And it often results in loss of friendships as others either avoid them, or find a way of getting their own back.

Indirect aggression

Aggression need not be loud. Put-downs, gossiping, manipulating and tricking people and using sarcasm are also aggressive. So are deliberately using silence, turning your back and ignoring people.

The main weapons which indirect aggressors employ are fear and guilt. When confronted, they usually deny their intentions. They say they were only joking or accuse you of being oversensitive. If you feel someone is using these tactics on you, the best strategy is to challenge them immediately. Remember, your power is always located in the present moment. Say, ‘You’re not trying to make me feel ….., are you?’ Normally, they will deny it. If they try it on again, keep challenging. They won’t like it, but sooner or later they will get the point.

I repeat – everyone can learn to be assertive. Learn the basic techniques, then practise, practise and practise and you WILL succeed.

©David Lawrence Preston, 16.6.2016

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