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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