Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, May 2011.
This factsheet is for people who would like information about improving their assertiveness.
Being assertive means being confident enough to express your feelings and opinions, while still valuing those of others. It’s important because it impacts directly on the way in which you interact with other people.
Assertiveness involves being clear about what you feel, what you need and how it can be achieved. This requires confident, open body language and the ability to communicate calmly without attacking another person. Being assertive means:
Learning to use these skills will help you to express your thoughts and feelings freely, speak up for yourself, know your rights, reason effectively and control your anger.
When you enter into a discussion or an argument, there are several different ways in which you might behave and react to the situation.
For example, if you try to avoid any sort of conflict or feel that your views are less important than others, you’re being passive. In this situation you may use sarcasm, give in resentfully, or remain silent at your own cost. This is the opposite of being aggressive, which is when you feel you always need to get your own way, regardless of other people’s feelings or opinions. You may bottle up feelings that eventually explode, leaving no room for communication.
Being assertive is completely different to being passive or aggressive. Assertiveness involves clear, calm thinking and respectful negotiation within a space where each person is entitled to their opinion.
If you lack assertiveness, it can affect your relationships both personally and professionally. Being unable to communicate your needs clearly, or unable to challenge ideas or beliefs that don’t fit with your own, can cause tension between yourself and others. You may, for example, believe that people aren’t listening to you and become resentful, leading to a build-up of anger and outbursts of rage. When this kind of behaviour lasts a long time, it can lead to stress, anxiety or even depression.
By looking carefully at how you communicate with others, you can begin to identify ways in which you can be more assertive and help to improve your quality of life.
With a bit of practice or training, most people can learn how to become more assertive. It’s a communication skill that you can improve and get better at using in your everyday life.
The way in which you hold yourself has an important impact on how you’re perceived and treated. Assertive people generally stand upright, but in a relaxed manner, and look people calmly in the eyes.
A good first step to becoming more assertive is to consider your own body language. You can practise being assertive with a friend or in front of a mirror by:
Clear communication is an important part of assertiveness. Some examples are listed below.
Try searching on the internet or going to your local library to find out details of assertiveness classes available in your area. Most adult education institutions offer courses in assertiveness training. Always find out how experienced the counsellor or therapist is before you start classes.
Self-help books and resources on the internet can also be helpful if you would rather teach yourself the skills you need.
If you think past experiences are having a negative influence on the way you behave, it may help to talk through these experiences with a trained counsellor. This may bring back painful memories of unpleasant experiences you have had, but it can help you to understand why you act as you do. It will help you to think differently about yourself and to have positive, assertive behaviour.
You may also find cognitive behavioural therapy useful. This is a therapy that involves helping you to overcome unhelpful patterns in the way you think and behave, including aggressive and passive behaviour.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the About our Health Information page.
Publication date: May 2011