Have you ever encountered a scenario where you feel as though you have failed to get your opinions heard, or people readily dismiss your views?

It maybe you have a habit of handling situations aggressively, or lack the confidence to speak up. Of course this is normal as we demonstrate certain behaviours depending on the environment.

I have seen and experienced assertiveness many times; aggressiveness at times and passiveness at other times. Depending on situation or environment, people display certain behaviours which may not be atavistic to their everyday life.

Why do people at work or even at home fall into these behaviours?

Before we get into the discussion let us define terms.

Assertiveness is a way of thinking and behaving that allows a person to stand up for his or her rights while respecting the rights of others. Here is a person who is a good listener and recognizes that each individual has rights – not only legal rights but also rights to individuality, to have and express personal preferences, feelings and opinions.

Assertiveness is not about aggression – dominating or dismissing others in order to get what you want. Nor is it passive – failing to express yourself adequately, being self-doubting or timid. It is the ability to express your opinions positively and with confidence. Assertive people are in control of themselves and are honest with themselves and others.

Thus, an assertive individual not only believes in his or her rights but is also committed to preserving those rights. It is also an attitude that is important in recognizing that rights are being violated.

On the other hand non-assertive people may be passive or aggressive.

Passive individuals are not committed to their own rights and are more likely to allow others to infringe on their rights than to stand up and speak out for fear of rejection. This is an individual person who is so concerned with being liked and accepted that he or she may never recognize the need to advocate. Just because the passive person gives the power over self-acceptance to others, he or she feels powerless.

Aggressive persons, on the other hand, are very likely to defend their own rights and work to achieve their own goals but are also likely to disregard the rights of others. In addition, aggressive individuals insist that their feelings and needs take precedence over other people’s. They also tend to blame others for problems instead of offering solutions.

As humans, we tend to oscillate and even gravitate around these behaviours – at times, knowingly – so as to accept the status quo and not wanting to rock the boat or still knowingly, because you feel for yourself and others, and want to advocate for the goodness in people.

Although a person may have learned to react passively or aggressively in life, they can change and learn to become more assertive.

Assertive Attitudes and Behaviors

Assertive attitude and behavior are at the heart of effective advocacy in any organization. This is a matter of degree and research shows that many people feel that they are not assertive enough. If you are one of them, now is the time to start changing this. Perhaps at the present time, you are not as assertive as you could be

You can become more assertive than you are now by increasing your understanding of the idea and by practicing assertive behaviors. If there is a specific situation in which you know you will need to act assertively, the exercise below will help you rehearse your approach. It is especially useful if you are hoping to develop and apply your assertiveness skills.

Individual Task

Think of a forthcoming situation in which you need to act assertively. Before approaching the situation, consider the following questions and note down any thoughts and ideas.

The questions will enable you to consider how to handle situations assertively, while still taking into account the needs and rights of the other people involved. It allows you to develop contingency plans for different eventualities so you are less likely to be taken by surprise.

Essentially, whilst preparing answers to these questions you are also engaging yourself in a dialogue through practising your tone of voice, volume, intonation, body language and facial expressions.

Be aware of others. Assertiveness involves letting others express their needs, wants and opinions. You are only being assertive if you stand up for your own rights in a way that does not violate the rights of others. Equal communication, negotiation and compromise are fundamental to assertiveness.

Thus, aligning these questions with the message you are trying to give will help to reaffirm your point, and can help portray confidence:

  • What are my objectives (i.e. the outcomes I would like to achieve)?
  • What is my point of view?
  • What are the main points I would like to cover?
  • What will my opening statement be?
  • What issues are likely to arise?
  • How am I going to handle these issues?
  • What are my needs and rights?
  • What are the needs and rights of the others involved?
  • What feelings are likely to arise?
  • How am I going to handle these feelings?
  • What dialogue/assertive statements could I use?

In all essence, a monologue will be important as it is a good idea to think of what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.

Develop your confidence. Positive thinking is a key tool in assertiveness. Work on changing those negative thoughts you have about yourself to positive self-statements. For example, instead of thinking “I’m no good at presentations”, telling yourself “I can do this” can have a surprising impact on your confidence.

Some Attributes of An Assertive Person

1. The assertive person is more likely to be a good listener than either the passive or aggressive person. The goals of assertive listening are:

  • to let the other person know that you want to understand their point of view
  • to understand accurately what another person is saying
  • to let the other know that they have been understood

Remember that understanding is different from agreement. You can understand what another person is saying but still disagree with him or her.

Communicate assertively. Be clear, direct and accurate. Avoid preambles such as “I know you’re busy, but …” and don’t give excessive explanations. Use plain English. Don’t use overly complicated words or acronyms that the receiver may not understand. The point is to get your message across effectively, not to look clever. Use assertive statements such as “In my opinion …”, “I think …” and “I feel …”. Think about what you are going to say before you say it and how you can say it to best effect.

2. The assertive person is able to be more open to information and to be more effective in analyzing and evaluating the value of what he or she hears and sees.

3. The ability to listen, and to gather and analyze information is important in the advocacy process of an assertive person.

4. The assertive person has a wider range of motivations and emotional states.

5. An assertive individual may be concerned with self-understanding and growth, with development of one’s abilities and as well as relating to other people.

6. A person who is assertive is usually able to exert more control over emotions and to work for solutions that benefit all parties.

7. The assertive person’s behaviors are designed to promote communication and problem solving.

8. An assertive person uses a variety of behaviors depending on the situation. In general, the assertive person appears energetic yet relaxed.

“But assertion is about saying: ‘I’m important and I need to look after myself and take care of myself, ‘ instead of always looking out for everyone else. There’s not a magic wand to being more assertive, it’s about learning and practising skills.”


Following the situation, you should review your performance. Look back at your original notes and consider:

  • Did I achieve my objectives?
  • Did I state my point of view?
  • Did I stand up for my needs and rights?
  • Did I take into account the needs and rights of others?
  • Did I listen actively and respond appropriately?
  • Did I handle any issues assertively?
  • What did I say assertively, and what made it assertive?
  • What could I improve on?
  • What did I do well and would like to continue doing in the future?

ALWAYS Review your progress. Every time you try out your assertiveness, spend a couple of minutes afterwards asking yourself: “how did I handle that?”, “what did I do well?” and “what might I do differently next time?”. This will keep you on track and help you identify areas for development.

Understand that setbacks are inevitable. Don’t let them get you down, but learn from them. It is important to recognise your successes and keep your failures in perspective.

The Rules of Assertion

 Dr C J Williams has identified rules for assertiveness based on basic human rights that give us dignity as individuals. By not allowing your rights to be violated you are not being selfish but maintaining your self-respect.

As well as being aware of your own rights, if you respect other people’s rights you have the foundation for assertive communication.

The TEN Rules are:

I have the right to:

  1. Respect myself – who I am and what I do.
  2. Recognise my own needs as an individual – that is separate from what is expected of me in particular roles, such as: son, daughter, girlfriend, boyfriend, brother, sister, student.
  3. Make clear “I” statements about how I feel and what I think. For example, “I feel very uncomfortable with your decision“.
  4. Allow myself to make mistakes. Recognising that it is normal to make mistakes.
  5. Change my mind, if I choose to.
  6. Ask for “thinking it over time”. For example, when people ask you to do something, you have the right to say “I would like to think it over and I will let you know my decision by the end of the week“.
  7. Allow myself to enjoy my successes, that is by being pleased with what I have done and sharing it with others.
  8. Ask for what I want, rather than hoping someone will notice what I want.
  9. Recognise that I am not responsible for the behavior of other adults.
  10. Respect other people and their right to be assertive and expect the same in return.

Start small. Your behaviour won’t change overnight. As a starting point, focus on one behaviour characteristic you would like to change and practise in a safe environment. For example, if you decided you would like to be more open about your views during discussions, you could start with a topic that you know well and initiate a discussion about it with a friend.

A word of caution

Remember not to go too far. If you become too assertive, you may begin to stop listening to others despite them having good ideas. This will only act to alienate your colleagues and damage relationships. A little assertion at the right time can be a highly effective way of developing your profile and self-esteem. Good luck.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!


  1. andrew mutyavaviri says:

    How does one handle irrelevant nd sometimes critical comments during say a does one deal assertively w complaints.cud.i.possibly.say assertivenes involves compromise or just and sticking to yo.word?can one be manipulated assertively.can one.cope with other pple by fight flight or verbl assertiveness.sometimes pple walk allover us coz we aint assertive enough

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