The first step in any effort to be more assertive is
an inner step -- recognizing your own needs and desires. This is obvious
when stated, but often overlooked in real life. Getting in the habit of
checking, really checking, your honest thoughts, feelings, wants, and
needs is essential in effective assertive behavior. It is very easy to
get in the habit of acting today as you acted on previous occasions, yet
you might choose a different action if you ask yourself, What do I
really want right now? If you can be honest with yourself, you are
ready to be honest with others.
To be actively assertive, you must make a clear and direct statement of
your needs or desires or anything beyond what feels safe. A clear and
direct statement that opens a conversation is enough. Assertiveness requires
interaction with others; it is not simply a monologue of demands. Your
initial statement, and all the statements that make up a conversation,
need to be honest, direct, and straightforward.
Of course, stating your needs or desires is not a guarantee that they
will be fulfilled. So besides learning how to state your needs and desires
to others, it is just as important to learn that you do not have to go
along with others when they state their needs or desires. Learning to
say no means learning what you really want as well as being willing to
take a stand. And since you are not alone in this world, you need to learn
to balance your own needs with the needs of others.
So the essence of assertiveness is learning who and what you are and,
at the same time, expressing who and what you are. You need both to become
One of the primary characteristics of assertive behavior is awareness
of others' needs. People like to be listened to. More than that, they
need to be listened to. When others know that you listen to them,
they are more likely to listen to you. An essential strategy of being
assertive is to communicate your understanding of the other person’s point
of view through such techniques as parroting, paraphrasing, and interpreting.
Another useful assertiveness technique is the "endless tape."
To use it, you simply state your specific, reasonable demands or desires
repeatedly to overcome the other person’s multiple excuses and refusals.
As you experiment with these techniques, you gain a deeper understanding
of the individual you are talking with at the moment as well as enhancing
your understanding of human nature in general.
Your body language is extremely important in your attempt to be assertive.
An assertive voice is clear and strong. An assertive posture is erect
but not rigid: head up, back straight, body relaxed and poised. Make eye
contact, and maintain a friendly expression. Keep your hands relatively
still. Breath naturally.
A set of basic human rights is the basis for assertiveness training. While
these may not be as well known as the rights expressed in the Constitution,
they are as fundamental. You may find it helpful to call one or more of
these to mind as you struggle with being assertive in a particular situation.
- You have the right to be treated with respect and to maintain your
dignity in every situation.
- You have the right to want or to do anything you please, as long as
you are not hurting anyone or violating anyone else’s basic human rights.
- You have the right to state your desires and opinions in any situation
(without expecting that others must satisfy them).
- You have the right to be yourself all the time.
- You have the right to discuss situations with others involved.
- You have the right to make your own decisions how and when you want,
free from interference and oppression imposed by others.
- You have the right to give up any of these rights for whatever period
of time you want, without penalty or loss of future rights. And remember,
everyone else is entitles to this same set of basic human rights. Your
rights need to coexist with the rights of others.
Excerpted from Assertiveness for Career and Personal
Success by Jeanie Marshall. © 1993, American Management Association
Inc. To find out more about this self-study, click