What Does It Mean To Be Assertive?

Being assertive means being honest about your feelings, your opinions, or even your rights. It does not mean being aggressive in which someone else may feel threatened or disrespected. Being aggressive may result in feeling like a bully and losing important relationships. Being assertive also does not mean being passive in which you are too intimidated to say what you truly feel or believe. Remaining passive in situations that mean a lot to you, can result in feelings of being manipulated, used or disrespected.

Being assertive is just as important when your feelings are positive as when they are negative. For example, politely but firmly saying no to requests for your time or possessions when you cannot offer them without resentment or annoyance is really a favor to the friend who is asking. It avoids a hidden agenda between you which may later damage the relationship and saves you from carrying those negative feelings of resentment. When people trust you to say "no" when you should, they will also trust that your "yes" is genuine and carries no hidden obligation. In addition, when someone offers you assistance or even a compliment, to sincerely say "yes" or "thank you" lets you experience some of the positive regard that others have for you and builds your own base of healthy self-respect and balanced self-care. Openly receiving the gifts of others' assistance or esteem is sometimes a more difficult act of assertion than directly and firmly confronting a situation in which your rights may be violated.


Being assertive requires that you examine the beliefs that prevent you from being honest and direct in situations that affect you. This could be a belief that someone won't like you if you disagree or challenge the situation. Or it could be a belief that you will be miserable if everyone doesn't like you. It could be a fear that someone who has power over you will use it in a vengeful or unfair way if that person gets angry. Of course, you must weigh the realistic consequences of challenging a situation too forcefully. But your position honestly, directly and respectfully is likely to lessen the chance of you feeling manipulated or unfairly treated. Remember that you cannot take responsibility for another person's behavior or response but you can learn to respect yourself enough to speak clearly of your own experience or viewpoint. You might even be afraid that you will lose control and either become aggressive or dissolve in tears. Being assertive is a choice and a skill. No one does it perfectly or always chooses to be assertive even when it would probably be beneficial. Being assertive takes practice and courage. When you learn to be more assertive in more situations, you are likely to feel more free and more confident in more situations.

What Can You Do to Increase Your Assertiveness Skills?

  • Practice open expression of your feelings.
  • Communicate your views honestly.
  • Demonstrate self-control and respect for the other person.
  • Keep your rights in mind while respecting others' views.
  • Be specific in your statements.
  • Try to go to the source of the conflict or misunderstanding.
  • Use "I" statements to take responsibility for your own feelings or views.

Additional Reading

The Assertive Option, A. Land and P. Jakubowski, Champaign, Illinois: Research Press, 1978.

Your Perfect Right, R. Alberte and M. Emmons, San Luis Obispo, California: Impact, 1970