Assertiveness is a fine balancing act. It is a skill in communication that can be learned. It requires being honest about your wants and needs without being submissive, while still considering the rights, needs and wants of others. When you're assertive, you are self assured and draw power from this to get your point across firmly, fairly and with empathy.
Distinguishing between assertion, aggressiveness and unassertiveness(Source: Neenan and Dryden, 2016)
When you are being assertive, you recognise that the person you are talking to has rights. You are also trying to achieve an outcome that is beneficial to both sides. This means that you are also recognising your own rights in a situation.
Rights of being assertiveness:
- The right to say ‘no’
- The right to make mistakes
- The right to be me
- The right to respect myself
If you are able to have a discussion with somebody while keeping in mind that these rights apply to both you and the other person, you are being assertive.
When you are being aggressive in a conversation you are attempting to ‘win’ at the expense of the other person. This could take a variety of forms, such as speaking in a demanding, intimidating or controlling manner. The belief that to compromise is to lose could stand in the way of becoming assertive.
When you violate your own rights in order to please someone else you may be acting submissively or unassertively. While politeness is a positive behaviour, it can become damaging to our self-esteem when our internal talk is not polite. You may be failing to express your true thoughts and feelings, causing others to easily disregard your rights.
- Remind yourself that different opinions can make conversations great, voicing your view can really add value!
- When you feel anger or anxiety arising within you when engaged in a conversation or discussion, take a deep breath.
- Check in with yourself to make sure that you know what your rights, needs and wants are. Make sure that your viewpoint is compassionate to yourself as well as others – try to negate any hidden motives you might have.
- Voice these needs and wants in a calm manner even though you may have to overcome some considerable difficulty in doing this.
- Two questions to ask yourself now could be:
- Is my intent to offer my opinion to others, or force it on them?
- Is the outcome I am attempting to achieve a compromise, or could it lead to a humiliation of the other person?
- Try to direct the conversation towards a compromise. For example, say ‘I would like it if we tried to find a middle ground so that both of us can be happy.’
- If the other person is acting aggressively, voice that you may feel intimidated or threatened and, again in a calm tone, ask them to see the value of a calm discussion.
- If the conversation becomes too tense, do not see removing yourself from it as a weakness. This takes courage and is often the best way to leave things better off for the future.
- UofG provides resources on learning assertiveness here.
- The Professional Skills Programme (PSP) offered within the College of Social Sciences includes training and information on professional skills. This is a really valuable course that runs several times a year and can be found here
Helpful reading, websites and videos
- Mindtools.com offers concise information on what it means to act assertively, as well as steps towards becoming more assertive.
- Skillsyouneed.com is another website focused on explaining and teaching assertiveness to those interested. Have a browse through these to get a more holistic idea of the concept!
- Verywellmind.com offers 5 steps towards learning how to communicate more assertively.
- Ted talks
- If you are interested in more in-depth reading, one of the best textbooks on the topic of assertiveness is ‘Your Perfect Right’ (Alberti & Emmons, 2001). The perspective of this text is that assertiveness is not just a verbal behaviour, but is rooted in honesty and directness – not what we communicate, but how we do it.
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Nightline is a confidential telephone support and information service run for students, by trained student volunteers run by the Glasgow University SRC. Available every night of term from 7pm till 7am contact them on
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Peer support can best be reached over the Peer Support section of the CaPS website . Check for their weekly drop-in sessions during term time or approach one of the peer supporters in their purple hoodies. Alternatively, you could look into receiving training in assertiveness as part of the peer support training.