Using assertive language is an important communication skill. Learning how to speak with assertive strength will let you clearly spell out your point of view while respecting the rights and thoughts of others at the same time.

Assertive speaking is the correct balancing point between being too aggressive and too passive. Being assertive can help boost your self-esteem and earn respect from others.

Some people seem to be naturally assertive. But if you tend to be a little more passive, you can become more direct. Or if you are inclined to be aggressive, you can learn to relax your communication style.

Assertive vs passive behaviour

Assertive communication is a necessary tool. It shows you are aware of the rights of others and willing to work on resolving conflicts.

If your communication style is passive, you may seem to be shy, introverted or easygoing. You often say things such as: “I'll just go with whatever everyone else decides.” You avoid conflict at almost any cost.

Why is that an issue? Because the message you are giving others is that your thoughts, opinions, and feelings do not matter as much as those of other people. Essentially, you are giving others permission to ignore your wants and needs.

Also, you might verbally agree with whatever someone else says, but in your heart and mind, the decision doesn’t mesh with your own. You might tell yourself that communicating passively simply keeps the peace and prevents arguments.

But what it actually does is get in the way of authentic truthful relationships. Also, it may cause you internal conflict because your needs will always come second to those of others.

This internal struggle may lead to:

•  Burning anger;

•  Feelings of victimisation, nagging stress and resentment; and

•  Desire to take revenge.

Assertive vs aggressive behaviour

If your communication style can be characterised as aggressive, you might often be seen as a bully who ignores the needs, feelings and opinions of other people.

You may appear arrogant or superior. Very aggressive people intimidate others, and may even be physically and emotionally threatening.

You might think that aggressive communication gets you what you want, but it comes at a high cost. Aggression undercuts trust, friendship and mutual respect. Others may come to resent you, even despise you, causing them to avoid or oppose you.

Behaving assertively (clear, friendly and truthful) can help you:

•  Gain self-confidence and self-esteem;

•  Earn true respect from others;

•  Improve communication;

•  Create win-win situations;

•  Gain more job satisfaction;

•  Understand and recognise your feelings;

•  Improve your decision-making skills; and

•  Create open, honest relationships. 

How to be more assertive

People develop different types of communication based on their life experiences. Your particular style has probably become so ingrained that you are not even clearly aware of it.

Even though people tend to stick to the same communication style their entire lives, you can learn to be more adaptable in how you communicate.

Here are some suggestions to help you become more assertive:

•  Determine your style: Do you voice your opinions or remain silent? Pay attention to the way you react to people. Your style will become clear to you.

•  Use assertive body language: Communication isn’t just verbal. Keep a straight posture, but lean forward a little bit. Make regular eye contact. Maintain a neutral or positive facial expression. Practise in front of the mirror if you have to.

•  Keep emotions in check: Conflict is hard for most people, causing some to get angry and frustrated. Although these emotions are normal, they can get in the way of resolving conflict. If you feel too emotional going into a situation, just take a breather. Then, work on remaining calm. Breathe deeply and slowly. Keep your voice even and firm.

Remember, learning to be assertive takes time, practice and more practice. If you have spent a lifetime silencing or editing yourself, becoming more assertive probably will take a while to put into practice.

On the other hand, if anger leads you to be too aggressive, you may need to use some anger management techniques.


Article by Carolyn R. Smith. Find out more about communication and stress management from