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Assertiveness and Life Success

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This article is about using assertive behaviour to improve your relationships at work and in your personal life, and it can promote better mental health by reducing the stress that we can all experience when dealing with other people.

Assertiveness can be truly life changing and all it takes is an understanding of assertiveness and some time to apply it until it becomes natural.

Read on to learn more about assertiveness, and please do let me know how you get on.


What is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is stating clearly what you want, need and feel in a direct and honest way, whilst listening to and respecting the wants, needs, thoughts and feelings of others.

The aim of assertiveness is to satisfy the needs and wants of both parties involved in the situation.

Assertiveness is based on a series of Empowering Beliefs such as:

  • I have needs which can be met and so do other people
  • I have something to contribute and so do other people
  • I can state my point of view whilst maintaining and building on my relationships
  • I have all the resources within me to solve this problem and so does the other person
  • I can refuse this task and still maintain and build on my good relationship with this person
  • The meaning of my communication is the response that I get and if I don't like the response, I can change what I do and say and how I say it
  • I perceive things in a unique way and so does everyone else

Assertiveness is not a method of getting your way and it is not being passive or aggressive, which are described below.

What is Passive Behaviour?

Passive Behaviour means

  • expressing your needs, wants, thoughts, feelings, opinions and beliefs in an apologetic, diffident or self-effacing way and by not being honest.

The aim of passive behaviour is to avoid conflict and to please others by not agreeing with them.

Passive behaviour is based upon the disempowering beliefs such as:

  • the other person's needs and wants are more important that your own
  • you have little or nothing to contribute; the other person has a great deal to contribute
  • to say what you want, need, think etc is somehow rude or aggressive
  • believing that letting others have their own way is somehow polite
  • believing that if you do speak out you will be unpopular or you will cause conflict

What is Aggressive Behaviour?

Aggressive Behaviour means

  • ignoring or dismissing the needs, wants, opinions, feelings and thoughts of others
  • expressing your own needs, wants, opinions, feelings and thoughts in inappropriate ways

The aim of aggressive behaviour is to get your own way and if necessary at the expense of others.

Aggressive behaviour is based on beliefs such as:

  • your needs and wants are more important that other those of other people
  • you have something to contribute but others do not
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Impact of Passive and Aggressive Behaviour on You and Others


Impact of passive behaviour on you:

  • feeling low or depressed about yourself and your capabilities
  • increasing irritation that others get what they want
  • feeling sorry for yourself
  • feeling a victim
  • inability to take responsibility for what you say
  • time wasted in replaying in your head situations that did not go well
  • a lot of "unfinished business"
  • feelings of vengeance
  • filtering for being insignificant
  • a lot of internal tension
  • feeling bitter and disappointed in later life
  • psychosomatic problems from tension, backache, headaches and eczema

Impact of passive behaviour on others:

  • feelings of pity
  • people do not know where they stand with you
  • feelings of irritation that you will not speak your mind or make decisions
  • feeling irritated that they make all the decisions
  • feeling guilty that they have used you
  • less desire to spend time with you

Impact of aggressive behaviour on you:

  • blaming everyone for things that go wrong
  • inability to take responsibility for what you do
  • always filtering for signs of an attack
  • problems with friendships and relationships at work
  • finding yourself isolated
  • high blood pressure
  • feeling powerful
  • feeling in control
  • feeling guilty after being aggressive

Impact of aggressive behaviour on others:

  • people are afraid of you
  • people behave passively towards you
  • feelings of hurt and humiliation
  • feelings of anger
  • people have "unfinished business with you"
  • people develop a growing inability to take initiative
  • people wait for orders to be told by you what you want
  • people quit their jobs or go for internal transfers

The Assertive Choice

When we perceive a threat, we are hard-wired to either run or fight. This is called the fight or flight response.

Fight or Fight Mechanism

Fight or Fight Mechanism

What makes us different from animals is that we have a choice. We can override our gut and choose to act assertively.

You know when you have the option to choose to act assertively the minute you feel fear. Then you can choose to take the Assertive Choice.

The Assertive Choice

The Assertive Choice

Remember that the meaning of all communication is the response that you receive back.

The same sentence can mean something different to everyone that hears it. You may consider the other person has received what you said. If you sense that what you have said has not been received in the way you meant it, check out how it was heard and say it differently so that you are understood. If you don't like the response that you sre getting, change your communication.

Impact of assertive behaviour on you:

  • you get heard
  • people respect what you say
  • you get more information
  • you work more effectively
  • you feel more confident
  • you take responsibility for your behaviour
  • you make better quality decisions
  • you use the ideas of others in a collaborative way
  • you have confidence in others
  • you have less stress
  • you have no unfinished business

Impact of assertive behaviour on others:

  • people know where they stand with you
  • people feel able to talk and give information about themselves and the tasks they are doing
  • other people take more responsibility for themselves
  • some surprise if you are typically passive or aggressive
  • people feel empowered around you
  • your sense of collaboration brings out tremendous potential in others
  • better performance
  • fewer mistakes

The Skills we use when we are being Assertive

To live the definition of assertiveness, you will need to use the following skills:

  • Active listening to give energy to conversations and ensure that the information you give each other is as complete as possible
  • Awareness of the different filters you might be using and the impact these will be having on the information you are allowing yourself to take in
  • Open questions - to get access to all the information that you need without closing down the conversation with questions that indicate your own beliefs
  • Instead of saying "don't you think we should do this?", say "how do you think we should do it?"
  • Curiosity because you know that we all see things differently and difference is what give competitive edge
  • Creating and maintaining rapport by stepping into the other person's "Map of the World"

Communication is a Two-Way Process

Remember being assertive is not a magical process whereby you say "x" and you always get "y".

The people you are talking to are a vital component in the success of a communication and even though you believe you have acted assertively they may perceive it differently.

Remember that the meaning of the communication is in the response that you get.

In life, we want to develop and maintain relationships. Acting assertively is not enough. It is vital to check the response that you get and if you sense that what you have just said has somehow upset momentarily you relationship with the other person it makes sense to check it out.

The following questions can be very useful to do this:

  • what do you think of that now?
  • what do you think about what I've just said?
  • How do you feel about that?

Recognising Assertive, Passive and Aggressive Behaviour


Verbal Signs

short sentences, no extra words, use of "I" without emphasis on the "I", fluent speech

excessive use of "I" with emphasis, use of "you should", very firm, sarcastic

use of peripheral words such as "I wonder if you could possibly spare...", hesitant, stutters, use of "I should", put downs aimed at self


even, indicating genuine feelings

sharp, voice loud

very quiet, could be monotone, voice might trail off as conviction drains

Non-verbal signs

open body language, standing square, sitting upright, use of open hand gestures, direct eye contact but not staring, open face, smiles when pleased and frowns when angry

pointing, invading other's body space, arms crossed, staring, direct eye contact, scowl, chin thrust forward, jaw tense

little eye contact, looks down, ghost smiles when being criticised, hunched, wringing hands, hand covering mouth, fiddling with hair or objects, body turned away

Assertive Language


  • What do you think?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • Tell me what else you think...
  • That's a great idea, I never thought of that...


  • That's interesting, tell me more about that....

Making Statements:

  • Use of "I" with no particular emphasis on the "I"
  • I will do that....
  • What I think will work even better...
  • I am not sure about that because....

Giving Feedback:

  • What I liked was....
  • What I would prefer would be...
  • What I think could add to it is.....
  • How about....
  • Would you like to....
  • Have you considered doing it this way?

Saying how you feel:

  • I feel really confused, can we go over that again?
  • I am having difficulty taking all of this in, shall we have a short break?
  • This is terrific. I feel really excited about this project now.

Expressing anger - using emotion and reason:

  • I feel irritated because... (this is different from "you make me annoyed", which is aggressive)
  • We agreed that the meeting would start at 10, so I am annoyed that you are only arriving now. What happened?

The Benefits of Assertive Behaviour

  • Disagreements are resolved openly and as soon as they arise
  • Solutions are more creative because both parties can build on the suggestions of the other rather than pushing for their own idea
  • You feel more confident
  • Others feel more confident
  • Fewer disagreements because people talk over issues with genuine curiosity for what the other person is going to say

Remember that the meaning of the communication is the response that you get

Passive Language

Long-winded statements:

  • Maybe, perhaps, possibly...
  • Well....sort-of...
  • I wondered if perhaps you might be able to...

Apologies and justifications:

  • I am sorry to trouble you, but....
  • Please forgive me but...
  • I hope you don't mind but...
  • I wouldn't normally say something but...
  • It isn't me who is asking for this....

Criticising yourself:

  • I'm no good at this
  • I always get this wrong...
  • I should have...
  • I ought to have....
  • Take no notice of me..


  • I don't mind really....
  • You decide....
  • Whatever you choose...

The Results of Passive Behaviour

  • You lose
  • You are a victim and wait to be rescued by others
  • Self pitying
  • Does not know what s/he wants or needs
  • Unlikely to get on
  • Miss opportunities and watch others get them instead
  • May become bitter and resentful in later life

Aggressive Language


  • "The way I see it is..." with heavy emphasis on the "I"
  • I think it should be done like this

Telling others what they can and cannot do:

  • You should....
  • You ought....
  • You shouldn't.....
  • No one can....
  • Everyone should...

Using questions that imply blame:

  • Why did you do it like that?
  • What on earth is the point of that?
  • Couldn't you see what a mess you were making?
  • Can't you understand?
  • Are you so stupid?

Critical feedback:

  • I think that is a complete mess you've made there
  • I don't like the way you did that at all
  • You are useless at this
  • You are hopeless
  • It's your fault

No sense of personal responsibility:

  • You made me do this
  • You make me so angry

Self praise:

  • I don't have problems with him
  • I am quite capable of doing it alone

The Results of Aggressive Behaviour

  • You win arguments
  • You lack information
  • You make disastrous mistakes and then cover up for them or blame others
  • You are disliked and feared
  • You are ostracised
  • You are seen as uncaring
  • You are considered a know-all
  • You get people annoyed
  • You are limited by your own ability


The beliefs we hold about ourselves and others will directly affect how we behave.

Beliefs can be about who you are and about what you are capable of.

Here is a table of beliefs that might underlie each of the three types of behaviour


- attack is the best form of defence

- my opinions don't count

- I am capable of good ideas and so are other people

- aggression gets results

- I will lose friends if I say what I think

- I can change if I want and so can others

- people like someone who speaks their mind

- it is best not to rock the boat

- I am responsible for my own behaviour

- others cannot be trusted

- some things are best left unsaid

- I am responsible for what happens to me

- I should give as good as I get

- keep a low profile when things heat up

- I know that assertiveness is the way to build relationships

- other people should stand on their own two feet

- other people are more important than me

- s/he had no right to ask me

The Belief-Behaviour Cycle


What you believe about yourself will determine how you behave towards others. This will give you a certain result and experience that will reinforce your beliefs.

Let's say you believe that you have no influence at work. In meetings you do not contribute even though you might have loads of ideas. Result? Your ideas are not used and your reinforce your belief that you have no influence at work! We are very clever at reinforcing our beliefs!

How We Interpret Situations

Our beliefs affect how we interpret the situations we get involved in. Let's say you believe that your ideas are no good. In a meeting, you put them across in a mumble and as a result your ideas do not get a fair hearing.

Because you believe your ideas are no good you will be looking out for evidence to support your belief. You have predetermined the outcome you will get by the belief that you have.

Conversely, if you believe that everyone in the group will be incredibly enthusiastic about your idea you will look for evidence to support that belief.

Empowering Beliefs

Since beliefs have such a powerful impact on our behaviour it is a good idea to keep in mind some empowering beliefs.

These empowering beliefs will ensure that in any given situation or conversation you are able to use all your communication skills to stay assertive and constructive in your behaviour and build on the relationships you have.

Here are six examples of empowering beliefs:

  1. I can state my point of view whilst maintaining and building on my relationships
  2. I have all the resources with me to solve this problem and so does the other person
  3. My behaviour, no matter how bizarre is the best choice available to me at this time and given the way I see the world - this is true for other people too
  4. I can refuse this task and still maintain and build on my good relationship with this person
  5. The meaning of my communication is the response that I get and if I don't like the response I can change what I do and say and how I say it
  6. I perceive things in a unique way and so does everyone else

Want to Learn Advanced Assertiveness?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Mr Singh

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