Assertive communication will increase your self-esteem as you respond to people and agencies in a competent, capable manner, managing your emotions and maintaining respect for yourself and others. Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings and assert your rights directly, openly, and honestly. When you communicate in an assertive manner, you will have less interpersonal conflict and will reduce some sources of stress in your life.

Examples of assertive behavior include:
  • Standing up for your rights.
  • Asking others to respect your feelings and understand your thoughts about a particular situation.    
  • Responding appropriately when others are offensive, defensive, aggressive, or hostile towards you.
  • Not blaming or attacking.
  • Employing direct and straightforward communication. Not defensive or manipulative.
  • Using "I" statements, expressing your feelings about a situation.

Assertive behavior does not look aggressive or passive. Aggressive behavior appears hostile. The term "in your face" implies crossing boundaries and a forward-leaning, threatening posture. When you are angry, people can read your emotion on your face. Muscles are tensed, the eyes are drawn down, the forehead wrinkled. Eyes communicate anger. An aggressive person is tense, with tight, drawn up shoulders, clenched fists, jaws tight. Passive behavior looks victim-like. When you are passive in a situation, you may look down, not at the eyes of the other person, your posture and shoulders are slumped. You look defeated. In contrast an asssertive person looks confident. Her head is up. She has eye contact. Her posture is erect. Standing tall and assured, she is ready to communicate her truth.

Assertive behavior does not sound aggressive or passive.When you are assertive, your voice is calm, even-toned, with a pitch that is not loud (aggressive) and not soft (passive), but just right. You can be heard, but you are not offensive. The other person is more likely to listen to what you are saying.

Assertive behavior does not feel aggressive or passive. When you are aggressive, your anger is in control. When you are passive, you feel weak, defenseless, powerless, like a victim. When you are assertive, you feel competent, capable, able to take care of yourself and your problems. Assertiveness increases your self-esteem and improves your relationships with other people.

When you communicate assertively, you are more likely to be heard and to get your needs met. Assertiveness is also self-validating. Your standing up for yourself communicates to yourself how important you are. An important note: If you communicate assertively and do not get what you ask for, you still feel better about yourself simply because you stood up for yourself.

Assertiveness is an expression of self-awareness: I feel. I think. I believe. I want. I know. In order to make those statements, you have to be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Then when expressing these, "I" messages communicate effectively. When you use "you" messages, the person you are talking to may feel attacked. It is more difficult to argue or defend against someone's clear expression of her feelings. Use of the "I" helps you stay assertive. Moving to "you" statements implies moving towards aggression, towards an attack.

Wiklund (1995) provides tips for assertive communication in her book Sleeping with a Stranger. Assertiveness requires a combination of verbal, nonverbal and vocal messages.

Saying "no." Some people have a hard time saying "no" and feel powerless in communication. This negatively impacts self-esteem as they doubt their competence and worth. When saying "no":

  • Be brief. Do not give a long explanation of why you are saying "no."
  • Say the word "no." The word "no" has power. Saying "I do not think so" leaves the request open to discussion.
  • Repeat. You may have to say "no" several times. People do not always hear you the first time you say it. Be like a broken record, though, repeat the brief "no" without changing your tone of voice, elaborating, or reacting to the person's not hearing your "no."
  • Shake your head "no." Sometimes women smile when they say "no." They give a double message. Do not smile. Do not nod your head "yes" in an understanding way. Instead, shake your head "no" while saying "no." This will reinforce the "no."
  • Do not say "I'm sorry." Be aware of your use of this phrase. Many women use it frequently as a habit. If you say this when saying "no," the person will think you are open to changing your mind since you may not mean the "no."

Saying "yes." This means the request is reasonable. It is not reasonable just because it works for the other person; it has to work for you. Think about the request and do not give an automatic response out of fear of what the other person may think or feel.

  • Do not give yourself an explanation. If your choice is healthy for you, you do not have to defend it.
  • Think about what you want. Be aware of what your preferences are. Learn about yourself, and make changes as you like. You are the creator of your life. Do not disempower yourself by allowing others to choose for you. 
  • Do not reconsider based on what other people want. Mothers usually spend their lives taking care of other people. Take care of you.

Asking someone for a favor. Some women have trouble asking for help or asking for a favor. You may feel comfortable responding to someone else's request but uncomfortable making your own.

  • Be clear in your communication.
  • Be specific in your request: what you want, what you need, what the other person can do for you.
  • You also do not have to bribe someone to help you. Just ask.
  • You will want to give the person time to think about your request.
  • Do not apologize for asking.

See Open Communication for healthy communication in family.


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