Learn Assertive Communication In Five Simple Steps

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Assertive communication can strengthen your relationships, reducing stress from conflict and providing you with social support when facing difficult times. A polite but assertive ​"no" to excessive requests from others will enable you to avoid overloading your schedule and promote balance in your life. An understanding of assertive communication can also help you handle difficult family, friends, and co-workers more easily, reducing drama and stress. Ultimately, assertive communication empowers you to draw necessary boundaries with people that will allow you to get your needs met in relationships without alienating others and without letting resentment and anger creep in. This helps you to have what you need in relationships while allowing your loved ones to have their needs met too, to the greatest degree possible. Although many people equate assertive communication with conflict and confrontation, assertiveness actually allows people to be closer.

The challenge with assertive communication is that it takes some education and a little practice, particularly for those who weren't taught assertive communication growing up. Many people mistake assertiveness for aggressiveness, but assertiveness is actually the balanced middle ground between aggressiveness and passivity. Aggressiveness leads to hurt feelings and fractured relationships while passivity leads to stress and resentment, and sometimes even lashing out in the end. Learning to speak assertively enables you to respect everyone's needs and rights--including your own--and helps you to maintain boundaries in relationships while helping others feel respected at the same time.

The following assertive communication steps can help you to develop this healthy communication style and relieve stress in your life in the process.

Here's How:

1. Be factual, not judgmental, about what you don't like.

When approaching someone about the behavior you’d like to see changed, stick to factual descriptions of what they’ve done that has upset you, rather than using negative labels or words that convey judgments.
Here’s an example:

Your friend, who habitually arrives late for your plans, has shown up twenty minutes late for a lunch date.

Inappropriate: "You’re so rude! You’re always late."
Assertive Communication: "We were supposed to meet at 11:30, but now it’s 11:50."

2. Be accurate (don't judge or exaggerate) about the effects of this behavior.

Being factual about what you don't like in someone's behavior (without overdramatizing or judging) is an important start. The same should be done in describing the effects of their behavior. Don’t exaggerate, label or judge; just describe:

Inappropriate: “Now lunch is ruined.”
Assertive Communication: “Now I have less time to spend at lunch because I still need to be back to work by 1 pm.”

3. Use “I Messages.”

Simply put, if you start a sentence off with “You...”, it comes off as more of a judgment or as an attack and puts people on the defensive. If you start with “I,” the focus is more on how you are feeling and how you are affected by their behavior. Also, it shows more ownership of your reactions and less blame. This helps to minimize defensiveness in the other person, model the act of taking responsibility, and move you both toward positive change.
For example:

"You Message:" “You need to stop that!”
"I Message:" “I’d like it if you’d stop that.”

4. Put it all together with this formula.

Here’s a great formula that puts it all together:

“When you [their behavior], I feel [your feelings].”

When used with factual statements, rather than judgments or labels, this formula provides a direct, non-attacking, more responsible way of letting people know how their behavior affects you. For example:

“When you yell, I feel attacked.”

5. List behavior, results, and feelings.

A more advanced variation of this formula includes the results of their behavior (again, put into factual terms), and looks like this:

“When you [their behavior], then [results of their behavior], and I feel [how you feel].”

Here are some examples:

“When you arrive late, I have to wait, and I feel frustrated.”

“When you tell the kids they can do something that I’ve already forbidden, some of my authority as a parent is taken away, and I feel undermined.”


  1. Make sure your body reflects confidence: stand up straight, look people in the eye, and relax.
  2. Use a firm, but pleasant, tone.
  3. Don’t assume you know what the other person’s motives are, especially if you think they’re negative.
  4. When in a discussion, don’t forget to listen and ask questions! It’s important to understand the other person’s point of view as well.
  5. Try to think win-win: see if you can find a compromise or a way for you both get your needs met.
  6. Read more about healthy communication techniques and conflict resolution mistakes to avoid
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