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Healthy Communication

Communication Skills: Learning to be assertive

Assertive is defined in the dictionary as “confidently aggressive or self-assured”. Assertiveness is a core communication skill that allows you to confidently express yourself, while also respecting the opinions or views of others. When learning to be assertive, we must first look at 3 different communication styles and choose which one best matches ours. Then, we can determine what changes we must make to improve our communication skills.


Passive behavior involves forfeiting one’s own needs, beliefs, rights, and feelings and allowing others’ needs, beliefs, rights and feelings to come first. Passive people tend to exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Consistently give in to the needs and wants of others at the expense of their own. Even though they may think their needs are important, they tend to act on the needs of others first and their own needs and desires come last.
  • Often feel afraid to give their opinion because they are scared of being embarrassed or made fun of.
  • Usually feel they have little to contribute to a given situation and rely on others to make decisions.
  • “Stuff” their feelings, and do not express them very often or they express them in indirect or inappropriate ways that have little or no impact on situations.
  • Avoid conflict and spend a great deal of time trying to please other people.


This type of behavior involves openly expressing one’s needs, beliefs, rights, and feelings, with little or no respect for other peoples’ opinions, rights and feelings. Aggressive people tend to exhibit the following behaviors:
  • Forcefully express opinions without considering the rights and feelings of others who may have different beliefs.
  • Consistently put their own needs first and disrespect or disregard the needs of others.
  • Have hostile, demanding, or in some way, inappropriate expression of emotion.
  • Impose their own beliefs and values onto others, believing that those who disagree are wrong (this is based on the unwritten rule that it is not OK for others to disagree with them).
  • Often find that they are in conflict with others.


People who exhibit assertiveness understand that they have a right to their needs, beliefs, rights, and feelings, and also acknowledge that other people’s needs, beliefs, rights, and feelings are important and deserve respect. Assertive people tend to exhibit the following behaviors:
  • Express their needs in an appropriate and respectful manner, and balance the fulfillment of own needs with those of others.
  • Value their own opinion, knowing that they have something to contribute. Offer their opinion with the understanding that it may or may not be accepted, and that others may have different ideas which must also be valued.
  • Know that they are entitled to basic rights as human beings, and are confident in exercising them without violating the rights of others.
  • Honestly and directly articulate emotions in a timely, respectful and appropriate manner.
Being assertive helps improve self-confidence and can result in mutual respect from others. It helps us learn to “say what we mean and mean what we say, but we don’t have to be mean when we say it.” Assertive communication is an important building block in healthy relationships. Assertiveness can also reduce stress levels because it decreases the internal struggles associated with passivity and the
external struggles associated with aggressiveness.

How to Become More Assertive

Value Yourself and Your Rights: Gain a good understanding of yourself, as well as a strong belief in your inherent value and your value to your organization and team.

Voice Your Needs and Wants Confidently: Don’t wait for someone else to recognize what you need! Take initiative and start to identify your needs and wants, and make sure they are met.

Acknowledge That You Can’t Control Other People’s Behavior: Don’t accept responsibility for how people react to your assertiveness. You are only in control of yourself and your own behavior, so try to always remain respectful.

Express Yourself in a Positive Way: It is important to say what’s on your mind, even if it is negative or difficult to deal with, just make sure you express it constructively and sensitively.

Be Open to Criticism and Compliments: Accept both positive and negative feedback graciously and humbly. If you don’t agree with the criticism you are given then be prepared to say so without getting angry.

Learn to Say “No”: Protect your time and workload by saying “no” when necessary. You should know your own work limits, and remember that you cannot do everything or please everyone.

Use Assertive Communication Techniques: Use “I” statements, try to recognize and understand how the other person views the situation before expressing what you need, ask for more time to compose your thoughts, use verbs that are definite and emphatic, and be a broken record to ensure that your message gets across.

Becoming assertive won’t happen overnight. It will take repeated practice of these techniques to slowly build the confidence and self-belief that is necessary to be assertive. Once you do, however, you will likely find that you and your team/partner/group will be more efficient, and productive, and more respect will be fostered within your relationships.


TCU Resources

Dean of Students
The Harrison, Suite 1600

Counseling & Mental Health Center
Jarvis Hall, Suite 232
24/7 Counseling Line 817-257-SAFE (257-7233)