Santa Clara University

Wellness Center



Do you often find that others coerce you into thinking their way? Is it difficult for you to express your positive or negative feelings openly and honestly? Do you sometimes lose control and become angry at others who don't warrant it?  A "yes" answer to any of the above questions may be an expression of a common problem known as "lack of assertiveness."

What is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings, opinions, beliefs, and needs directly, openly and honestly, while not violating the personal rights of others. Assertiveness does not in any way means being aggressive. Aggressive behavior is self-enhancing at the expense of others. It does not take other individual's rights into consideration.

What Assertiveness is Not
Many students seem to confuse assertive behavior with aggression. Aggression is self-enhancing behavior at the expense of others. Your classmates, friends and associates feelings are ignored, violated and not taken into consideration when interacting with them. Furthermore, as a result of aggressive behavior, they feel hurt, humiliated, angry, and revengeful.

What Will Assertiveness Do for You?

  • Develop your communication skills.
  • Allow you to feel self-confident.
  • Increase your self-esteem.
  • Help you to gain the respect of others.
  • Improve your decision-making ability.

Assertiveness Rights
Assertiveness basically means the ability "to express your thoughts and feelings in a way that clearly states your needs and keeps the lines of communication open with the other" (The Wellness Workbook, Ryan and Travis). However, before you can comfortably express your needs, you must believe you have a legitimate right to have those needs. Keep in mind that you have the following rights:

  • The right to decide how to lead your life. This includes pursuing your own goals and dreams and establishing your own priorities.
  • The right to your own values, beliefs, opinions, and emotions -- and the right to respect yourself for them, no matter the opinion of others.
  • The right not to justify or explain your actions or feelings to others.
  • The right to tell others how you wish to be treated.
  • The right to express yourself and to say "No," "I don't know," "I don't understand," or even "I don't care." You have the right to take the time you need to formulate your ideas before expressing them.
  • The right to ask for information or help -- without having negative feelings about your needs.
  • The right to change your mind, to make mistakes, and to sometimes act illogically -- with full understanding and acceptance of the consequences.
  • The right to like yourself even though you're not perfect, and to sometimes do less than you are capable of doing.
  • The right to have positive, satisfying relationships within which you feel comfortable and free to express yourself honestly -- and the right to change or end relationships if they don't meet your needs.
  • The right to change, enhance, or develop your life in any way you determine.

How to Develop Assertive Skills

  • Be direct, honest, and open about your feelings, opinions and needs. State reasonable requests directly and firmly. State your goals or intentions in a direct and honest manner. State your point of view without being hesitant or apologetic. Being responsible for your own behavior will let you feel good about yourself.
  • Do not let your friends, classmates etc impose or reinforce their behaviors, values and ideas on you. Instead, let them know what you think, feel and want.
  • Be honest when giving and receiving compliments. Never put down a compliment and don't feel you must return one.
  • Learn to say no to unreasonable requests. Use the word "no" and offer an explanation if you choose to. Do not apologize and do not make up excuses. Paraphrase the other person's point of view. This will let he/she know that you hear and understand the request.
  • Avoid "why" questions. " Why" questions allows the listener to be defensive.
  • Recognize and respect the rights of your friends, classmates, roommates etc. For example if you are upset with them use "I" and "we" statements to express your feelings, instead of blaming and finger pointing "you" statements.
  • When communicating with others use an appropriate tone of voice and body posture. Maintain eye contact. Tone of voice should be appropriate to the situation. Stand or sit at a comfortable distance from the other person. Gestures can be used to emphasize what is being said and the word "I" and "we" should be used in statements to convey your feelings. For example, it is more appropriate to say "I am very disappointed that you didn't show up as plan", instead of saying, "Man, you are a jerk".
  • "Own" your voice and your message. Acknowledge that your message comes from your frame of reference, your conception of good vs. bad or right vs. wrong, your perceptions. You can acknowledge ownership with personalized "I" statements such as "I don't agree with you" (as compared to "You're wrong") or "I'd like you to mow the lawn" (as compared to "You really should mow the lawn, you know"). Suggesting that someone is wrong or bad and should change for his or her own benefit when, in fact, it would please you will only foster resentment and resistance rather than understanding and cooperation.
  • Ask for feedback, "Am I being clear?" Asking for feedback can encourage others to correct any misperceptions you may have as well as help others realize that you are expressing an opinion, feeling, or desire rather than a demand. Encourage others to be clear, direct, and specific in their feedback to you.

Other Assertiveness Resources

If you are interested in additional specific techniques for becoming more assertive, some excellent references are:

  • The Assertive Option, A. Lange and P. Jakubowski, Champaign, Illinois: Research Press, 1978.
  • Your Perfect Right, R. Alberte and M. Emmons, San Luis Obispo, California: Impact, 1970.

Sources: (State University of New York at Buffalo (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

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