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Assertiveness Training: How to Stand Up For Yourself Without Being Aggressive

Cain Parish

In This Article:

In a world that values effective communication, mastering the skill of assertiveness is crucial. Assertiveness training empowers you to express your thoughts, needs, and boundaries with confidence and respect, without resorting to aggression. This article delves deep into the realm of assertiveness training, providing insights, strategies, and practical advice to help you navigate various scenarios while maintaining your dignity and relationships.

A smaller person standing up for themselves with roots into the ground next to an assertive larger person.

Learning how to stand up for yourself without being aggressive is about finding the right balance between being passive and aggressive in your communication. This skill allows you to express your opinions, defend your boundaries, and advocate for your needs while still respecting the perspectives of others. By mastering assertiveness, you can enhance your personal and professional relationships and boost your self-esteem.

That, at least, is the dictionary definition for why you’d want to be assertive. The shortest possible answer is that assertiveness is a skill you don’t need all the time, but is mandatory to have in your toolbelt. For some, it can be a personality trait or a value. For others, it’s an occasional tidbit they use to enforce boundaries or demonstrate their place in a hierarchy.

What Is Assertiveness?

To be completely clear, when I talk about being assertive, all I’m referring to is the ability to say what you want, when you feel the need to say it. The number of scenarios worth being assertive in can be far more complex than that short summary, but essentially, when I talk about being assertive, it’s the difference between speaking your mind and not.

It’s also not the same as conflict or aggressiveness. At times, you may want to assert yourself in an aggressive manner, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the default. You can clearly and calmly state feelings or thoughts in an assertive manner.

Some examples include standing up for your rights in a workplace, speaking out against questionable behaviour in a friendship or relationship, or re-iterating a preference in a restaurant. If you can’t imagine the idea of sending food back when it comes out incorrectly, I suspect this article might be for you.

Asserting yourself is a trainable practice, like many other soft skills that fall under the umbrella of communication. It can be broken down into two main parts. Firstly, understanding how to assert oneself. Confrontation can be good in small doses, but when used inappropriately just creates friction and miscommunication. You need to have a keen understanding of how to communicate your feelings clearly, concisely and confidently.

Secondly, you need to know where and when to assert yourself. It’s all fine and good having confidence and an understanding of how to manage it, but if you just start blasting off in the middle of every social situation, nobody is going to want to invite you to their birthday party. Your ability to distinguish when you’re being dismissed or minimised and determine a need for you to assert yourself is entirely critical.

These two components form the building blocks of being able to assert yourself. We’ll cover them in some more detail here.

How To Be Assertive

First, the technique. As with any soft skill, your goal should be congruence. You don’t want to be putting on a false persona or acting in a way that doesn’t feel authentic or come naturally. You don’t need to shout, brag or posture in a confrontational manner to be assertive, although those things can be found in many assertive people. 

What you do need to be able to do is to concisely assess the situation before you and communicate your feelings or thoughts in a clear manner. This can take many forms, and you may have to try a number of them before you’re able to find the methods that feel authentic to you. Some people choose to be aggressive, finding that a confrontational style works for them, either to compensate for an unassuming stature or personality, or to compliment an otherwise violent and aggressive nature.

Other options include being calm and literal, saying exactly what is on your mind without filler words like ‘um,’ ‘like,’ or making excuses for yourself. You could also choose to be light and personable, using humour or breezy observations to guide people to the conclusions you’re trying to draw. You’ll find that the exact words you use are not as important as your tone, your general demeanour, and the way you choose to integrate it into your personality.

Having said all that, people generally respond more significantly to confrontation. The calm or humorous approach can be great if you have the force of personality or the clout for people to listen to you already, but if you’re in a situation where you’re not being taken seriously at all, you may need a more confrontational approach. It’s a tradeoff between how loudly you want to assert yourself and how organically you want to integrate into a situation. Aggressiveness is noticeable, but often leads to a break in conversation or general awkwardness.

If you tend towards the softer approaches, try and acknowledge how much success they’re creating for you. You might instinctively reach for a more timid method of assertiveness, to try and avoid having to be truly confrontational, but if you’re already struggling to be noticed or taken seriously, timid might not be the solution to your problems. Try to continue working on it, and putting effort into iterating on your approach.

When To Be Assertive

Thankfully, the when is a lot easier than the how. The question you have to ask yourself is; “Am I currently being minimised, steamrolled or otherwise not having my thoughts or feelings acknowledged?”. If the answer is yes, the situation will likely benefit from you being more assertive. 

You can probably find some examples from your own life where people around you have not taken you seriously or you’ve found it difficult to interject with your true thoughts or feelings. If you’re a shy person that prefers to people please or minimise conflict, you’re at a higher risk for this than most. 

There are situations in which being assertive is not worth rocking the boat, but these are fewer and further between than you might think. Clinging onto the idea that you’re benefiting yourself by not making waves is only going to get you the same results you’ve always had. Better to learn to assert yourself in 95% of your life and then find the 5% of exceptions where restraint is a good idea.

Key Strategies for Assertive Communication

1. Understanding Your Rights and Boundaries

Assertiveness begins with recognizing your rights as an individual. You have the right to express your feelings, say no, and ask for what you need. Understanding your boundaries helps you communicate them effectively to others. If your self-image doesn’t recognise that your thoughts or boundaries have intrinsic value, it would be worth doing some work on your relationships and self-esteem to try and allow your subconscious to let you be more assertive.

2. Using “I” Statements

“I” statements focus on your feelings and perspective, making your communication less confrontational. For example, saying “I feel overwhelmed when…” instead of “You always make me overwhelmed.” Framing conversations from your own perspective forces the conversation to be on your terms, which can be intimidating for those not used to being assertive. There is a point at which you can be too selfish, but again, if you struggle with confrontation and being assertive at all, you’re not likely to hit that upper limit any time soon.

3. Active Listening

Listening attentively shows respect and opens the door for constructive dialogue. Repeat what you’ve heard to ensure mutual understanding before expressing your thoughts. Just because you’re asserting your own thoughts or feelings doesn’t mean you have to be selfish or disregard what others think or feel. Take external circumstances into account and learn to read the room. Part of that is calibrating your approach by truly listening to what others are telling you.

4. Fogging Technique

Fogging involves acknowledging criticism without becoming defensive. Respond with phrases like “You might be right” or “I see your point,” maintaining your calmness. Using language to accept that someone has said something valid without conceding ground or agreeing with their premise is a sensational language hack for being able to hold your ground without being conflicting or inviting more confrontation than is necessary. Using a ‘Yes, but so what?’ attitude when someone is dismissing or unfairly criticising you will save your mental health in the long run by not internalising what the other person is saying.

5. The Broken Record Technique

Repeat your point calmly and consistently when faced with resistance. This technique helps you stand your ground without escalating the situation. Just because they’ve responded to you doesn’t mean you have to concede your own point. Their response doesn’t automatically invalidate your feelings or your assertions. If they’ve still not acknowledged you or what you have to say, you can simply repeat yourself. No additional response is necessary until the other person chooses to engage with what you’re telling them.

6. Delayed Response

When caught off guard, it’s okay to say you need time to think. This prevents hasty decisions and allows you to respond thoughtfully. Silence is not a show of weakness, rather it demonstrates control over yourself and the conversation by allowing space and being comfortable waiting before speaking.

Real-Life Applications

1. Assertiveness at Work

In a professional setting, assertiveness helps you communicate your ideas confidently in meetings, negotiate your workload, and address concerns with colleagues or superiors.

2. Assertiveness in Relationships

Assertive communication is vital in maintaining healthy relationships. It enables you to express your needs, resolve conflicts, and ensure both partners feel heard and respected. 

3. Assertiveness in Everyday Life

From dealing with pushy salespeople to setting boundaries with friends, assertiveness training equips you to handle diverse situations without compromising your self-worth.

Conclusion

Assertiveness training is an invaluable skill that empowers you to navigate life’s challenges while maintaining respect for yourself and others. By understanding your rights, mastering effective techniques, and applying them in various contexts, you can stand up for yourself confidently without resorting to aggression. Embrace assertiveness as a path to stronger relationships, enhanced self-esteem, and more fulfilling interactions.

F.A.Q.s

How does assertiveness differ from aggression?

Assertiveness involves expressing your thoughts and feelings while respecting others, whereas aggression disregards others’ feelings. It’s about confidence and control over yourself, rather than trying to influence the other person or the situation by force.


Is it possible to be too assertive?

Yes, being overly assertive might come across as domineering. Balance assertiveness with empathy and active listening. Your external perception plays a large role in the limits of your ability to assert yourself. Pushy people or control freaks often get eyes rolled at them when they try to assert boundaries. If people have a positive association with you, or are invested in your feelings, however, they’ll automatically be much more receptive to you asserting yourself.


How long does it take to master assertiveness?

The timeline varies, but consistent practice and self-awareness are key. Progress may be gradual, so be patient with yourself. Results don’t come all at once, however, so take comfort in the fact that it’s really only up from here. Soft skills compound on each other, but your improvements will come gradually and incrementally.

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About

Cain Parish

Cain Parish is the owner of cainparish.com. A prolific writer, educator and relationship coach since 2019, he specializes in dating, relationships, emotional intelligence and social skills. He is also the author and creator of the world’s largest and most comprehensive database for dating and relationship advice, which can be found on his website. His first book, I’m Sorry I Egged Your House, is due to be published in 2024.

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