31 Effective Communication


Assertiveness is an honest and appropriate expression of your feelings, thoughts, wants and needs.  Acting in an assertive way helps you to stand up for your rights in a respectful manner. It is a way to communicate what you believe, what you want and need, and what is important to you.

Learning to Be More Assertive

People often associate the concept of assertiveness with standing up for your rights when you feel that someone has taken advantage of you in a negative way.  However, it is also important to recognize that being more assertive can help you to communicate in a positive way in your relationships, which helps to promote mutual respect.

Assertiveness can help you:
  • speak up when you have a question or concern,
  • say “no” when you don’t want to do something, and
  • express thoughts or feelings
Will you always get what you want or need?
Communicating assertively does not guarantee that you will get what you want or need.  However, you will have the satisfaction of expressing yourself in a positive, self-advocating way. You will probably feel better about yourself and your communication with others.  And, you will increase the probability of getting what you need or want, while also respecting the wants or needs of others.

Aggressive, Assertive and Non-Assertive Behavior

Aggressive behavior often means standing up for yourself in ways that violate the rights of others. Aggressive behavior can be demanding, hostile, and blaming.

Non-Assertive behavior is often submissive, inhibited, passive, and self-denying.

Assertive behavior involves expressing your wants, needs, thoughts and/or feelings while respecting the rights of others.

What keeps people from speaking up in an assertive way?
  • Not being clear about what they want and need
  • Fear of displeasing others and of not being liked
  • Not believing they have the right to be assertive
  • Lacking the skills to effectively express themselves

“I” Statements vs. “You” Statements

“I” statements can help you focus on and be clear about your own thoughts and feelings, and what it is that you want or need.  They may also involve an acknowledgement of the thoughts/feelings/goals of the other person.

The real focus in “I” statements is on the “I feel,” “I want,” or “I think” part of the statement.  Identifying your thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants related to a situation will help you to avoid blaming someone else or getting

caught up in the emotion of the moment.

“You” statements, on the other hand, tend to place blame or criticize the other person.  This typically puts the other person on the defensive, and does not encourage open communication.

For example, saying “I feel worried when you are running late to meet me for dinner and don’t call to let me know” (I statement) vs. “You are always running late, and never bother to let me know” (You statement) will likely result in two very different reactions and conversations!  The first statement simply expresses how the person is feeling, whereas the second statement sets a critical and accusatory tone.


To become more skilled in communicating assertively it is important to practice.  You won’t learn how to become a more assertive person just by reading one book or attending one workshop.  You can practice with your friends and family. Let them know what you are doing first!  Ask for help/feedback on how you’re doing.

Start Gradually
In the beginning, don’t try changing your behavior in the most complex or difficult situations.  Practice first in the least risky ones.
Some examples:
  • Returning a purchased item (that you are not satisfied with) to a store for a refund
  • Asking your partner/roommate/kids to help empty the dishwasher or take out the garbage
  • Suggesting a movie that you would like to watch for an upcoming movie night

If you start small to enhance your chances of success, you will experience how it feels to express yourself assertively and it will be easier to move on to more challenging situations.

Keep in mind:
  • No one can read your mind– focus on expressing and communicating what is important to you.


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