Jump start your new assertive communication style!

Sometimes taking that first step is the hardest part when you are trying to do something important. It can be overwhelming to think about and remember everything you must do in order to be assertive. You might be held back by a fear of failure, or a fear that people won’t like the new assertive you. Well, it’s time to stop being afraid and take the first steps toward becoming assertive. The following steps are small, but important, things that will help you succeed in adapting your new assertive communication style.

1. Decide to change
2. Decide what you want
3. Be fair
4. Ask for it in clear statements
5. Know how to say “no”
6. Learn how to listen
7. Take risks
8. Be calm and relaxed
9. Express your feelings openly
10. Give and take praise
11. Give and take criticism (pointing out mistakes)

Let’s take a closer look at the eleven steps to success.

Decide to change. Before you can become more assertive, you must admit you need to change. Most people are more comfortable doing things the way they’re used to doing them. Change is scary and the fear that we experience stops our learning. You can reduce the fear by starting to change in an area where you will have some success right away. Focus on one thing at a time. For example, maybe you want to start by changing the way you communicate with a specific coworker. Start small, and expand your efforts to change over time.


Decide what you want. Many people fail to change because they don’t realize that they actually want to change. Ask yourself, “Am I really happy with myself and my life?” This can be a tough question to answer honestly, but it can open your eyes to see what it is you really want. The only way to change your communication style is to know what you want. If your goal is to handle situations better in the future, you must begin now to get better at how you handle those situations. The key is to make sure you are realistic with your goals. Most unassertive people set themselves up for failure. They make impossible demands. When they fail, they blame themselves. When deciding what you want, ask yourself if it is possible.

Be fair. The most important thing to remember when trying to be fair and still get what you want is that you both must win. You need to be respectful of yourself and others’ feelings. You may need to give a little in order to get a little. To be fair means to listen to all sides of the story. Like a judge in a courtroom, you must talk to all people involved and get all of the facts before making a decision. Treat people fairly, and others will treat you fairly in return.


Ask for it in clear statements. Have you ever been shy about asking for something? You probably mumbled your request and the person you were talking to could barely hear you. Or maybe you worded it in a way that was not very direct, so the person you were asking didn’t understand your request. Assertiveness demands that you send clear messages, both with your words and your body language, or how you look. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it, that is important. Most people will react to your actions more than to your words. For example, not looking at the other person while you are speaking can block everything you are trying to say.

Know how to say “no”. For such a short word, no sure is hard for some people to say. It’s hard, not because of tricky spelling or pronunciation, but because it means you might be letting someone down. Some people would rather put themselves in a bad situation just to avoid disappointing someone else. On the other hand, you should not get into the habit of saying no just because you don’t feel like doing something. Learn to say no only when it helps you get something you want. For example, imagine you’ve got a mountain of work to do today. A friend asks you to take time out to help her. In this situation, you must say no. Explain to your friend that if you take this time you will not be able to get your own work done.

Learn how to listen. When most people think of communication, they think about talking. However, communication is a two-way street. In order to be a good, assertive communicator, you must develop your listening skills as well. Good listening requires you to not only listen to what you are interested in, but also what you aren’t interested in. For example, other people might come to you with problems that are important to them, and they want you to listen.


Take risks. To become more assertive you will have to take some risks. The risks you will take in becoming assertive include:

  • Saying what you believe
  • Saying what you want
  • Stating your needs clearly
  • Stating what is acceptable

To an assertive person, these don’t seem like risks at all, but rather normal, everyday behavior. However, to someone who is not assertive, this seems risky because we believe that others will judge us. Unassertive people have learned that it is wrong or rude to make these kinds of statements. It’s time to unlearn this behavior. Whether you are in charge of leading a group of people, or you just want to start getting what you want, you need to state your feelings and desires clearly and confidently.

Be calm and relaxed. Have you ever found yourself to be angry for no reason? Probably not. If you really stop and think about your anger, you can always find a cause. For many people, anger is the result of stress that has been building up over time. If you find yourself getting angry or worked up easily, that’s a sign that you need to change. One easy change to make in your life is to calm down and relax. The more calm and relaxed you are, the easier it will be for you to clearly and assertively communicate with others. It’s when you are stressed out and overwhelmed that anger tends to rear its ugly head.

Here are a few ways to stay calm and relaxed:

  • Exercise
  • Focus on your breathing
  • Drink a warm beverage
  • Meditate or pray
  • Count backward from ten
  • Get some fresh air

Express your feelings openly. Assertion is impossible until you learn to express your feelings to others. Since people can’t read your mind, it’s the only way others can know how you feel. In order to express your feelings, you first have to work on your self-esteem. If you don’t believe your own feelings are worth sharing, how will you ever believe that other people want to hear about your feelings?


Stop trying to protect yourself from being hurt and start expressing your feelings. Begin by sharing small things, like your feelings about something that happened in the news or something you did recently. Once you feel comfortable, you can share deeper feelings, like how you feel about a person or your feelings about a serious issue.

Give and take praise. Some people have a hard time asking for what they want because they feel like they are bothering the people they are asking for help. One way to make it easier to ask for what you want is to give praise while stating your needs. For example, if you want a friend to help you, try saying, “You really know your stuff. I could really use your help.” When you give praise, it takes the discomfort out of asking and makes the person more willing to help you.

Accepting praise sounds easy enough to do, but you’d be surprised how many people have a hard time accepting praise. You can probably think of someone, maybe it’s even you, who always responds awkwardly to praise. Instead of accepting the compliment, they try to deny or diminish the quality that is worthy of such praise. Being able to give and receive praise shows high self-esteem. The next time someone pays you a compliment or praises you for a job well-done, simply say, “Thank you!”


Give and take criticism. Taking risks is an important part of being assertive. One of these risks is exposing yourself to criticism or judgments about yourself from others. Criticism may or may not be correct. It’s up to you to listen to the criticism, decide if it is fair, and then respond in an appropriate way. Being able to give criticism is as important as being able to receive it. Whether or not your criticism is effective and results in the change that you want is largely dependent on your delivery. First, let’s look at giving criticism.

Remember these tips as you aim to achieve an assertive communication style. Following them will be the first steps you take toward becoming more assertive. Although they may seem small, they are important ways to help you succeed in adapting your new assertive communication style.

This concludes our blog series on Assertion. If you want to learn more about developing or teaching soft skills, sign up for our free Soft Skills 101 webinar!