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Assertiveness is a communication style which involves standing up for your personal rights by expressing your thoughts, feelings and beliefs in direct, honest and appropriate ways.

Imagine you drop something valuable on the ground and another person stands on it and refuses to move. If you do nothing and walk away, this is being passive. Being passive can leave you feeling angry, regretful, sad, and weak. If you are aggressive and attack the other person violently, they may move and you may get your valuable item back, but you can be left feeling guilty, angry, hurt, and sad. Worse, the other person may attack you back and the situation could become worse. Being assertive however, would be like gently, but firmly, moving the other person off your valuable item. Being assertive is good because you do not hurt the other person and you try to get what you want.

Being assertive means that when you talk to others you are polite, direct, honest and persistent.

An advantage of using assertive behaviour means your needs, wants and feelings are more likely to be understood. Assertiveness uses a communication style that can reduce conflict and improve your personal and work relationships and build your self-confidence. When you make the decision to be assertive, it allows you to feel in control of your own life and have a better chance of getting what you really want.

This sounds simple, but it can be very difficult as often you have strong feelings when you need to be assertive. If you want to be assertive in difficult situations and relationships, start by being assertive today in easy situations and relationships.

What to do

By following a few simple suggestions, you can learn some skills to be more assertive in your life with friends, family, university staff and work colleagues.

  • Commit to practising assertiveness rather than being aggressive or passive.
  • Practise talking in an assertive way, alone or with a friend.
  • Respect the wants, needs and feelings of others, and accept that their viewpoints may be different to yours.
  • Tell the other person honestly how you feel, without making accusations or trying to make them feel guilty.
  • Use assertive language such as ‘I feel…’ and ‘I think…’, which explains how you are feeling.
  • Avoid using aggressive language such as ‘You always…’ and ‘You…’, which puts blame on the other person and can escalate the conflict.
  • Don’t interrupt the other person when they are talking. Give them your full attention and understand their point of view.
  • If the exchange does not go well, learn from the experience and plan how you will do things differently next time.

Getting support

Deakin Counselling Service can support you to develop assertive communication skills. You can also learn how to communicate online and work in groups on the Deakin website.

The Government of Western Australia also provide resources on their website to assist you to become more assertive, including a self-paced workbook.

More help and advice

ReachOut provide information on communication skills, confidence and 3 steps to better communication.

Contact us

Make a free and confidential counselling appointment.

In an emergency or after-hours, call Lifeline telephone counselling 13 11 14.