The Counselling Centre



What is Assertiveness?

Do you often find that others coerce you into thinking their way? Is it difficult for you to express your feelings openly and honestly? If so, this may be an expression of a common problem known as "lack of assertiveness."

Assertiveness is the ability to express yourself and your rights without violating the rights of others. Many people feel that attending to their legitimate needs and asserting their rights translates to being selfish. Selfishness means being concerned about only your rights, with little or no regard for others. Implicit in your rights is the fact that you are concerned about the legitimate rights of others as well.

It is appropriately direct, open, and honest communication. Acting assertively will allow you to feel self-confident and will generally gain you the respect of your peers and friends. It can increase your chances for honest relationships, and help you to feel better about yourself and the control you experience in your life. This, in turn, will improve your decision-making ability and possibly your chances of getting what you really want from life.

Assertive 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.
  • The right to not always 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," or "I don't understand.”
  • The right to ask for information or help.
  • The right to change your mind and to make mistakes.
  • The right to like yourself even though you're not perfect.
  • 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.

What Assertiveness Will Not Do

Asserting yourself will not necessarily guarantee you happiness or fair treatment by others, nor will it solve all your personal problems or guarantee that others will be assertive and not aggressive. Just because you assert yourself does not mean you will always get what you want. However, lack of assertiveness is most certainly one of the reasons why you will not get what you want or deserve.

Specific Techniques for Assertiveness


Be as specific and clear as possible about what you want, think, and feel. The following statements project this preciseness:

"I want to..."

"I don't want you to..."

"Would you...?"

"I have a different opinion, I think that..."

“My belief on this is…”

It can be helpful to explain exactly what you mean and exactly what you don't mean, such as "I don't want to break up over this, but I'd like to talk it through and see if we can prevent it from happening again.”

Be direct.

Deliver your message to the person for whom it is intended. If you want to tell someone something, tell this person! Do not tell everyone except for this person, do not tell a group of which this person happens to be a member, and do not just hope that the person “gets the message” without you delivering it!

"Own" your message.

Acknowledge that your message comes from your frame of reference, your conception of good vs. bad or right VS wrong, and your perceptions. You can acknowledge ownership with personalized ("I") statements such as "I don't agree with you" (as compared to "You're wrong").

Ask for feedback.

"Am I being clear? How do you see this situation? What do you want to do?" 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.

Learning to Become More Assertive

As you learn to become more assertive, remember to use your assertive skills selectively. It is not just what you say to someone verbally, but also how you communicate nonverbally with voice tone, gestures, eye contact, facial expression and posture that will influence your impact on others. You must remember that it takes time and practice, as well as a willingness to accept yourself as you make mistakes, to reach the goal of acting assertively.

The Counselling Centre offers individual counselling to help with these issues. For more information, call The Counselling Centre at 420-5615 or drop by our office on the 4th floor of the Student Centre.