Assertiveness: top tips

How many times have you found yourself in trouble while asking for help, expressing your disappointment to someone or your preferences when making a choice?

Have you ever surrendered to other people’s choices because of guilt or embarrassment? Have you ever acted too aggressively in order to get what you want?

If any of the above applies to you, you might have experienced trouble being assertive.

Assertiveness refers to the ability to be able to express your choices, preferences and critics in an honest and clear way, that respects yourself and other people.

In some instances being assertive can be particularly difficult, especially when close relationships are involved or our performance is at stake. One may be easily scared of not being liked, rejected or negatively judged when expressing a desire or an idea that it is different from the interlocutor’s. Conversely, one may expect other people to think the same way or have the same preferences, therefore not accepting other people’s point of view.

Generally, in social relationships there may be found three different recognisable – and often alternate, depending on the instance – patterns: passive, aggressive or assertive behaviour.

A passive behaviour may imply swallowing emotions, desires or personal preferences as well as adopting someone else’s preferences to please others. Passive people have trouble saying no to people’s requests; they always apologise for every little thing and usually tend to play a passive role in relationships.

Usually, people with a passive behaviour are driven by a fear of upsetting others or breaking their relationship if they express their personal preferences, and are most often afraid of being negatively judged. They might believe that their own preferences are not equally valuable and equally worthy of respect. Predictably, they suffer from low self-esteem issues.

Conversely, people with an aggressive type of behaviour tend to often ignore other people’s point of view and force others to think or act in the way they desire. This kind of behaviour usually brings about relational conflicts.

Contrarily, assertive people are able to express their ideas and feelings in an honest and direct way, while defending their rights and respecting other people’s ones, without experiencing guilt or shame.

How to be assertive?

Assertiveness is not an easy-to-apply skill, as life teaches us that each situation requires a balanced mix of several kinds of behaviour.

Here are some tips that may help you increase your assertiveness skills:

  • Recognise which traits you show more frequently. Do you have a tendency towards passive, aggressive or assertive behaviours?
  • Think about the reasons why you tend to behave in a passive or aggressive way (e.g. fear of negative judgment, low self-esteem issues, etc.).
  • Actively practice assertiveness in your daily life, starting from being honest with yourself about what you want in a relational situation, and ask for it in a clear and respectful way.
  • Please, bear in mind that in the same way as every new skill, assertiveness requires practice. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not getting it quite right yet.
  • Speak to a therapist if you need help to develop or increase your assertiveness skills or the reasons behind your aggressive or passive behaviours are too complex and difficult to cope with.

Communication: why sometimes is it so tricky?


How many times have you found yourself asking: “Why is my boyfriend not getting that?” or “I said X and she understood Y. I don’t understand… I thought it was clear!”

Communication is a fundamental component of our social interactions; but no matter how important it is, it can be a source of misunderstandings and conflicts.

The art of communicating may seem so easy to learn but it can easily get tricky, especially when the content of the message implies feelings, emotions, fears and expectations about relationships. When emotions and delicate issues are involved, it is very easy to communicate in a not-so-efficient way and at the same time to misinterpret what the other person is telling us.

Why does this happen? 

First of all it is important to distinguish between two elements of communication that are always involved in each piece of information we share: non-verbal and verbal communication.

Verbal communication refers to the content of the message that is shared through language while non-verbal communication refers to the information delivered through our body (e.g. the distance from our interlocutor, our body language, etc.) and our paralinguistic (e.g. the tone of our voice, volume, speed, etc.).

Those two elements aren’t always on the same page: many times the two elements are discordant.

I guess that being mad at someone but not wanting to share it with that person happens to everyone; it is very likely that even if the content of our communication was not “aggressive”, our body and our tone of voice were signalling this anger and the other person very likely recognised it.

Scientists showed indeed that the majority of the information is delivered through non-verbal signals and only a very small percentage through verbal ones. This means that when we interpret a message we give much more importance to how the person is delivering it then to the effective verbal content.

Furthermore, communicating emotion-related information in an ambiguous and vague way (e.g. omitting information) may represent another source of misunderstandings. In front of a vague but important communication or when a potential threat is perceived, it is very easy to interpret the message applying our own personal meanings and symbols, especially when we experience intense emotional states. This means that we may apply our own interpretations based on our personal history, on our deepest fears or on our personal beliefs. In these instances the risk of misinterpreting or distorting information is right behind the corner, as well as the risk of consequently behaving in a defensive way, either attacking the interlocutor or maybe leaving the conversation. In each case these reactions worsen the communication process.

Very often many problems in relationships and in couples are triggered by distortions in communication (expressing information or either interpreting it) and in many cases just a few expedients could help preventing misunderstandings.

Either you feel like having often troubles expressing yourself or interpreting what your partner is telling you, don’t worry because communication is an art that can be learnt and improved.

Psychotherapy can help you with this issue, making you learn and experience an assertive style of communication, recognise what are the automatic personal interpretations that you tend to apply and learn how to better manage them.