What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is the art of speaking up for yourself, without avoiding difficult conversations, and without provoking confrontation. To put it another way, assertive is the golden mean between passive people-pleasing, and aggressive rage. 

Most types of ineffective communication swing towards either extreme. At one end of the spectrum are people who can’t say ‘no’, while at the other are people who take every disagreement as a cue for attack.

Assertive communication seeks to assert personal rights, while at the same time accommodating the other person’s point of view; being clear about what you want, while being ready to give the other party something in return.

I made some similar points in a book I once wrote with Roy Johnson, called Influencing People. That book still sells well and a few readers tell me they found the techniques in the book very powerful.

What assertive communication is for

The aims of Assertive communication are:

  • To assert your rights
  • To practice being truthful
  • To express, resolve and clear your emotions (see my post on Emotions).
  • To get some personal need satisfied (e.g. respect, cooperation, improved relationships).
  • To resolve conflict

The five most common mistakes that people make when handling conflict:

  1. Sounding resentful
  2. Blaming people
  3. Being vague about what happened
  4. Being vague about what they want
  5. Getting irritated

Making any of those mistakes means you won’t get what you want. Instead you will most likely have an argument and end by feeling even more frustrated than when you started. You may also end up a bit more lonely than you were before.

How to be assertive

This is a simple process summed up by the mnemonic:


EVEN stands for the Event. Here you need to be clear and factual about what actually happened. For example, say ‘While we were at dinner you told me to be quiet in front of our friendsnotYou’re always humiliating me when we’re out in public.’

COD stands for the  Consequence. Here you need to state a mutual result that you both want, or that neither of you want. For example, say: ‘I’d like to find a better way for us to do the social minefield‘ or ‘Our friends might think we aren’t getting alongnotNow you go and ruin my dinner party!

NEED stands for your Needs – what you want to have happen next. This requires you to be clear about the new behaviors you are asking for. For example, say ‘Next time we are out together and you want to tell me something like that then please tell me in private.’ notWhy can’t you ever learn to treat me right?’

AIR stands for Appreciation – appreciating the other person’s point of view. This could range from appreciating your partner’s intentions, sympathizing with the situation they were in, thanking them for something, or expressing affection, friendship or love.

For example:

Appreciating intentions – ‘I can understand you not wanting me to embarrass myself.

Sympathizing: ‘I get that you have had a tough day and you’re really tired.’

Thanking: ‘First, I want to say thanks for coming tonight. It meant a lot to me.

Expressing: ‘You know, I appreciate you looking out for me”

(Appreciation, by the way, can go anywhere in your statement – at the start, in the middle, or at the end. Personally, I prefer to put it at the start if possible, as that tends to get people’s attention).

When you are done you can invite a discussion, artfully turning the other person’s attention to your stated needs rather than going over what happened.

For example:

Can you think of a better way?’
‘What would work for you?’
‘Would you do that for me

If you practice at first on small grievances and work on up, and practice this process every day – then I guarantee you will get results – and so will the people you most care about.

Next post: I will write about people who won’t play ball – the bullies, manipulators and control freaks. And what to do about them when you use this process.

One thought on “Easy Assertiveness”
  1. This is a really great technique – empowering people with a simple and easy to remember formula is a great way to help them to begin to change their behaviour. I love the way you turn assertiveness into being truthful about your emotions, desires and needs. It’s a more wholesome description than assertiveness and less likely to be confused with aggression.

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