Overview of Assertiveness

Many college students find it difficult to express their feelings honestly and openly because they do not display assertiveness. This can become a problem when building a relationship, going out in the career world or communicating with friends, family members, and co-workers.

Developing your assertiveness may help you:

  • Develop your communication skills
  • Allow you to feel self-confident
  • Increase your self-esteem
  • Helping you to gain the respect of others
  • Improve your decision-making ability

Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings, opinions, beliefs, and needs, directly, openly and honestly, while not violating the personal rights of others. Assertiveness does not in any way mean being aggressive, which doesn't take other's thoughts or rights into consideration.

More About Assertiveness

Assertiveness is foremost the ability to communicate your thoughts, feelings and opinions in a manner promoting a respectful dialogue. Some examples of assertive communication include “I feeling messages” (to describe the situation, express how you feel, give specific suggestions and suggest compromises or consequences), “basic assertion” such as refusing, accepting or making simple requests (“Thank you but I am not hungry”, “Could you please explain the question?”) and expressing a preference or opinion (“I prefer live music over watching a movie”).

Assertive skills are different from “aggressive” and “passive” forms of communication. A loud or yelling voice, name calling, being demanding or putting someone down are examples of an “aggressive” approach. Most often the other person will feel disrespected, attacked and defensive. Likewise, not sharing your feelings is considered “passive” or non-assertive and the other person may feel excluded from both the opportunity to understand your feelings and how to respond to your concerns. In many situations assertive, aggressive and passive communication styles are not mutually exclusive. They can be appropriate choices used together or alone, depending on cultural norms and situations. However, assertive communication is the preferred approach for successful communication.

Assertiveness can be one of the struggles that international students face. Learn more about adjusting as an international student by reading our health topic on International Students.

What Can Be Done

Develop Assertiveness Skills

The following are suggestions on how to develop assertiveness:

  • Strive to be clear, honest, and open about your feelings, opinions and needs.
  • Do not let your friends, classmates, etc. impose or force their behaviors, values, and ideas on you, instead, let them know what you think, feel and want.
  • Learn to say no to unreasonable requests. Use the word "no" and offer an explanation if you choose to. Do not apologize and do not make up excuses.
  • When communicating with others be aware of your verbal and non verbal communication, for example, don't yell or whisper, and also try to be aware of your eye contact and body posture and make it appropriate for the situation.
Learn the Language of Assertiveness

The following are suggestions regarding the language of assertiveness:

  • Use "I feeling messages" such as “I think... I feel... I want..."
  • Use statements of Personal Reference and Personal Meaning: "This is the way I see it..." "In my opinion..." "This is how I feel..." "This is what it means to me..."
  • Use statements offering compromise
  • Take time to think, know what you want to be different, or think of compromise by asking for time, such as "I'd like to discuss this in an hour"
  • Acknowledge what others are saying, then repeat your views, opinions, needs, etc.
  • Provide feedback--respond to what the other person is saying and ask for clarification before assuming that you know his or her meaning
  • AVOID demanding and blaming statements
Practice Assertive Communication
  • Express simple requests: “May I have a copy of the syllabus?” “Can you (please) direct me to the Financial Aid Office?”
  • Express an opinion, thought or feeling: “I thought today’s lecture was really interesting!” “I felt anxious about the questions on the exam”
  • Combine a simple request with an opinion, thought or feeling: “Professor Jones, I enjoyed today’s lecture but I was (feeling) confused about the math equation. Would you be able to review this equation with me?”
  • Practice expressing more difficult feelings with “I feeling messages" or the DESC approach: Describe the situation, express how you feel,specific suggestions and/or compromises, continued communication or consequences.
  • Be mindful of the appropriate time, place and manner you approach the listener. For example, informing your roommate you would like to discuss something at dinner is better than trying to share your concerns as they head for an exam.
  • Aim for direct, appropriate eye contact when speaking to someone. This can vary with cultures so observing others who appear to be successful with these skills can help. Also, speak clearly and audibly without raising your voice but expression of emotion is normal. Remember, we also communicate by our behavior, facial expressions and voice tone!
  • Create a hierarchy or steps from least intimidating situation to increasingly challenging situations where you may practice your assertive skills. An example may be using a simple request, asking a question at your instructor’s office hour and gaining confidence to follow a comment in class with your affirmation or opinion of what another student just shared.

How We Can Help

SHCS provides acute care, drop-in services, brief individual therapy, group therapy, and referrals for on-going therapy

You can schedule an intake with a counselor at North Hall by calling (530) 752-2349Acute Care drop-in services are available on the first floor of the Student Health and Wellness Center.