Assertive Communication: How to Do It (And Why It Matters)

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Good communication is the cornerstone of good personal and professional relationships. Learn what assertive communication is and how to confidently get your point across in a way that respects both others and yourself.

[Featured Image] An professional practices assertive communication as she speaks to her manager.

Assertive communication is a form of communication through which individuals express their feelings and personal needs directly but respectfully [1]. Researchers have linked assertiveness in communication to improved outcomes in everything from elementary school children's educational success to professional nurses' job satisfaction [2,3]. 

In this article, you’ll learn more about assertive communication, what distinguishes it from other communication styles, and how to become more assertive.  Read on to learn how speaking up respectfully can help you level up your personal and professional relationships and achieve your goals.  

What is assertive communication? Definition, style differences, and examples

Assertive communication is often confused with other forms of communication. In this section, you will learn what assertive communication is and how it differs from aggressive and passive communication. 

Assertive communication definition

Assertiveness in communication is the ability to state your feelings and needs respectfully. An assertive communication style neither shirks from speaking up nor aggressively forces a perspective on someone else. The three Cs of effective communication are direct assertive communication [2]:  

  • Be clear: you communicate straightforwardly and directly state your thoughts and feelings without dressing up your language.  

  • Be consistent: what you say today reflects what you said yesterday, rather than changing daily without explanation. 

  • Be courteous: you respect your listeners and communicate in a manner that doesn’t pass judgement on them or presume ill-intent. 

By maintaining clear, consistent, and courteous communication, assertive communicators can speak up and voice their perspectives without disrespecting others. 

Assertive vs. aggressive vs. passive communication

On the spectrum of communication styles, assertiveness lies between passive and aggressive communication without falling into passive-aggressiveness. 

Aggressive communication occurs when a speaker is concerned with only their perspective and personal goals rather than considering those of their listener. Individuals who exhibit aggressive behaviour often focus on reaching their goals immediately without considering possible long-term negative consequences [2]. Aggressive communicators might succeed in having their voices heard, but they also alienate those around them and negatively impact their success in the long haul.

Passive communication occurs when an individual doesn’t voice their perspective, feelings, or needs and routinely conforms to the preferences of others. Unlike aggressive communicators, passive communicators consider the potential consequences of their communication style but end up sidelining themselves for others. Research suggests that passive communicators might feel depressed, helpless, and tense due to their communication style [2]. 

Assertive communication examples

Assertive communication bridges the gap between aggressive and passive communication. The chart below explains the differences between assertive, aggressive, and passive communication by illustrating different responses to everyday situations. 

ScenarioAggressive responsePassive responseAssertive response
A friend shows up late to a movie you really wanted to see, causing you both to miss it.“You are always late and never think about anyone else but yourself!”“It’s fine. I didn’t want to see it that much anyway!”“I’m really disappointed we missed the movie because I really wanted to see it. Next time, I’d like us to pick a time that works better for your schedule.”
A person cuts ahead in a line you have been waiting in.“What’s wrong with you? I’ve got to be somewhere!”“Don’t worry about it!”“Pardon me, but I have been waiting in line for a while and must be somewhere soon. Would you mind waiting your turn?”
A friend expects you to pay for dinner for the second time in a row.“I always have to pay for you! All you ever do is take!”“I’ve got it, don’t worry.”“It frustrates me that I am paying for dinner again because I have been running low on cash. Next time, I’d appreciate it if you paid for us.”

How to be assertive in communication: tips and examples

Assertive communication is about getting your point of view across to others without causing conflict. While every situation is unique, there are some consistent methods you can use to maintain respectful, assertive communication with others. 

1. Use “I” Statements

“I” statements are a form of communication in which the speaker describes their beliefs and feelings rather than attributing motives to a listener. The opposite of “I” statements are “you” statements, which shift blame from the speaker to the listener through accusatory language.  

A common formula for “I” statements is:

“I feel ____ when ____ because ____. What I need/ want is _____.”

For instance, “I feel sad when you don’t call me back because I want to hear from you. Could you let me know the best time to talk?” 

Using “I” statements allows you to diffuse tension with a listener by offering insight into your feelings. This can help the listener see how their actions made you feel and redirect their focus on solutions rather than projecting accusatory motives for their actions that only further heighten tensions. 

“You” statement“I” statement
“You never clean the dishes!”“I feel frustrated when I come home and find a pile of dirty dishes because I want to come home to clean space. I’d like us to work on it.”
“You are always late!”“I feel disrespected when you show up late because my time is valuable. I want us to use our time well together.”

2. Stick to the facts

When disagreements arise, conversations can occasionally get heated and veer off course. To help keep things civil when you are voicing your perspective to another person, focus on the facts rather than letting your feelings cause you to speculate about the other person’s motives. 

By paying attention to the facts, you focus the conversation on things that can be handled now and work towards solutions that benefit everyone. At the same time, focusing on what you know to be true helps minimise the negative emotions that can arise from speculating about another person’s motives. 

Emotional speculationSticking to the facts
“My meeting was a disaster because you didn’t deliver the report. You’re terrible at this job.”“I wish you had delivered the report to me before the meeting, but I understand you’ve been swamped. I think we should work out a new schedule, so we can support each other better.”

3. Learn to say “No”  

It can often seem much more accessible to say “yes” to more responsibilities than to decline someone’s request for help – even when you know you have other concerns that require your attention. 

Saying “no” to more responsibilities is sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves and our employers. Researchers found that overwork can not only lead to health problems like depression, sleeplessness, and heart disease but also impair judgement and decrease productivity [5]. Ironically, saying “yes” to everything can create more problems than it fixes. 

A good way to decline someone’s request is to say “no” and explain why you can’t help. If the other person attempts to push the issue further, tell them “sorry” and reiterate that you lack time. In some cases, you may also be able to redirect them to another person or an external resource that you feel might be able to help. 

4. Maintain a calm tone

How you communicate a message is often as important as the message itself. As a result, it is essential to maintain a calm tone of voice when asserting your perspective, feelings or needs in conversation with someone else. 

Whether we realise it or not, our tone of voice significantly impacts how others perceive us. According to research conducted by behavioural psychologist Dr. Albert Mehrabian, approximately 38 percent of how others receive our communication is based on our tone of voice [6]; how we sound matters.

To communicate assertively, focus on maintaining an even tone of voice that remains calm and free of aggressive emotions. This technique will convey your message to the listener without exacerbating any tensions. 

5. Be aware of your body language 

Another aspect of how others receive your communication is your body language. Do you close yourself off and turn away when someone is talking to you, or do you open up and give them your undivided attention? 

Our choices with our body language significantly impact how others receive our words. The study mentioned above by Dr. Albert Mehrabian found that 55 percent of how a message is received depends on body language [6]. The way we hold ourselves during communication often speaks louder than words. 

To embody assertive body language, stand tall straight but relaxedly, maintain eye contact, and keep your body open with uncrossed arms. Showing interest with an open demeanour will highlight your respect for them and yourself. 

Next steps

Good communication is the cornerstone of good personal and professional relationships. Suppose you are looking to improve your communication abilities. In that case, you might consider taking the University of Pennsylvania’s short online course on Improving Communication Skills or their longer Achieving Personal and Professional Success Specialisation

Good communication strategies will make you more effective in every aspect of your life – from your workplace to home.

Article sources


APA Dictionary of Psychology. “Assertiveness,” Accessed April 1, 2024.

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