Office Of Counseling Services

Assertiveness Skills

“What is assertiveness?”

Assertiveness is:

  • A set of behaviors which allows you to express needs, set limits, and state positive and negative feelings.
  • An attitude that acknowledges your own needs and the needs of others. People who are assertive can communicate their own needs and listen to what others are saying as well.
  • An approach to life that allows you to retain or regain control over your own life, and can lead to increased self-esteem.
  • A right to make decisions about your own life.

“I don’t want to be aggressive.”

Assertiveness differs from aggression in fundamental ways. Aggressive people force others to meet their needs by using unpleasant means such as shouting, physical roughness, manipulation, or threats. In contrast, assertiveness is being able to express feelings, ask for something, or set limits without demanding results or intimidating people.

“How can I become more assertive?”

No one becomes assertive overnight. It takes time and practice.

The first step is to identify how you feel and what you need.

  • Identify and label the feeling you are experiencing. For example, do you feel angry, frustrated, hurt, bored, embarrassed, stressed, or anxious? It may be difficult at first to identify and label your feelings if you are accustomed to pushing feelings away.
  • Select the primary emotion that you feel. Some emotions mask other, deeper emotions. For example, some people will feel angry at the surface, but feel hurt or scared underneath.
  • Accurately identify the intensity of the emotion you feel. For example, anger can be felt on a continuum from irritation to mad to furious.
  • Identify what you need from someone. For example, “I need to be heard,” or “I need to say no to that request.”

The next step is to express your feelings and needs to someone else.

  • The basic rule of assertiveness is to express your self honestly and accurately without blaming another person. “I statements” provide a means to express a feeling, thought, or request. An “I” statement typically has three parts.
  • I feel (emotion) when you (behavior). I would prefer that you (alternate behavior).
  • Different situations will require variations on the “I” statements. Sometimes only one or two parts of the “I” statement may be necessary to clearly express yourself.

How to say “No.”

Saying “no” can be one of the most difficult things to say. It is extremely important to learn how to set limits with others. If you allow yourself to do things against your will or judgement, you may end up feeling resentful and used. Some ways to say “no” are:

  • I’d rather not.
  • I can’t do that right now.
  • I’ve promised myself to finish this (paper) right now, so no.
  • No thanks.
  • Not this time.
  • I’m afraid I have to decline.
  • Sorry, but no.
  • Thanks for asking, but no.
  • Nope, can’t do it.

How to ask for something.

Use an “I” statement that contains the word “need” or “want” or its equivalent. For example:

  • I need to be alone for a while.
  • I need help with these math problems. Would you be able to help me sometime?
  • Please be quiet when the professor is speaking because I can’t hear her when you are talking.
  • I want to go home now.
  • I would prefer that you not touch me.
  • I need to talk to you.

How to tell another person something unpleasant.

Feelings such as feelings of anger or hurt can be difficult to share with someone. Use of an “I” statement is particularly useful in this instance. Some examples:

  • I felt hurt and embarrassed that you did not introduce me to your friend.
  • I feel pressured to have sex with you and I’m not ready for that.
  • I felt left out when all of you went out for ice cream and didn’t invite me.
  • I feel annoyed and frustrated when you play your stereo when I’m trying to study.

How to share positive feelings.

Accepting a compliment, telling someone you love him or her, or sharing other positive feelings can be difficult. “I” statements are a good place to start practicing this behavior. For example:

  • I like you a lot.
  • I enjoy your company.
  • I really appreciated your help.
  • Thank you! (when given a compliment)

“How long will it take me to become more assertive?”

Becoming assertive is a lifetime project. As you begin to practice some basic assertiveness skills, you will develop confidence in yourself. Some situations are more difficult than others are, and so you may want to begin practicing assertiveness skills in the easier situations. It may be easier to assert yourself with strangers than with your supervisor at work or with your family. For example, while waiting in line and someone cuts in front of you, you can assertively say, “I believe I was next.” Keep practicing these skills and you will become a more confident, happier person.

Other aspects of assertiveness.

  • Listening. Being willing and able to listen to the other person and hear what they are really saying communicates that you consider their point of view as well as your own.
  • Eye contact. Looking at someone when speaking communicates a stronger message.
  • Body language. Standing or sitting up straight when speaking communicates that you mean it.
  • Timing. Choosing the right time to deliver your message will make it more effective.


Our office is located on the third floor of the Slane Student Center. We are open daily from 8:30am – 5:00pm.

(336) 841-9231
(336) 841-4513 (fax)