Tips – Becoming More Assertive – Making Your Voice Heard

Adapted from Barbara Small’s book  “What About me, What Do I Want?”

To be assertive is to stand up for yourself, to express your true self – your feelings, your needs, your wants, your thoughts and your opinions. Assertiveness skills allow you to ask for what you want while respecting the rights of others.

The 4 Communication Styles

Passive(You count, I don’t) Aggressive(I count, you don’t) Passive Aggressive(I count, you don’t) Assertive(You matter as do I)
Is quiet and timidFear driven

People pleaser

Puts others first

Avoids conflict

Is a chameleon – changes to suit situations


Feels insecure


Low self esteem

Loud, abrasiveBully

Blames others

Sarcastic, Shaming

Controlling and manipulative

Angry, jealous

Only takes care of self, insensitive

Low self esteem (although seems confident)

Manipulates and uses mind gamesPlays the martyr or victimUses guilt trips and sarcasm ”It’s for your own good”

Gives mixed messages

Uses triangling – rather than talking directly

Hints and expects mind reading

Low self esteem

Direct, calm and clearExpresses thoughts, feeling and opinionsConfident

Exhibits honesty, openness, tactfulness and respect

Considers self and others

Self responsible

Uses “I” statements

Healthy self esteem

Q. Which of these communication styles do you use most often?

If you use a different style with different people, why do you use that way of communicating? Who did you learn your communication styles from?

Being assertive means being direct, expressing our feelings, thoughts and needs without hinting, playing games, blaming, shaming, or being silent and hoping the other person reads our minds.

The Ten Tenets of Assertiveness

  1. By standing up for our rights we show we respect ourselves and achieve respect from others
  2. By trying to control our lives so as never to hurt anyone, we end up hurting ourselves and others
  3. Sacrificing our rights results in destroying relationships or preventing ones from growing
  4. Not letting others know how we feel is a form of selfishness
  5. Giving up our rights allows others to mistreat us
  6. If we don’t tell others how their behavior impacts us then we are denying them the opportunity to change
  7. When we do what we think is right for us (rather than what we “should do”) we feel better about ourselves and have more authentic relationships
  8. We all have the right to courtesy and respect
  9. We all have the right to express ourselves as long as we don’t violate the rights of others
  10. When we are assertive, everyone involved usually benefits

Blocks to Assertiveness

We are not born knowing how to communicate in relationships. We learn from those around us. Some of us were punished when we spoke out, so we were taught to be passive and quiet. Others were given messages about self expression such as “children should be seen and not heard:, “don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about”, “don’t be silly, there’s nothing to be sacred about”, “only babies cry”, “be a good girl and be quiet”. Can you see how these childhood experiences can keep us from learning how to express ourselves?

As children we are dependent on the adults around us for survival. So we figure out how we can get the adults around us to love us and take care of us. As adults, these strategies survive with us until we realize that they no longer serve us, and hold us back.

What prevents you from being assertive now you are grown up?

  • Fear of how people will respond
  • Fear of conflict
  • Fear that others will use information against me
  • Don’t know how to be assertive
  • See it as being selfish or uncaring
  • My negative self talk and beliefs about speaking up
  • Don’t know I have an option to be assertive

Self esteem and assertiveness are directly related. If you don’t feel good about yourself and believe in yourself, you are more likely to look externally for answers and motivation. If you don’t trust yourself, you are less likely to be assertive and express your feelings, needs and wants.

You are more likely to try to manipulate and control a situation or others, so the outcome is predictable and safe. You are less likely to take risks where you don’t know the outcome because you won’t trust that you can handle it.

Q. What are your beliefs about being assertive? What did you learn from your adult role models? What is the cost to you of not expressing yourself fully and what you want?


Keeping stuck

The number one reason that people give for not being assertive is that they don’t want to upset the other person. They are focused on taking care of the other person’s feelings but willing to neglect their own.

However, the world doesn’t revolve around you! We are all self absorbed beings. Some of us believe that we are responsible for how other’s feel and what happens in their lives. This is something we believe in childhood and can stick with us. “If I am a good girl, then Mommy will like me and she’ll be happy.”

However, the reality is that other people are responsible for their own feelings and choices, we are not. When we want others to like us, then it’s all about us. How selfish!

The whole world doesn’t revolve around you, but your world does. Most people couldn’t care less about what you are doing in your life. They are too busy being absorbed in their own!

In our society we are so afraid of what we deem “negative emotions” such as anger, fear, sadness, disappointment. We do everything possible to avoid feeling them or avoid provoking these feelings  in others.

Feelings are natural. They are energy that needs to be expressed in some way.

You are not responsible for how someone else feels. You behave in a certain way and the other person choose how they will respond. For example. If two of you were to ask me to go to see a movie and I said “No” to each of you. One person may respond by feeling embarrassed for asking me, blaming herself and feeling it was a dumb thing to say. The other person may simply say “fine, that’s too bad, I’ll call you next week to set up a better time”. Their individual responses were based on their beliefs and self talk.

If you feel responsible for someone’s response to you, then you are denying them the right to express themselves. In a sense you are trying to control them.

Taking responsibility for our feelings

At the same time this means that we have to take responsibility for our own feelings and not blame other people for how we react. For example “he made me angry” is no accurate. He said something and your response was to feel anger. Someone else may have responded differently. You are responsible for your response of anger. He did not cause it. Blaming others for our feelings can cause us to feel powerless and victims.

We are grown up now, we can learn to handle our feelings. The world will not fall in and we won’t be abandoned.

Being assertive does not necessarily mean that we get what we want. Just that we have a right to ask for it. Assertiveness is not about power over others. That’s aggressiveness.

By simply taking the risk to express our thoughts and feelings, we are validating ourselves. We are saying that we have the right to think or feel the way we do even when no one else agrees. When we hide our feelings and thought, and put others first, we are discounting ourselves – in our eyes and often in theirs.

We can’t make someone happy, only they can choose how they want to feel. If I hear someone feeling guilty when they are unable to cheer someone else up, then they have taken on the responsibility of how someone else feels and making their life better. Instead of asking “what can I do make him feel better?” instead ask “what does my response to how she feels tell me about me?”

What’s the worse thing that could happen?

Usually what we imagine in our heads is always worse compared with what happens. Speaking our truth and expressing ourselves is a freeing experience once we get over our imagined fears.

To help us get over the fear, ask “what’s the worst thing that could happen?“ then “yes and then what” until you get to the end and can see reality clearly. For example: “I can’t tell my mother that I don’t want to hear her negative comments about how I raise my children because she will be angry” Yes, and then what? “She will be upset and not talk to me”> yes and then what? “She won’t call me and tell her friends how horrible I am” Yes and then what? I probably won’t hear from her for weeks”. Yes, and how long do you think she won’t talk to you? “Probably until she needs something from me or is upset with my other sister.”

Mother may be angry, but behavior changes over time and the initial reaction is just step on the way. It will pass. You don’t need to forsake your own needs and feelings.

Whose problem is it anyway?

Often we  resist being assertive because we tell ourselves that the other person should change.

If you have an issue with someone – then it’s your issue, not hers.  We can’t change another person (no matter how much we want to!), but we can change our own attitude and behavior that will influence the outcome that we want. If we want something to change, then it’s up to us to take the steps necessary to make it happen. If we don’t speak up to others and let them know that we are unhappy or hurt, we don’t offer them the opportunity to change.

Spending our energy trying to control other people’s lives allows us to avoid looking at our own lives. It isn’t about them, the answer lies within ourselves.

Each time we postpone telling the other person how we are really feeling, then we build resentment that can come out as a big stressor in the relationship. By telling them how we feel, and getting over our discomfort now, we could resolve a real problem before it happens.

As most of us know with life’s experience, what we try to prevent from happening by trying to control a situation usually ends up happening anyway.

Being assertive is a choice

You can choose to be assertive in a situation, or you could choose not to be. However, if you choose never to be assertive, then I would question whether you could be assertive if you wanted to. In some situations it may not be in your best interest to be assertive. For example with a boss who has a track record of firing people who have a different point of view.

If you notice that you are assertive in one area of your life, but not an other, that means you know how to be assertive. The question to ask is:

Q. What is stopping me from being assertive in these other areas of my life? What is the belief here? What am I afraid of?


Moving forward

You can increase your ability to be assertive by replacing your non assertive messages and self talk with messages that support assertive behavior.

Here are some examples that can work: “It’s ok for me to say no” or “I have the right to express my opinion” or “I will speak my truth to honor myself”

The fundamental step to becoming assertive is to figure out WHO we truly are. What our needs, wants, values, strengths, thoughts and feelings are. We can only communicate honestly and openly with an other person when we can connect and communicate honestly with ourselves.

The Getting Real work by Susan Campbell is a valuable resource that encourages you to take an honest look at who you really are, how you relate to others, how to say what you are feeling and discover your authentic voice.

If you want to explore this further then please ask me for more on this.

Go on, assert yourself and make your voice heard 😉


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