ever wondered how some people manage to be in perfect control of
their lives? Their feelings, relationship, in fact their whole
personality seems to be in perfect concord. They lead a full,
interesting, free life, make their own decision, command the
respect of others, and reflect an inner glow of contentment and
This is not to say that they are the models of
perfection, or that they do not undergo any stress whatsoever, but
invariably these individuals will have evolved some assertive ways
of coping with people and situations without getting unduly
anxious. They manage to do this, because they respect themselves,
and value their personal judgements, opinions, wishes and needs
and more important they recognise these rights in others as well.
which enables a person to act in his or her own best interest, to
stand up for herself or himself, without undue anxiety, to express
honest feeling comfortably, or to exercise personal rights without
denying the rights of others, we call Assertive Behaviour. 1
us examine the element of that complex sentence in greater detail.
To act in
one's own best interest : refers
to the capacity to make life decisions (career, relationship, life
style, time activities), to take initiative (start conversations,
organize activities), to trust one's own judgment, to set goals
and work to achieve them, to ask for help from others, to
comfortably participate socially.
stand up for oneself: includes
such behaviours as saying `No', setting limits on one's time and
energy, responding to criticism, or putdowns or anger, expressing
or supporting or defending one's opinions.
Alberti and Emmons. op. cit., p. 27.
express honest feelings comfortably : means the ability to
disagree, show anger, to show affection or friendship, to admit
fear or anxiety, to express agreement, or support, to be
spontaneous, all without painful anxiety.
To exercise personal
rights: relates to one's competency (as a citizen, or consumer, as
a member of an organisation or school or work group, as a
participant in public events) to express opinions, to work for
change, to respond to violation of one's own rights, or those of
To not deny the rights of other: is to accomplish the
above personal expressions, without unfair criticism of others,
without hurtful behaviour towards others, without name-calling,,
without intimidation, without manipulation, without controlling
Thus, assertive behaviour is a positive self
affirmation, which also values the other persons in your life.
are some of the barriers to asserting oneself? Alberti and Emmons
say, " . . . We have found while helping thousands of people
to learn to express themselves more effectively, that there are
three significant barriers to self assertiveness:
people do not believe that they have right to be assertive.
people are highly anxious/fearful about being assertive.
people lack the social skills for effective self expression.
research had shown that learning to make assertive responses will
inhabit or weaken the anxiety previously experienced in specific
of Assertive Rights
one is born with unique potential and Free Will - to decide for
themselves, to judge for themselves, make mistakes and learn from
them, refuse requests, and say `I don't understand' or change
one's mind. As children we had no doubt about these things. Most
children are assertive - they know what their rights are and do
not hesitate to express them - sometimes from child to adult, we
rob ourselves and allow others (due to childhood training and
false notions) to rob us of our rights.
As a first step towards
becoming assertive, we should become aware of our rights as an
individual. The following table, Table, Table 3, gives the Bill of
Assertive Rights. For those who believe that they do not have the
right to lead a free, independent life, and still enjoy lasting
and good interpersonal relationships, they would be advised to
consider the following bill. Most individuals become very
disillusioned about people and life in general, or their inability
to have close and meaningful relationships and at the same time,
retain their identity. The following table will help you to
reaffirm your SELF as being of the greatest value!
3 : The Bill of Assertive Rights
have the right to be treated with respect and dignity.
have the right to have and express your own feelings and
have the right to be listened to and taken seriously.
have the right to judge your own behaviour, thoughts and
emotions, and to undertake the responsibility for their
initiation, and consequences upon yourself.
have the right to make mistakes and be responsible for them.
have the right to say : "I don't know".
have the right to say : " I don't understand."
have the right to ask for information (including from
have the right to change your mind.
have the right to be independent to the goodwill of others before
coping with them.
have the right to get what you pay for.
have the right to choose your profession.
have the right to practise your own religion.
have the right to ask for what you want (realising that the other
person has the right to say `no').
have the right to acquire knowledge.
have the right to say `No' without feeling guilty.
the right to do anything so long as it does not violate the
rights of others.
You can add to this list too!
Importance of Non
Verbal Behaviour in Assertiveness
misconception among people is that in order to be assertive, you
need to have a very good command of your language. Alberti and
. . . Many people view assertiveness as a verbal
behaviour, believing that they must have just the right words to
handle a situation effectively. It is our experience that the
manner in which you express an assertive message is a good deal
more important than the exact words you use. Although popular with
many assertiveness trainers, it has never been our style to offer
scripts of "what to say when . . . " We are primarily
concerned with encouraging honesty and directness, and much of
that message is communicated non-verbally.
in our groups and workshops have enjoyed watching us role play a
scene which makes this point clear : Bob is a dissatisfied
customer who wishes to return a defective copy of "Everything
you always wanted to know about Assertiveness, but were too timid
to ask" to the bookstore. Mike is the clerk. Using
essentially the same words, "I bought this book here last
week, and discovered that 20 pages are missing. I'd like a good
copy or my money back", Bob approaches Mike in three
different ways :
walks slowly and hesitatingly to the counter. His eyes are
downcast at the floor, he speaks just above a whisper, his face
looks as though it belongs on the cover of the book. He has a
tight grip on the book. He has tight grip on the book, and a "
swaggers toward the counter, glares at Mike, addresses him in a
voice heard all over store, Bob's posture and almost fistlike
gesture are an obvious attempt to intimidate the clerk;
walks up to the counter facing Mike. He stands relaxed and erect,
smiles and looks directly at Mike with a friendly expression. In
a conversational volume and tone of voice, he states the message,
gesturing to point the flaw.
styles are over exaggerated, of course, but the point is clear.
The non assertive, self defeating style says to Mike that this
customer is a pushover, and the slightest resistance will cause
him to give up and go away. The second approach may achieve the
goal, of refund or exchange, but the aggressive Bob will leave
with Mike's hostility directed at his back! With the assertive
approach, Bob gets what he came for and Mike feels good about
having helped solve a problem for an appreciative customer.
of Assertive Behaviour
often, besides knowing the right words to say, how
we act, and how
we say something has
an even greater impact.
an assertive body image.
Your body does communicate. Your style
of emotional expression, posture, facial expressions and voice
quality are all tremendously important to you in becoming
assertive. How does one develop on assertive body image to make
your body as well as your words communicate assertively?
Inventory of Body image Components. Methodically check
yourself from head to toe, measuring yourself on a scale of
addressing another person, where do you look? If you look
directly at the person as you speak, it helps to communicate you
sincerity and to increase the directness of your message. But if
you look down or away much of the time, you present a lack of
confidence. Women often have a problem of making eye contact with
another person, because many of us have been taught that it is
more feminine to look away or look down. In some cultures, like
in India, it is considered disrespectful for women to make direct
eye contact with men or authority figures.
relaxed eye contact is essential when you want to appear
assertive and interested and shows respect for the other person.
This does not mean staring continuously till the other person
becomes uncomfortable. Look at their eyes, then perhaps look away
for a few seconds, or drop your gaze slightly so that you are
focussing on their mouth, as they speak to you.
making good eye contact and be aware of any differences in the
quality of your communication. Are you listening better? Are you
conveying more interest and receiving more interest in what you
Expressions : Ever
see someone trying to express anger while smiling or laughing ?
It just doesn't come across. Effective assertion requires an
expression that agrees with the message. Let your face say the
same thing your words are saying. With a greater awareness of the
feeling in your face, you can begin to more consciously control
your facial expression to become more natural.
Posture : A
significant increase in personalising the conversation, occurs
from a slight turn of the torso, say 30 to 45 degrees towards the
other person. Relative `power' may be noticed in an encounter. An
obvious example of this is seen in the relationship between a
tall adult and a small child; the adult who is thoughtful enough
to bend to the child's height will find a considerable difference
in the quality of communication.
In a situation where you are
called upon to stand up for yourself, it is useful to do just
that - stand up! An active and erect posture lends additional
assertiveness to your message, whereas a slumped, passive stance
gives the other person an immediate advantage as does any
tendency on your part to lean back or move away.
relaxed use of gestures can add depth or power to your message,
and can suggest openness, self confidence and spontaneity on the
part of the speaker. However, gesturing must not be erratic or
Tone, Inflection and Volume : The
way we use our voices is a vital element in our communication.
Consider at least three dimensions of your voice:
: is it raspy, whiny, soft, angry?
: do you speak in a monotone, or with sing-song effect, or
emphasize certain syllables?
: do you try to gain attention with a whisper, or overpower
others with loudness, or is it very difficult for you to shout,
even when you want to ?
you say is of course important, but honesty and spontaneity of
expression is much more important. This means saying, for
example, "I am very angry with you" rather than "
You are an S.O.B." or calling names or abusing people.
People who hesitate because they don't know what to say, should
make a practice of saying something,
to express their honest feelings at the time. It makes a great
difference and adds to your assertiveness.
Many authors speak
of many other components such as fluency, timing, listening,
distance/physical contact, even weight and physical appearance,
as factors in developing assertiveness.
Table 4 gives the non
verbal and verbal behaviour associated with the three coping
styles. See under which style you come.
Anxiety and Promoting Relaxation
facing threatening situations, many people (especially non
assertive people) become anxious. Their anxiety immobilizes them
and controls them. What happens to your body when you become
anxious? Headaches, a "nervous stomach", asthma, and
"dizzy spells" are common bodily indicators of anxiety.
In more extreme forms, anxiety can be severe enough to cause
ulcers, migraine headaches, and heart attack. In addition to
physical discomfort, anxiety can also cause emotional discomfort,
e.g. "cold feet", "clamming up."
to relax can combat anxiety. It can help you to feel more in
control of your body. Relaxation can be achieved through Yoga,
meditation, a walk, on deep muscle relaxation, a technique first
developed by Jacobsen in 1938.
yourself in deep muscle relaxation : You
can use this guide to train yourself in deep muscle relaxation.
Choose a quiet, comfortable place where you won't be disturbed for
half an hour. Go through relaxation while lying on the floor, a
bed, or a reclining chair.
Concentrate on the muscle groups
given below in Table 5, one at a time in the order presented.
Create tension in the muscles by tightening them for five seconds
and then relaxing them. For each muscle group a method is
described for creating tension and achieving relaxation. The first
time you try it, go through the procedure for each muscle group
It is awkward to read the instructions while attempting
to relax and it may be inconvenient to have someone read the
instruction to you. We suggest that an ideal method is to use a
commercial tape recording of relaxation instructions.
5 : Deep Muscle Relaxation
forehead. Try to make your eyebrows touch your hairline for 5
your eyes as tightly as you can for five seconds. Relax.
corners of your mouth back and grimace for five seconds. Relax.
Feel the calmness and warmth in your face.
arms in front of you, clench fists tightly for five seconds.
Relax and feel the warmth and calmness in your hands.
arms out against an invisible wall and push forward with hands
for 5 seconds. Relax.
elbows. Tense biceps for five seconds. Relax, land feel the
tension leave your arms.
shoulders up to your ears for five seconds. Relax.
your back off the floor or bed for five seconds. Relax. Feel
the anxiety and tension disappearing.
your stomach muscles for five seconds. Relax.
buttocks for five seconds. Relax.
thigh muscles by pressing legs together as tightly as you can
for five seconds. Relax.
ankles toward your body as far as you can, for five seconds.
toes under as tightly as you can for five seconds. Relax.
grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change those I can, and wisdom to know the
Record : or
Persistence. One of the most important aspects of being verbally
assertive is to be persistent and keep saying what you want over
and over again without getting angry, irritated or loud. By
practising to speak as if we were a broken record, we learn to be
persistent and stick to the point of the discussion, to keep
saying what we want to say, and to ignore all side issues brought
up by the person we assert ourselves to. In using broken record,
you are not deterred by anything the other person may say but
keep saying in a calm, repetitive voice what you want to say
until the other person accedes to your request or agrees to a
order to become an assertive communicator, in social setting, you
must master two skills. First you have to practice listening to
the clues other people give you about themselves. This free
information give you something to talk about besides the weather,
and avoids those awkward silences, when you ask yourself, "What
do I say now?". In addition, it makes it easier for people
to talk about themselves, when you show an interest in things
important to them.
The second skill is self
involves disclosing information about yourself - how you think,
feel and react to other person's free information. It allows the
social communication to flow both ways. Eye contact is of great
is a skill that teaches acceptance of manipulative criticism by
calmly acknowledging to your critic the probability that there
may be some truth in what he says, yet allow you to remain your
own judge of what you do. It is a very effective skill for
desensitising you to criticism and actually reducing the
frequency of criticism from others. It rapidly sets up a
psychological distance, boundary lines between you and the person
But fogging should be used with negative
negative inquiry, you do not respond to your critic's statements
with denial, defensiveness, or counter-manipulative
of your own. Instead, you break the manipulative cycle by
actively prompting more information form the critical person in a
low key, unemotional manner.
skill that teaches acceptance of your errors, and faults without
having to apologise by agreeing with hostile or constructive
criticism of your negative qualities. It allows you to look more
comfortably at negatives in your own behaviour or personality
without feeling defensive and anxious or resorting to denial of
real error, while at the same time reducing your critic's anger
Compromise : In
using your verbal assertive skills, it is sometimes practical
(when you feel that self-respect is not in question) to offer a
workable compromise to the other person, or to cooperate when
Awake, Know thyself !
you may have discovered that assertiveness is not a simple
characteristic. It is person and situation specific, and above
all, it is a way of life, composed of privileges as well as
obligations for each individual.
However, no one is assertive
all the time. There are (and will always be) times when we act
non-assertively, aggressively and assertively. Our goal is to help
you maximize your assertive skills, and your capacity to choose
how one is going to act in a particular situation, is in itself an
act of assertiveness.
Many scales have been devised to evaluate
an individual's assertiveness. You can evaluate yours too. See
Appendix 2 (Assertion vignettes Matrix Form), Appendix 3
(Assertiveness Inventory) and Appendix 4 (Assertiveness Quotient).