Tips for Becoming More Assertive

January 23, 2016  |   Executive Coaching Blog   |     |   0 Comment

Assertive, Submissive, and Aggressive Behaviour

The way we behave in different circumstances and conditions can be termed under three different ‘types’ of behaviour – Submissive, Assertive and Aggressive. We all exhibit these three types of behaviour in different circumstances, though we may tend to emphasise one of them more than the others.


Submissive Behaviour


Submissive behaviour tends to be exhibited by those who attempt to gain the approval of others and avoid hurting or upsetting anyone.

People who demonstrate submissive behaviour:

  • Tend not to stand up for themselves.
  • They may express their views in a very cautious or mild manner, or they may not express them at all.
  • People who behave submissively usually allow others to push ahead of them in career terms and allow others to take credit for work they themselves have completed. They may well resent such actions but are too compliant to do anything about it.

Typical submissive statements:

“I’m sorry to take up your time but…”

“Would you be upset if we…”

“Its only my opinion but…”


Aggressive Behaviour


Aggressive behaviour tends to be exhibited by those who have little or no concern for other peoples ideas, feelings and needs.

Aggressive behaviour:

  • can involve the use of sarcasm
  • the adoption of a patronising attitude
  • placing the blame for problems and mistakes on someone else
  • And even verbal hostility and abuse


Typical aggressive statements:

“Don’t ask questions – just do it…”

“That’s stupid.”

“Its nothing to do with me – its all your fault.”


Assertive Behaviour


Assertive behaviour tends to be exhibited by those who respect the rights of other people to express their ideas, feelings, and needs, while at the same time recognising that they too have the right to express and pursue such matters. Being assertive means:

  • Being honest with yourself and others
  • It means having the ability to say directly what you want, need, or feel, but not at the expense of others
  • It means having confidence in yourself and being positive, while at the same time understanding other peoples points of view
  • Being able to negotiate and reach workable compromises
  • Having self-respect and respect for other people


Typical assertive statements:


“I believe that… what do you think?”

“I would like to…”

“What can we do to resolve this problem?”


If you want to get a personal assertiveness rating take our assertiveness self-questionnaire


3 Steps to Becoming More Assertive

There are three simple steps to assertiveness. It is important that individuals learning to be assertive understand and practise all three and in order. It will seem a lot to learn and rather cumbersome at first, very much like learning to drive a car. At the start there seems so much to take in and do, but with practice it becomes almost second nature.


Step 1

Actively listen to what is being said then show the other person that you both hear and understand them.


Step 2

Say what you think or what you feel.


Step 3.

Say what you want to happen.


Step one forces you to focus on the other person and not use the time they are talking to build up a defence or attack. By really listing you are able to demonstrate some understanding and empathy for their situation or point of view even if you do not wholly agree with it.


Step two enables you to directly state your thoughts or feelings without insistence or apology. The word HOWEVER is a good linking word between step one and step two. BUT tends to contradict your first statement and can be unhelpful. The word HOWEVER can become routine therefore it is worth thinking of a number of reasonable alternatives like: on the other hand, in addition, even so, nevertheless, alternatively, etc.


Step three is essential so that you can indicate without hesitancy or insistence. Once the three basic steps to assertiveness have been mastered there are a number of key assertive behaviours and techniques which will add to the competence and confidence of people working with assertiveness.


Saying No.


  1. Don’t respond immediately.
  2. Assess whether the other person’s request is reasonable or unreasonable. “hmm, let me see if I understand you correctly, you’re saying that…”
  3. Assert the right to ask for information, clarification or time.
  4. Give a simple ‘no’ followed by one of the following:
  •  I would prefer not to…
  • I would rather…
  • I am not willing to…
  • I don’t want to…


  1. Apologise ONLY if you are genuinely sorry.
  2. If you prefer to give honest reasons, do so. Don’t make excuses.
  3. Speak slowly and steadily in order not to sound abrupt.


Broken Record


Children are experts in the use of the Broken Record technique and use it very effectively. It is useful to help make sure that you are listened to and that you’re message is received.


Sometimes when people are actively involved in their own concerns or needs they pay little attention to what you have to say or to your situation. Broken record makes sure that your message does get through without nagging, whinging or whining.


With the Broken Record technique it is important to use some of the same words over again in different sentences. This reinforces the main part of your message and presents others raising red herrings or diverting you from your central message.


Example to insistent customer:

“We won’t be able to complete by the 15th. I understand it causes you problems, but the hard facts are it won’t be possible to complete all the work by the fifteenth. However, we can promise to finish key areas if you tell us your needs, and we will reschedule the rest: What we can’t do is complete everything by the 15th.”


Discrepancy Assertion


Discrepancy assertion is used in situations where you are receiving contradictory messages. In a fast-paced, fast-changing work scenario, contradictory messages are one of the by-products. It is important to be able to be clear about what is actually happening or expected without guesswork. Discrepancy assertion helps to clear up misunderstandings before they grow into difficult issues. It is also a useful way to point out to someone the inconsistency in their behaviour without blaming or being accusatory and it helps to move people nearer to a workable compromise. With discrepancy assertion it is important to be as objective as possible pointing out the known facts clearly.



“At my staff appraisal we both agreed I was taking on too much work and it was causing me a lot of stress. In the last few weeks my department has been given several additional new projects. I’d like to discuss the implications of this extra work.”


Assertiveness Scenarios


Assertiveness takes practice. Try these scenarios as examples with which to practice assertiveness skills. Respond assertively to each situation.


  1. Your flatmate, whom you like, has a habit of coming into your room to talk to your flatmate about shopping whilst you are studying. Whilst you are interested in the subject, you are more interested in getting on with your work. He/she comes in when you are studying.
  2. You paid out £30 to have your car tuned and it was a disaster. Despite and additional attempt by the mechanic to get it right, the car is still not running satisfactorily.
  3. You paid a deposit to a builder to put up a timber-framed porch at the entrance to your house. The builder put up the frame and then left the job to do other work. It is now three months after the promised date of completion, and despite many promises; the builder has not reappeared.
  4. You share a flat with a friend, with whom you get on very well, but who never does any cleaning up.





Keywords; Assertiveness, Assertive Behaviour, Submissive Behaviour, Agressive behaviour



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