Improve Your Relationships by Becoming More Assertive

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Improve Your Relationships by Becoming More Assertive

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD



Are you are surprised by how well some people can assert themselves? Do you feel ineffective, small, or even invisible? If so, you likely remain passive, sitting quietly by as others make decisions that you then follow. Or maybe you compensate by trying to overpower the weakness you feel by overaggressively demanding to be heard.

In contrast to those who take either the passive or aggressive stance, assertive people tend to be more at ease with themselves and generally have more mutually satisfying relationships with others.

Those who are assertive tend to be self-aware and to value themselves. So to learn assertiveness, it is important to reflect on yourself, becoming aware of what is important to you and how you feel in any given situation. Once you have this awareness, being assertive means expressing yourself in a clear, direct, and nonjudgmental way. You take responsibility for stating what you want without trying to overpower the other person.

People who are generally assertive tend to recognize that they are not responsible for how others respond. By accepting the limits of their power, they might feel sad or hurt or some other distressing emotion when they don’t get what they want, but they can work through these feelings and redirect their energies to something else — and so continue to feel that they have power to work toward what they want in life. For instance, when Adesh (assertively, but respectfully) asked Ariana on a date and she said no, he felt rejected. But rather than pining away for her (not a great option), he chose to chat more with his friends and to throw himself into work more.

When you accept that others have a right to their thoughts and feelings just as you do, then you are more likely to work with others rather than either following what they want (passive style) or continually pushing your agenda (aggressive style). From an assertive stance, you will expect others to listen to what you want to say; be interested in what they have to say; and be willing to compromise when that’s an option.

You can help yourself be more assertive by consciously directing your thoughts and actions. You can remind yourself that what you have to say is important — and what they have to say is also important. Then, talk like you believe this, speaking in a clear, direct, and unapologetic way. State the situation, what you think and feel, and ask for what you want in a respectful way. For instance, Kayla believed that she was overdue at her job for a promotion, so she told her boss this, noting that she had gotten excellent reviews for the last 5 years and was frustrated by her job stagnation. She identified a recent opening at her company that she thought she could do well in; and she asked for her boss’s thoughts on considering her for it.

By developing the skills to speak your mind in a way that effectively conveys what you want, you can feel more self-assured, especially when you accept that you cannot force others to do what you want them to. As you express yourself, it can help to maintain eye contact, and stand or sit up straight. Remember to be clear, direct, and respectful. After that, it’s not up to you. Not getting what we want at times is part of the human condition; but so is choosing to change your focus. Choose to feel good about doing what you can to express your wants and needs. While you won’t always get what you want, you can always feel good about asserting yourself.


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Important:  This article is part of the WebMD Relationships blog. The articles in the WebMD Relationships blog are for general education purposes only. They should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment, or advice. Do not delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read in this article.