What does Assertive Communication look and sound like?

Often, we’re encouraged to “Be better at your communication” or “why are you being so passive-aggressive”. The reality is that from a very young age most often we’re taught to look at the ways we shouldn’t say/do something as opposed to what we should. The same may be said for communication styles.

So What does Assertive Communication look and sound like?
One of my favourite assertive communication workbooks The Assertiveness Workbook – How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships, speaks to five categories to most communication styles, including passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive communication.

These five categories include,

  1. Behaviour: This includes making honest, clear and direct statements of my immediate needs to others, while still allowing others to have or hold their own views,
  2. Non-verbal: Take notice of a calm, relaxed body that feels casual and at ease. Notice how you make frequent eye contact – but of course, let’s not glare, 
  3. Beliefs: Assertive communication allows you to recognise both you own and others needs are of equal importance,
  4. Emotion: When expressing yourself you feel positive in your interaction, your self-esteem rises as opposed to feeling rejected, afraid, angry or misunderstood,
  5. Goal: is to respect both yourself and others when communicating – expressing yourself rather than having to win the conversation or feel compelled to “control” the interaction.

Now by all means being aware and mindful of these five elements may not simply bring about assertive communication – however with practice and noticing any of these elements while you talk with others notice how your interactions may change over time. We should of course also factor in others who may have other communication patterns and its effects on us. Furthermore environmental triggers such as stressors, anger and frustration that often accompanies strained communication also play a role.

Now that we’ve reviewed five ways of understanding what assertive communication looks like, here are a few tips and examples of assertiveness skills.

  1. Express your ideas and emotions calmly – this may need a pause or a break in a heated conversation – while using “I” statements such as “I feel”, “I would like” and “I think”. By taking responsibility for your emotions and ideas we normalise and express ourselves clearly.
  2. Be respectful – not only to others but yourself as well – by showing our respect we acknowledge the importance of what we’re all saying and thinking.
  3. Say “No” when you need to – feeling guilty is normal when saying no – however saying yes all the time isn’t making anyone happy either. When we say no more often than not the receiving party could understand your point of view better – providing more opportunities to express your needs.
  4. Check-in with yourself – plan, or review briefly some of the things you’d like to say – this may include knowing your needs and finding the words to express them.

 By engaging in these five traits and four assertive communication techniques when engaging your next conversation, check-in and see if you’re noticing how you’re communicating – get feedback from a trusted partner or friend, and with more frequent and mindful practice assertiveness can become apart of not only your social skills repertoire, but could lead towards mental wellness .

More resources

  • The Assertiveness Workbook How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships by Randy J. Patterson, PhD.
  • Communication techniques by Woody Schuldt on therapistaid.com

Written by:
Alex Koen
Specialist Wellness Counsellor (ASCHP)
B.A. Psy. Soc. (UP), B.A.Counselling Psy. (Hons) (UNISA)
Cert. Counselling, Cert. Art Therapy (HELIOS), Cert. Play Therapy (CPTT)

SACAC Counselling

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