Assertive Communication: A Path to Genuine Connectedness

An article written by Rachel Morici, LPC

In therapy, we are often learning about our various styles of communicating. In the hopes of discovering ways to achieve happiness in relationships, we begin by noticing how very different we are as individuals. Some of us tend to be more aggressive in certain relationships, while more passive in others. It’s not that one style is more valuable than another, but rather that we tend to get “stuck” in one way of communicating and realize that this presents a problem in our complex relationships. If we are too passive, for example, we say yes to things when we want to say no, and no to things when we want to say yes; in turn, the path that we take through life is not our own. If we are too aggressive, we attack others in order to get our needs met; in turn, we end up pushing others away and we feel misunderstood and alone. Most of us find ourselves swinging from passivity to aggressiveness. When we cannot take the resentment that comes from holding in our feelings, we suddenly explode.

So the question arises; “How can we change this pattern of communicating and improve our relationships with others?” The goal is really to have clearer communication that is respectful while also respecting ourselves. The goal is learning how to be more assertive. Well, at the very least that is one of the first steps! By being more assertive, we are able to communicate our needs in a calm, respectful manner and listen and hear about others needs as well. Then, perhaps there is room for compromise and problem-solving.

Let us first determine which style you gravitate towards. Choose a relationship in your life to focus on. Next, complete the survey below.



State which is most true for you by checking “Mostly, Sometimes OR Rarely:”

I have a hard time saying no to others.
I don’t usually let others know my problems.
I sometimes apologize even if I don’t believe I’m wrong.
When I’m upset with someone close to me, they usually don’t even know it.
Others often take advantage of me.
I often have a hard time speaking up for my rights.
I will walk out rather than deal with a conflict.
I feel paralyzed when directly confronted with a conflict.


Give yourself 2 points for each statement that applies to you “Mostly,” One point for each “Sometimes” answer and 0 points for every “Rarely.”


State which is most true for you by checking “Mostly, Sometimes OR Rarely:”

I tend to speak loudly, especially when I’m trying to get a point across.
I am known as opinionated and blunt.
I can be very sarcastic.
Sometimes I feel my anger is out of control.
When someone criticizes me, my natural reaction is to defend myself by criticizing back.
When I think someone is wrong, I can’t wait to tell them about it.
I rarely admit I’m wrong or apologize.
I tend to give others advice whether or not they asked for it.


Give yourself 2 points for each statement that applies to you “Mostly,” One point for each “Sometimes” answer and 0 points for every “Rarely.”


State which is most true for you by checking “Mostly, Sometimes OR Rarely:”

I pay careful attention to my feelings and express them directly and honestly.
I am able to listen and consider another person’s point of view without interrupting, before responding with my own point of view.
When I have something to complain about, I try to offer a solution as well.
I maintain my personal space boundaries and respect others’ boundaries.
My intimate relationships tend to be based on equal partnerships.
I can respond to criticism without getting angry or defensive.
I am able to apologize when I’m wrong.
I can say ‘no’ without feeling guilty.


Give yourself 2 points for each statement that applies to you “Mostly,” One point for each “Sometimes” answer and 0 points for every “Rarely.”

ADD each list to determine which style you tend to be.


Being assertive is something we strive for and usually it is not an inborn trait. It is also dependent upon the relationship and the situation. The same incident might cause one person to explode or become aggressive, while another person may become passive or assertive.  If you are willing to set reasonable goals, take reasonable risks and you are open to new ideas, read on for more information about practicing assertive communication.


  1. Give others a chance to speak.
  2. Choose assertive (not aggressive) language.
  3. Respect others’ opinions.
  4. Accept positive criticism and suggestions.
  5. Be diplomatic.
  6. Avoid bullying and demanding behavior
  7. Avoid physically aggressive behavior.


  1. Speak up when you have an idea or opinion
  2. Stand up for your opinions and stick to them.
  3. Make requests and ask for favors.
  4. Say No to requests when you believe they are unreasonable or do not fit in with your needs.
  5. Fully accept BOTH compliments and feedback.
  6. Question or challenge rules or traditions that don’t make sense or don’t seem fair.
  7. Insist that your rights be respected.
  8. Be honest and direct about your thoughts and feelings.


Assertiveness is about speaking the truth. I am reminded of a book entitled, “Eating in the Light of the Moon,” by Anita Johnston. In her chapter on assertiveness, she illustrates the importance of being assertive as it relates to our “sovereignty,” or our independence and autonomy. She states:

“Assertiveness is probably one of the most important tools to learn in our recovery because it is the means by which we embrace and express the essence of who we really are without being destructive to others. It is how we ensure that we are on the right path, the path of the heart that leads us to people and places that are nourishing and fulfilling and steers us away from those that are not (Johnston, A, 1996).”

Like anything else in life, assertiveness takes practice and willingness. Here is a basic formula that might help you express yourself, because it can be difficult to think clearly in moments when emotions run high.

When you…

I feel…


A second part may be added to this formula. If you would like, you can follow up these statements with a “problem-solving compromise” statement, such as “how about next time we try this…” This is an idea that you introduce as another more favorable approach to the issue.

Many times, we get caught up in the wish that our assertiveness practices will change the other person’s behaviors. Unfortunately, if we expect this outcome we may be easily disappointed. The goal in being assertive is to feel better about ourselves. We accept that we do not have the power to change others.* In being assertive, we set clear personal boundaries with others. This opens up the opportunity to have healthier, richer and more satisfying connections with others. When we openly express our thoughts and feelings , our confidence increases because we assert that our thoughts and feelings matter.


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