Linda D Tillman, PhD
1904 Monroe Dr. NE Suite 200
Atlanta, GA 30324
404-873-5503 ext 17



Free Class

Take a free assertiveness class here on the Internet.  You may either view the contents of this class using Powerpoint or Powerpoint Viewer on your own computer or read the compressed outline of the class below.

  • PowerPoint class: Basic Assertive Communication

  • A Class in Basic Assertive Communication

    The concept of learning to be more assertive began in the 60's with the work of Alberti and Emmons.  Speaking up assertively is a matter of practice, practice, practice.  This online summary class is designed to give you a brief idea of the foundations of assertive communication.  How well you apply what you learn here is up to you.  The more frequently you practice these concepts, the better you will become at assertively speaking up for yourself.

    Assertiveness is about RESPECT- respect for yourself and respect for others.  As long as respect is in the interaction, you are a part of an assertive interaction.  If at any point, you lose respect for yourself or respect for the other person, then the communication has become non-assertive or even aggressive.

    Eye ContactAn assertive person makes eye contact about 50% of the time with the person with whom  he/she is communicating.  A non-assertive person avoids eye contact.  An aggressive person gains power by staring down the other person.

    Voice ToneIn assertive communication, voice tone is well-modulated and easy to hear.  A non-assertive person will talk almost too softly to be heard.  An aggressive person is too loud.

    PostureIn assertive communication, the speaker should stand or sit up straight and tall.  This demonstrates respect for yourself.

    Personal Space: In the United States, comfortable personal space is about arms' length apart from the other person.  This is culturally specific and differs from one country to the next.  However, in the US, if you are standing closer than arms' length apart, the other person is likely to feel as if you are intruding on her/his space.  If you are further away than that, the other person is likely to feel disconnected from you.

    Facial Expression: In effective communication, your facial expression matches what you are saying.  Look angry if you are trying to convey anger; look happy if you are trying to convey pleasure.

    Use of Gesture: How you gesture sends a message:  Putting your hands on your hips is aggressive because it implies being criticized; nodding your head "yes" implies agreement with the other person; pointing with your pen or your finger is often read as intrusive or aggressive; clenching your fist is aggressive; shaking your head "no" implies disagreement even if you are agreeing with your words.

    While how you handle yourself nonverbally provides the foundation for your speaking up, the words you choose affect how well your communication is received. 

    Assertive Listening:  Before you begin speaking, you must learn how to listen well assertively.  Good listening provides you with free information from the other person.  If you've listened well, this information may help inform your assertive statements.

    •  You indicate that you are listening by nodding your head, leaning in toward the other person, and making non commital listening sounds like "Um-hmmmm," or "Oh, I see."  Verbally you can indicate that you are listening in three ways.

    •   You indicate that you are listening by using restatement, reflection, or clarification.  Let's look at each of these.

    Restatement is simply saying what you heard the other person say. 

    Example:  Someone says to you, "I am so frustrated that we are being asked to stay until 6 PM.  I have to pick up my son at day care by 6 or I get a late penalty charged by the minute."

    Your restatement:  "So staying late will make you have to pay a late fee for picking your son up late from day care."

    Reflection is stating what you understood from what the other person said, including your interpretation of what they meant.

    Example:  Your co-worker is crying and says, "I can't afford the late fee for day care and our boss has just told me that I have to stay here past the closing hour of the day care center because I didn't finish the project by 4 PM today."

    Your reflection:  "It's really upsetting to you that you have to stay late because it's so expensive to pay the late fee at day care."

    Clarification demonstrates listening because you ask a question to determine if you understood what the person said/meant.

    Example:  Your co-worker says, "I'm so upset.  I have to pay a late fee at day care because the boss has asked me to stay after closing hours to finish the project."

    Your question for clarification, "Sounds like you are frustrated, but are you frustrated more about the late fee or having to stay after hours today?"

    The types of assertive communication were identified by Lange and Jabukowski in their book Responsible Assertive Behavior

    Soft Assertion:  A soft assertion does not require anything of the other person.  An example of a soft assertion is a compliment.  When you give a compliment, the recipient may simply say "Thank you," but may also reject the compliment, throw the compliment away or not respond at all.

    Basic Assertion:  A basic assertion is a request made as an "I" statement and is very, very simple:  "I want XXXX."  "I don't want YYYYY."  We tend to complicate basic assertions with lots of explanation which dilutes the power of the simple, basic statement.

    Empathic Assertion:  The empathic assertion is the most effective type of assertive statement in that first you make the effort to say how you imagine the other person may be feeling or reacting, and then you make your request.  "I imagine you are really exhausted after all the work you did this morning, but I need this document by 3 PM today."

    Escalating Assertion:  An escalating assertion is a statement that includes a consequence for the other person.  "If you come in late tomorrow night, I'll take away your car."

    Confrontive Assertion:  When an agreement has been violated, a confrontive assertion points this out as the assertive statement is made.  "We agreed that you would take out the trash before the garbage is collected on Wednesday.  It's Thursday morning and the garbage was not taken out yesterday.  I want you to live up to our agreement or I'll need to readjust your allowance."

    Negative Assertion:  A negative assertion is a statement that takes responsibility for something you have done wrong.  It takes courage to make a negative assertion and to say "I'm sorry."  George Washington made a negative assertion when he reportedly said, "Father, I'm sorry.  I cut down your cherry tree."

    Connection is the cornerstone of good assertive communication.  Connection requires empathy with the other person.  This means that you must try to put yourself in the other person's shoes.  Empathy requires imagining what it is like to be the other person and fashioning your statements with that image in mind.

    Assertive negotiation includes several elements:

    1. Identify the problem

    2. Listen assertively to the other person

    3. Brainstorm ideas about how to solve the problem

    4. Pick a solution to try

    5. Make a contract about the solution

    6. Try out the solution for a limited period of time

    7. At the end of the trial period, examine and look for problems in the contract

    The unassertive "No" is accompanied by excuses and rationalizations

    The aggressive "No" is done with contempt and derision

    The assertive "No" is simple and direct

    Strategies to help in learning to set limits or say "No"

    1. It's OK to ask for time to "think it over."

    2. Shake your head "No" as you say "No."

    3. Remember that "No" is an honorable and authentic response

    4. If you say "Yes" when you want to say "No" you'll probably resent what you agreed to

    5. Use an empathic statement when you say "No"

    6. Start your sentence with the word "No" so that you don't talk yourself out of it before you get to the end of the sentence!

    • Notice nonverbal messages in yourself and others.

    • Choose your words with thought and care.

    • Keep your assertive statements simple and direct.

    • Negotiate assertively with respect and with a follow-up plan.

    • Use your assertiveness skills to set limits or to move in the direction in which you wish to go.