July 25, 2024

What does Assertive Mean?

What does assertive mean?

The interpersonal skill of assertiveness is one that is complicated and challenging. Despite the fact that it is the most effective way to get our needs met, most of us have not mastered the skill of communicating assertively.

Assertiveness consists of a willingness to state exactly how you feel about a particular situation in a respectful way. It is respectful of your feelings, but also of the other person involved. So what does assertive mean?

Components of assertive communication are included below:

1. I feel….

2. When you do this ( objective description)

3. And I would like you to do this instead

What is assertive behavior? Case example:

A women comes home from work after having asked her husband that morning to put the wet clothes in the dryer and put the dishes in the dishwasher away. She has been stuck in traffic and had a long day. She finds that not only has he not done what she asked but also, there are new dirty dishes all around him and he has been playing video games all day long


If she were to communicate assertively, she would first take stock of her emotional state and figure out how she feels. In this case, she may feel angry, frustrated, or sad.

Then using the formula above she would state:

"I feel overwhelmed and angry. I asked you to please help me by putting the wet clothes in the washer and also by emptying the dishwasher. Instead I find you haven’t done that, and there is more of a mess. I would really appreciate it if you would do that now."


Aggressive communication

Aggressive communication is communication that is disrespectful to the other person. Aggression and disrespect can be conveyed in language, facial expressions, or even physically. People are usually aggressive when they are unable to tell someone how they feel directly and respectfully. Sometimes feelings build up without expression and then come out in the form of aggression. In the same example above, the women might yell, slam doors, name call, use sarcasm, or become violent. She may exaggerate the husband’s failure to do this and bring words into the conversation like “always” and “never. “ She may bring up issues in the past that she is resentful about. This would be aggressive and ineffective as the person on the receiving end is more likely to become defensive and want to retaliate.

Passive aggressive communication

Passive aggressive communication is when someone acts passively about a situation later to respond in an aggressive way. So in the example above, passive aggression would consist of this woman, perhaps not addressing the situation, but beginning to slam dishes around in the kitchen and also in the laundry room. She may deny she is upset when her husband asks her what’s wrong. She may also do something mean spirited the next day in retaliation, but does not directly deal with the situation. Passive aggressive communication is likely to cause the other person to feel confused and as if they are “ walking on eggshells”.

Passive communication

Passive communication consists of treating both yourself and the other person with disrespect by refusing to honor and articulate your feelings. Passiveness might include the women above saying things to herself like “ I am lucky to have a husband, and I have no right to ask him to do these things.”

For most of us, we mix up our communication styles, using different styles in different situations. However, very few communicate assertively on a regular basis. It is a truly an art to perfect this, but eventually will result in better relationships and effectiveness.

What does assertive mean? Things that get in the way of doing it

Things that get in the way of assertiveness:

  • Fear that the other person won’t like what you are saying or won’t be able to hear it
  • Fear of appearing selfish or needy
  • Exposure to unhealthy communication patterns in your family of origin
  • Fear of abandonment issues
  • Inability to recognize and name your own emotions
  • Fear of hurting the other person’s feelings
  • Catastrophizing the other person’s reaction, or dismissing addressing the situation directly because it will be to no avail
  • The belief that we are not entitled to our feelings
  • Fear of feelings, especially anger

Despite the obstacles to assertiveness, practicing this skill in relationships can improve your life on all fronts. Even if unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first, being assertive:

  1. Opens up the channels of communication,
  2. Helps people to know where you stand, and
  3. Helps you to feel less resentful and angry.

If you are having difficulty solving a problem with someone close to you follow these steps:

1. Think about the formula above

2. Practice it prior to the conversation,

3. Put the plan in place during a conversation.

4. Ask yourself what does assertive mean  in this situation?

5. Study the results of being assertive on yourself ( how do you feel about things after) versus the other communication patterns that may be more comfortable for you.

6. Study the impact on your relationships as well.

Leave what does assertive mean for one small tip on being more assertive.

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