How to Be Assertive: 8 Tips To Try Today

In Education, Emotional Health, Mental Health, Self-Care, Social Health, Wellness by Courtney ArcherLeave a Comment

Assertiveness is one of those rare gifts that does not come to most people naturally, but that can be developed. Learning how to be assertive takes some guts–it is not usually easy. But it is worth it.

Being assertive helps you maintain boundaries and stand your ground. It also helps you know when maybe the ground you are standing on is better left abandoned.

Most people know that there is a big difference between being passive and assertive, but the distinction between being assertive and aggressive is less clear. If you are a little uncertain about that yourself, that’s fine, because you are in the right place to learn more about it!

Being assertive does not mean being right all the time or never losing an argument. Rather, it is one of the highest levels of uncompromising respect for those around you and for yourself.

Learning how to be assertive is a process that will likely take some time. Even people who are great at being assertive do not get it right every time. If you struggle with being assertive, start here, and know that it is something you will continue to improve on over time.

how to be assertive

How to Be Assertive: 8 Tips To Try Today

What Does it Mean to Be Assertive?

Assertiveness is interacting with people and the world in a way that makes your needs and wants clear, while still maintaining respect. Therefore, the best place to start in becoming more assertive is to figure out what your needs and wants are.

People who are assertive can do three key things:

  1. Identify What They Need
  2. Set & Hold Boundaries
  3. Respect Others’ Boundaries

The simplest way to figure out what your boundaries are is to figure out what is and is not okay with you. For example, is it okay for other people to insult you when you do not do what they want?

Most people would say no, but a lot of people also would not say anything if they did something wrong and someone insulted them for it. Reminder: an insult is a personal attack, like being called stupid or lazy. Being told you are wrong is not in and of itself an insult.

Let’s think about this. If you spilled coffee on the counter at work, and someone saw it and called you a big stupid oaf, which of the following responses would be the most assertive:

  1. “I’m so sorry, I’ll clean it up.”
  2. “I’m sorry that I spilled my coffee, I’ll clean it up. Don’t call me stupid, it makes me feel worse.”
  3. “How am I supposed to clean it up with you in here yelling at me, you idiot! Get out of my way!”

The first example is passive. The person who uses this response is probably trying to avoid any further confrontation, which is not a bad thing, but it also does not set any clear boundaries.

The second example is assertive. Now, might it be more helpful to throw a “please” in there, to soften the request? Yes. I wrote it without it to show that being assertive does not mean you have to be sugary-sweet, but you can be as polite as you’d like while being assertive.

The third example is aggressive. Notice how there is an insult, which means that the other person is not being respected. There is also a request for the other person to move, which could be seen as assertive, but the insult takes it too far.

Being assertive takes commitment. If you want to be assertive you have to give up avoiding every possible confrontation, and you also have to give up trying to make other people feel as small as they make you feel.

Instead, being assertive means identifying your need (not wanting to feel worse), setting a boundary (asking not to be called stupid), and respecting the other person (not yelling at them or insulting them back).

Remember, just because you are being assertive does not mean that you are guaranteed your desired outcome. But you are a whole lot more likely to get your desired outcome by being assertive and actually telling people what that desired outcome is, than you are if you ignore your desired outcome or yell at/insult them.

People are unlikely to give you something they do not know you want, and they are also unlikely to give you something you want if you are yelling at or insulting them. So give them a chance to help you out, and tell them.

Quote giving the 3 keys on how to be assertive.

Difference Between Passive, Assertive, and Aggressive

Most people are not completely passive all the time, or completely aggressive all the time. It is common to be more passive in some situations and more aggressive in other situations.

Being passive means you are not respecting your own wants and needs. Being aggressive means you are not respecting others’ wants and needs. Therefore, assertiveness means respecting the wants and needs of yourself and others.

How assertive you are probably changes depending on who you are with or how important the outcome is to you. You might be really assertive with your family and not your coworkers, or vice versa. Or maybe you are generally pretty passive, but when you get backed into a corner you lash out.

The truth is that you do not have to be assertive all the time. It all depends on what boundaries are being crossed and how important those boundaries are to you.

For example, it bugs me ever so slightly when people call my hair blonde instead of red. Silly, I know, but I grew up as a redhead and it is one of those identity things that I have clung to even as I have aged and my hair has lightened. So do I tell everyone who calls me blonde that it bugs me and that I’m really a redhead at heart?

No. It bugs me a little, but not that much, you know? Being assertive takes energy and that is not energy that I want to put into reinforcing that my hair is red.

However, it bugs me a lot when people talk over me or cut me off in the middle of the sentence. That is one of those things that really feels disrespectful to me and that I am not okay with. So in those circumstances I try to wait for them to finish what they are saying, ask them to please not interrupt me, and then say my piece.

While it is sometimes okay to be passive, it is rarely okay to be aggressive, especially when it comes to conversation. Someone else being verbally aggressive toward you might give you a reason to be verbally aggressive back, but an aggressive response is unlikely to help you achieve your goals. It might work in the short term, but in the long term people who are afraid of you, or who do not like how you treat them, are unlikely to want to continue helping you.

Photo with definition of how to be assertive on it.

8 Things You Can Do to Be More Assertive

So now that we know what it means to be assertive and how it is different from being passive and aggressive, let’s discuss how to actually be more assertive. Assertiveness is one of those things that is easier to understand than it is to practice.

This is because being assertive requires being socially uncomfortable. Social interactions often prompt the fight/flight/freeze response just as much as physically dangerous situations. The truth is that we highly value social interaction, which can make it feel like a high-stakes game.

Realistically, sometimes social interactions are high-stakes games. When you are going for that promotion at work or talking to a family member about something upsetting they are doing, there are important consequences you might have to face.

So, here are eight tips on how to be assertive, to help you be true to yourself while dealing with others.

How to Be Assertive Tip 1: Figure Out What is Important to You Now

This first tip has already been mentioned, so it probably comes as no surprise. Use a notes app on your phone, a notebook, or whatever you have, and take a minute or two to write down what is important to you.

Some possibilities might be safety, trust, reliability, comfort, advancement, money, respect, time, etc. Take some time to figure out what you need or want right now that you are not getting.

Setting boundaries requires knowing what you want and what you need. After all, you cannot tell other people what your boundaries are if you do not know them yourself.

How to Be Assertive Tip 2: Figure Out What is Important to Your Future

Just like some things are important to you now, there are other things that are important to your future. The list of your wants and needs for the future probably looks a lot like your list of wants and needs for right now, but some of the differences might surprise you.

Or, if the lists are the same, take the time to rank them in order of most important to least important. While stability might not be the most important value to your life today, it very easily could be something you know will be important in your future.

Knowing what is important to your future helps you make more helpful decisions today. It also helps inform your boundaries, making the things that might hold you back less okay, and things that could help you move toward your goals more okay.

So take a little time and write down what is important to your future too.

Quote about knowing what is important to your future guiding your actions today.

How to Be Assertive Tip 3: Identify Goal Outcomes for Difficult Conversations

Have you ever had a discussion in which you realize at the end that you never really talked about what you wanted to talk about? Most of us have experienced this. That is why it can be so helpful to go into a conversation knowing what you hope to accomplish by the end of it.

This is especially true for conversations that you expect to be difficult or emotional. As noted above, conversations can very easily trigger a fight/flight/freeze response. Knowing what it is that you are trying to accomplish can help keep you from losing track of what you are actually trying to talk about.

Even better, once you know what your goal is, communicating it to the other person helps them align with you. For example, say you have been wanting to talk to a team member about how their numbers are holding the rest of the team back.

You could start the conversation by saying, “Hey John, I want to talk to you about your numbers last week.” But do you really want to talk about John’s numbers? Do you even want to talk about how their numbers are holding the team back?

My guess is that your ultimate goal is actually for John to bring his numbers up. How different of a conversation are you going to have if you start with, “Hey John, I would really like to help you bring your numbers up. Let’s schedule a meeting together this week to brainstorm how to do that.”

Tell you what, it is probably going to be a wildly different conversation.

Let’s flip it. Say you are John, and you want to talk to your supervisor about how overwhelmed you are feeling with your workload. Is your goal to have less of a workload? Or more help?

Let’s say it is simply your goal to just feel less overwhelmed. Instead of starting the conversation with something like, “I can’t do everything you’re telling me to do,” you could try, “I would really like to meet with you to brainstorm some strategies for helping me be less overwhelmed.”

In both of these cases, when the conversation happens, both of you know the goal of the conversation so that you can work together to achieve it. Neither are passive (allowing things to continue in the same way) nor aggressive (blaming faults on others or demanding action). Instead, they assert what you want to happen in a way that allows the other person to be part of the process.

Quote about how to be assertive.

How to Be Assertive Tip 4: Plan for Barriers

As mentioned above, being assertive does not mean you are going to get what you want. It just so happens that the other people in your life often want different things. Not because they are mean or they do not like you, but just because they are different.

So plan for it. What do you know about the other people in your life? How might their wants and needs get in the way of your wants and needs?

Most importantly, how can you come together to get both of your wants and needs met? Sometimes one or both of you might have to give something up in order to make things work. So take some time to figure out what you might be willing to give up, or to give, in order to make your most important wants and needs happen.

Usually, when going into a conversation in which you know there will be barriers, it helps to address them in the beginning. This might look like saying, “Hey, I know that x thing is important to you and so I want to make sure it happens. Y thing is also important to me. I really want to find a way to make both of them possible. Will you help me?”

Ultimately it can only benefit you to consider the barriers beforehand. It might not get rid of them, but at least you will be prepared to address them when they come up.

Keep in mind that it is pretty hard to plan for all the barriers. You do not need to be able to predict the future in order to be assertive. It just helps to take a little time to think of any possible ones before just storming in.

How to Be Assertive Tip 5: Make Reminders for Yourself

Assertiveness is often discussed in regards to how it affects interactions with others. However, sometimes the most important person to be assertive with is yourself.

Setting boundaries and advocating for yourself is hard! Especially if it is a change to how you usually do things.

So, to make it a little easier on yourself, make some reminders! Use sticky notes on your mirror or fridge, or set reminders on your phone, make it a screen saver or lock screen, or put it in your daily planner.

However you make a reminder for yourself, just trust me on this one and do it. You are going to have hard days, and you are going to lose sight of your goals from time to time. Making reminders for yourself might seem superfluous when you are having a good day, but they are going to be really helpful on the hard days.

How to be assertive with yourself.

How to Be Assertive Tip 6: Stick With It

Change is difficult–difficult for you, for the people around you who are used to you being a certain way, and for the routines you have established in your life. Being more assertive is probably going to be a challenge, but it is a challenge that results in you being able to live the life you want to live, instead of the one that you get pushed into.

You will have an easier time of it on some days, and a harder time on others. If it is difficult, that does not mean it is wrong or stupid or any of the other negative things that your tired brain might try to label it as. It just means that you might need to take your time with it and be gentle with yourself.

If you have a day when you fall back into your passive or aggressive ways, that does not mean you have failed or that you just cannot be assertive. It means that old habits are hard to break and that you did not have the time, resources, or emotional availability to make change happen that day.

Nobody is 100% on all the time–nobody. It just isn’t possible. So if you have had a bad day, just call it a bad day and try to make the next day different.

How to Be Assertive Tip 7: Respect Others’ Needs & Wants

Remember that without respect, assertiveness quickly becomes aggressiveness. A lack of respect usually looks like personal attacks and insults, raising one’s voice, and not giving others the chance to speak.

It is important to speak up for yourself, and it is also important to do it in a way that does not make other people hate being around you. That’s putting it bluntly, and it’s also the truth.

Sometimes people are going to react negatively to you being assertive, and that is unfortunate. However, you can know that their reactions have a lot more to do with them than with you if you know that you are treating them with respect.

Assertiveness pairs amazingly with active listening. Say your piece, and then when people respond, rephrase what they are saying back to them so that they know you are listening and understand. It is entirely possible to understand someone and not agree with them.

Reminder not to be aggressive.

How to Be Assertive Tip 8: Accept That Not Being Assertive is Also Uncomfortable

We have discussed a lot how being assertive can be uncomfortable and challenging. It is also true that not being assertive is uncomfortable, it is just the discomfort that you have become familiar with.

When people do not know what your preferences, needs, and boundaries are, it is really difficult for them to respect them. Chances are pretty high that if you are not being assertive, then you are also experiencing a lot of unmet needs. Needs for safety, respect, acceptance, trust, responsibility, etc.

Your needs are important–they’re needs. Your boundaries and preferences are also important. This is your life; what do you want it to look like?

The answer to that question is important too. Living a life that does not look anything like you want it to is uncomfortable. Would you rather live with the discomfort of not living the life you want to live, or the discomfort of being assertive?

Reminder to consider what you want your life to look like and how you can make that happen.


Being assertive is one of those things that is not easy, but is worth it. If you have had a hard time being assertive in your life, it is not because there is something wrong with you or mean that you are a failure somehow. It just means you have not had enough opportunities to learn how to make it happen and work for you.

Now you have learned a little more! Try out a few of these tips and see if they make a difference for you. Do not feel like you have to use every single one at once–just pick out a couple and see what happens.

Ultimately progress is progress. It does not matter if it is big or small; progress is progress.

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